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One of the first publishers to fully embrace the Asian microtransction model was South Korea's Nexon, publishers of MapleStory. This free-to-play online RPG has become a global success, with 72+ million users worldwide and $16 million in monthly revenues, according to Nexon's comments at Austin GDC last year.
The title is so successful, in fact, that many Western publishers have decided to emulate the game's business model. However, as Nexon America's director of game operations, Min Kim, argues here, many simply don't understand what drives the game's success.
In this in-depth discussion with Gamasutra, Kim clarifies and expands on that position as well as further discussing the company's dedicated console plans on Xbox 360 and Nintendo DS.
So, the business in America has been doing pretty well, as I understand.
Min Kim: Right.
But when I was talking to the folks in Korea, a lot of the players out there are really playing as a kind of job -- they're playing for money and stuff. Do you see that happening over here at any point? People are starting to get into real RMT stuff.
MK: I think a lot of that is really core. I mean, we do microtransactions, but that's more like a closed leaf system. I could see that happening here. Obviously, that's a big market, that whole secondary market. People say it's like one or two billion dollars.
People do that in Korea in games like Lineage, and I think without that, a lot of players would drop off. I think it's inevitable that part of the player base will go to that, but I think that's something that's very core.
Because multiple companies were disappointed by how many people do that, and I was trying to ask them if...
MK: Disappointed in what way?
It's like they would like the people to play the game to have fun, not as work. I was trying to coax out of people, "Do you wind up designing your game more for those people, because they're a larger portion of your audience?" And they were really cagey about it.
MK: I don't think they design it for that, but I think in the future they probably will. I think they probably stumbled upon it, and part of that could have been stopped at game design, in many ways, but I don't think they design for that. If they are, they've only started doing that now.
Yeah. I saw you talk at Austin, and you were saying that you do some Americanization and localization for MapleStory. How do you determine what needs to be changed? A lot of it has a pretty universal style.
MK: Right. That's the great thing about MapleStory. We look at it as very universal. But there are certain things that you know you have to do. For example, when we brought the service out here, they just had one light skin tone, and not that many eye colors. If you're going to bring it to the U.S., which is a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, it just doesn't make sense when you have just one skin tone.
Like that, plus the wedding system in the game, we created a whole cathedral or Vegas-style wedding, whereas in China, they have a totally different type of wedding. If we brought that over, it wouldn't have made any sense, and we wouldn't have sold any wedding tickets.
I think a lot of it's really good, and we have a localization team that's sitting in the U.S. and thinks about what new items to put out and what new features that players might be interested in.
It almost seems like, with the wedding system, you could offer the wedding systems from other cultures at a premium, or something like that, so you can have an exotic wedding.
MK: Let me step back for a bit. In terms of localization, I think one huge part of it is the events. I keep saying this, but our business is a service business, not a product business, so one huge part of running multiplayer on the games is that you're running the service three, five, or seven years, and a big part of that is running events. And that's tied to holidays.
We do major things from... the biggest is Halloween into Thanksgiving into the year-end holidays for Christmas or Hanukkah. We try to localize that. That's one of the big localizations that we do.
Actually, I was thinking that, as you were saying, it's a smaller download, and there's a lot of stuff that you can do in the game, but it is, content-wise, easier to create than a lot of these high-end graphical MMOs. I'm just wondering if that enables you to react quickly to customer desires.
MK: Oh yeah. We're looking at forums and stuff all the time, seeing what people want. I'm not a game designer. I design functions that go into the game to try and increase social behavior and steer it in one way or another.
But to be honest with you, I don't know. Some of our design, because it's Dot, it takes a lot of time, and when you do 3D, you can just make one and then kind of tweak it and vary it. It depends on what you're doing, whether it's easier or not.