Interview with Korea’s gaming mogul: Com2uS
You needn’t have lived under a rock for the last year to be ignorant of Inotia’s creator, Com2uS – you just need to have been removed to Antarctica about 10 years ago. Of course, Com2uS have more under their bonnets than just the excellent RPG series. They have quite a few celebrated App Store hits: Baseball Slugger 3D, Sniper VS Sniper, Baseball Superstars – to name but a few. Well, just before Inotia: A Wanderer of Luone’s debut, I visited the Com2uS headquarters in Seoul, South Korea’s Silicon Valley and met with two fine gentlemen: Joony Koo and Andrew Park, who are are bigger gamers in one day than I am in a month of Sundays.
For reference, TMA’s comments will be bolded while Com2uS will make do with indents. Andrew’s comments will be preceded by an _A_ while Joony’s will have the funny _J_ squiggle in front.
TMA: Firstly, congratulations on earning the Ernst & Young Top Five Entrepreneur of the Year award. How do you feel about this achievement?
J: Although it has been global for a while, we are becoming more internationally recognised. Also about a month or two, ago received an Asian Entreprenuer Under a Billion award too [Forbes]. We’ve been receiving a few awards recently. We do have a great profession since we’ve been involved in mobile gaming since the beginning. So when Earnest and Young or Forbes choose, they pick companies which really spearhead the market, industry and development side also. I don’t know if I should say this or not, but when we get these sorts of awards, we don’t go like ‘wow’ or something. We are doing what we have been doing, what we like, and what we are best at.
TMA: How many employees do you have and among them, how many are directed toward iPhone marketing and development? How do you expect to expand to the iDevice market?
A: A little over 300 including China and Japan and a one-man sales branch in the US. There are about 42 devs for the iPhone and 7 marketers, so about 49. It’s not always one person doing one job; items change accordingly. Compared to Inotia, some of the other games didn’t do so well, so our start was sort of shaky. Homerun Battle 3D is doing well and next year we have a bigger line up; we are focusing more on the iPhone.
TMA: I visited Gamevil a few months ago and was amazed at their size, but I see that Com2uS have even more on their team.
J: As far as we know, Gamevil has about 120 total employees. We are very proud that both companies can do well in the global market and it just shows how well-developed the Korean gaming companies have become.
TMA: Yes, both companies are very well adapted to succeed in the global iDevice market. Not to derail this conversation, but why are there no games in the Korean App Store?
J:There is no games category. As we are submitting games to worldwide market, Korean games don’t get released. The main reason I believe, is that there is a restriction in Korea – every game needs to be rated by the government’s games rating committee. They will review [each submission] and give a rating. From Apple’s point of view, there are only two countries in the world with a rating system, and they will have to have their games rated before launch/submission and there is no way [Apple] are going to do that. There is some cost too and it has to be released in Korean language. The App Store in Korea may not get a games category.
TMA: Please tell me a little about the iPhone team’s position at Com2uS.
J: What our team does, is, it doesn’t just cover the iPhone arena. The sales guy casually meets Apple, does most of the sales, but most of the marketing and positioning, is done by the Korean team. Andy does most of the press releases and marketing for each game. It’s very important for us to know the core features and what the users would like from the game. Andy communicates with developers and the media.
A: There are so many other markets there. Looking into how the various platforms will progress. We are divided professionally to tackle everything.
TMA: What is the biggest problem you are up against? How will you overcome it?
A: When the App Store was still young, our first game was Inotia and it did pretty well. Now, there are so many devlopers out there… but our advantage is that we have so much experience with mobile games.
J: The korean market is a lot more developed (infrastructure) than the US. But with the iPhone, we only have to change a game’s UI. We can add a lot more features to the game than existed previously. We can keep the ‘funnness’ and add more features. It is more of a synergy with the iDevice. If you look at the EA’s Command and Conquer, its a good game, but they’ve had to take things out. Our key issue is to develop brands. We are aiming at two [sequels] a year for the great brands like Inotia: strong brands to represent us as it isn’t easy to make brands.
