Gamevil, a virtual mogul in the Korean mobile gaming arena, service three Korean carriers and boast an award-winning library with over 50 games. Yet, despite their size and influence, the software company is at heart, a group of friends. They geek out at lunch with PS3 tourneys of Winning Eleven, strategise over Crispy Creme at work, and at the end of the day, enjoy pints at the pub. It’s no wonder Gamevil could carry off the successful introduction of two high-profile games: Zenonia and Baseball Superstars 2009 and so quickly establish firm grounding on the iPhone’s turf. Despite the near gobsmacking success, I was quickly assured that the best is yet to come.
I sat opposite the chief officer of Global Marketing, Mr. Han, a soft-spoken 20-something (26) who happens to be a huge video game buff and gambling fan. In a Gamevil-green conference room with nothing but a steaming tea, my laptop, recording implements, a camera, notebooks, writing instruments and Han’s phones to clutter the table, our meeting was underway. After my awkward introduction, it was down to business.
The first matter was a friendly request: would Mr. Han kindly label his co-workers in strict Zenonia fashion for TMA? After a searching look, he seemed to consider my question. To him, the marketers are assassins and the iPhone coders are paladins. We laughed. I got the assassin bit, but the paladin association was harder to grasp. His amusing explanation: “You don’t look like the assassin type”, caused me to rethink the 3 classes. Surprised to say the least, I indicated the self-installed pin-hole camera at the edge of my steel glasses, my finger-nail 5 calibre pistol and my suave smile – I rather think I look at least an undercover operative.
Well evidently, Han is an assassin, but started out as a Zenonian Paladin. Paladins are the stolid, Jacks of all trade who can take intense heat and still stay standing. But, as he explained, they moved a bit slower than the assassins. Like Zenonia’s biggest fans, Han has beaten the game 6 or 7 times, but for him, it is not all fun and games. He hunts the world for bugs in code, grammar, spelling – anything that could become an issue for fans. Even if just fractionally faster, the assassin allows him to more effectivelly search the hidden matrix of Zenonia. He has done the same for Baseball Superstars, which is now at least 6 updates old and ready for iPhone OS 3.0.
Han admitted that in the course of playing, users have found bugs that even existed in the original Korean software. “It’s amazing how much our users find out!” he laughed. Evidently, iPhone gamers are quite vocal. “We’ve gotten to know our users quite a bit”, he said with a grin. It is this sort of dedication to customer satisfaction that will continue to set Gamevil in good stead as they pursue new courses and new markets.
Assassins, Paladins, whatever – somebody runs the show. Gamevil’s multiple awards, 120+ staff and ubiquity in Korea did not grow from nothing. They have worked very hard in the last 10 years to secure a position of dominance in the mobile market and are not the sort of company to bring a knife to a gun fight; their team is prepared and able, or in Han’s words, “we have our own know-how and way around the market”.
He hinted that this year, gamers can look forward to a further 2-3 gaming titles from the company. He also said that their production quality will surpass that of both Zenonia and Baseball Superstars 2009. As they are scheduled for autumn releases, signs of their existence should appear soon. Needless to say, news of any sort is good news.
Regarding Gamevil’s current iPhone titles, Han said, “Both games have performed better than we expected. Our initial goals were met, but we know there is room for improvement”. I thought about it. What can improve upon baseball? On the American pastime? The English (and world’s) pastime okf course! To my question of whether Gamevil had plans of challenging X2 Games’ excellent football simulator with a game of their own, I got the distinct feeling that it wouldn’t be any time soon: “Maybe in the future”, replied Han. Undaunted, I ventured to ask if the software company were working on any iPhone-only titles. The answer was a definite shrugged, “maybe”.
We began to discuss the future of the company who are busy establishing themselves on new platforms and in foreign lands. Gamevil endeavour to develop a strong brand outside of Korea. In order to do so, they are keenly following their hitherto plan of quality production and design whilst challenging the established American and European giants for greater portions of the market.
And, Gamevil, I think, are ready for the challenge. OS 3.0 for instance, and many of its features are “familiar territory” for the company; a territory that they expect to adroitly cover in further software releases. In particular, Gamevil were a pioneering force in Korea for mobile microtransactions – in app purchasing – that has netted them 50-100% extra revenues in certain software. From a developer’s point of view, they are ready. But, as TouchMyApps have noticed, iPhone OS 3.0 and the new 3GS hardware are bringing issues of their own. We could call it App Store fragmentation or Split personality – whatever – which suddenly pits the haves: those with the 3GS or 3.0 with the have nots – those who cannot or will not upgrade. At the moment, it is fair to say that there is a large split among iDevice owners and that it will exact its influence on the App Store market.
Han expressed Gamevils concern over the split market. New bugs, code errors and OS disparities will likely force users and developers into a more precarious relationship than ever before. Han’s close relationship with customers gives him a special outlook on this issue which is likely to become more pronounced in the near future. Unfortunately, post-3.0, all newly released software at the App Store must be 3.0 compatible, forcing OS 2 users to upgrade, a fact that I too have expressed serious concerns about.
Problems aside, 3.0 is exciting though Han and I agreed that much of the functionality in the new software should have been in place from the beginning. While I was soberly discussing the merits of landscape typing, Han pointed out copy and paste. But, he praised Apple’s own development team, saying, “it’s amazing the things that can be done just by firmware”. All I could do was agree and hope that an amazing unravelling of uniformity would not also “be done”.
While a large company, Gamevil are setting the bar for concise marketing accentuated by quality releases and a daring focus on the mobile market and clearly, on the customer. Even as Steve Jobs markets the iPhone as a ‘real internet’ machine, the platform will need companies like Gamevil who spend their R&D wholly on the mobile market which is clearly the future of gaming.
It was refreshing talking with reps who don’t operate in the same environment as we in Canada do. The Korean handset market, like that of Japan, is quite different to that of the West. The mobile phone is not just a tool for making calls, a few spreadsheets, emails and the odd game. It can be a mobile powerhouse that replaces wallets, keys, pass cards, banking hours – it can exist outside the stodgy lines of the ‘real internet’ and better represent convergence than what has been envisioned by Apple.
Han mentioned that though much of the Korean market use phones for transactions and daily life in ways that the iPhone simply cannot follow, the phone would nevertheless, be a smash success if released. Korea is waiting. Sadly, news of release was squashed at WWDC when again, Korea was not mentioned. For now, this vast and important Asian market will have to live the iPhone life vicariously through news and rumour sites.
“Keep enjoying our games”, Han encouraged as I left. “It is great that your readers know what we are doing and how we do it”.
Though I came rather empty-handed, Gamevil supplied us with last weeks giveaway – 5 promo codes for Baseball Superstars 2009. Thank you Gamevil!
Our other interviews can be followed below:
Interview with Artist Jorge Colombo – Interview with StormBASIC – 7 Days Apocalypse — Giggles with iJiggles – Interview with Tod Baudais — Interview with 7 Cities Dev — Zerogate Interview — Interview with the Monster – Monster Cable’s David Leung