TMA: This one comes form TMA’s director, Louis. Com2uS has been a leader in micro-transactions (in-app purchases) in mobile games. With the recent decision of Apple to allow for in-app purchases in free apps, will Com2uS take advantage of this feature and introduce some ‘free’ apps in the future? Would these be released with options to purchase upgrades/more levels etc.? Will this announcement change/affect your overall strategy at the App Store?
J: We have an MMORPG in the pipelines which requires a lot of revenue from in-app purchases, but it will come in February-ish so we have some time to see how other companies are doing with in-app purchases. We are seeing how users are reacting too. We will have to wait and see.
A: Eliminate Pro is the biggest one which is doing it now. People can try it with pretty much no differences other than more playtime and a few advantages.
TMA: How do you characterise the Korean iPhone/iDevice market? Do you think it is worth going after? Why or why not?
A: the funny thing about Koreans is that they love design and technology, so the iPhone will do really well here. Even iPods, people love. Moreover, the most important thing about any mobile device is the content. You can have the best hardware but without the right content, people won’t invest in the device. We all know that iPhone has the most content compared to any other cell phone out there. This will inevitably be the reason for success of the iPhone in Korea.
J: If the users do not have the app store to provide games, the gaming population in Korea may not grow. For the App Store, though, the main focus is the US and Japan.
TMA: What is Com2uS’ biggest strength in the market and do you think you can improve on it?
A: Our experience is an asset. When Homerun came out, I thought it was such a great game. We have years of experience and everyone is so good at what they do.
J: We are good at making games. If you don’t have good games to sell, you don’t have a market.
A: Not only does everyone [at Com2uS] know how to play games, they know how to create them too. Whenever you want, you can play a game like an Xbox or PS3 which are bought by the company.
J: I have never ever found a game which someone hasn’t downloaded via the [Com2uS] account.
TMA:. What will it take for the iPhone/iDevice to succeed here? Is it possible for a non-Korean company to succeed in the Korean market which is dominated by Samsung and LG?
A: Samsung and LG are scared of the iPhone will take a lot of their profit. Korean companies are nervous about the iPhone.
J: Friends, board, company are always asking if the iPhone will sell more than a million. They are very interested in it.
A: That’s the great thing about the iPhone. So much can keep it fresh. Its not just a phone, but an app device and a gaming device.
TMA: I see a lot of Koreans wandering aimlessly with large handheld TV/Video devices. The iPhone doesn’t have TV capabilities. Do you think that limitation will slow down iPhone excitement here?
J: mobile TV might be a problem. There are companies like Pandora who enable TV. I don’t think users will refrain from purchasing a device because it doesn’t have TV.
TMA: How are you meeting your market demand?
A: I think brand building is really starting now. We are getting fans who just love certain games. When I sent out a beta testing email, we got hundreds of interested people and there were only 50 spaces open. That was Inotia 2 (our first sequel) and many people were really interested in it.
TMA: Korea is a game junkie culture. How do Com2uS fit into this culture and what are you doing to keep your edge in it?
J: Do you know the mobile code which goes into carrier’s pages? The WAP code is a mobile version of HTML. You get news there, and game information. Apart from bus information, and NATE and KT (telecom information), Com2uS is ranked number one. That indicates that users come straight to our portal to download our games. Users reach our games rather than us reaching the users. But we do shows, co-marketing, cable television, co-marketing with snack companies, in cinemas and with sports teams to reach out to our users too.
A: the korean mobile market lets you punch in a code into WAP and get to com2us page, no going all the way to the app store.
TMA: How is Com2uS weathering the current economic storm?
A: Games do well in bad economic times. It doesn’t affect us in a negative way as it is cheaper to buy a game than going out.
TMA: Anything left to get off your chests?
A: Enjoy Inotia and the MMORPG which will be really big. We are thinking of changing the name of the game from ‘IMO’. There are a lot more features and networking additions coming. Its a very good game with endless amount of playing hours.
J: For RPG lovers, December, January and February will be big. For casual gamers, Heavy Gunner will be quite the hit – think alien robots, creatures and a massive amoury.
Thank you Com2uS for the time and the Inotia 2 codes which we have already dispersed to our loving readers. By the way, Inotia 2 ended up tipping the scales in its favour and is topping our own RPG charts.