Online Gaming

As networks transition from dial-up based and low-speeds to always-on and high-speed, online computer games are likely to proliferate. South Korea is on the forefront of this revolution. Writes and The Economist:

IN A country better known for its heavy industry and manufactured exports, some young South Koreans are working hard on software products and services with potentially world-beating characteristics. They beaver away on computers, but their desks are piled high with comic books, animated videos and plastic action figures. They are giving mythical characters new looks, creating surreal landscapes and building a fearsome arsenal of lethal weapons. Welcome to the world of MMORPG, or massively multi-player online role-playing games.

The companies that employ these game designers, most of them based in Seoul, account for only a tiny share of the world’s computer-games industry, which is worth some $32 billion once games and hardware are added together. But steadily their online fantasies are increasing in popularity, and in the process the firms are pioneering new ways to make money on the internet. What the South Koreans have begun to do is take online gaming beyond hard-core gamers and to a far wider audience. They are also trying to export their games to other countries.

South Korea got a flying start because of its rapid roll-out of high-speed broadband, which began in the late 1990s. By last year, reckons Morgan Stanley, an investment bank, more than two-thirds of the nation’s households had subscribed to broadband services, compared with an estimated 15% in America and 8% in western Europe.

So what makes South Korea different? Its game developers learned quickly that many players want more than loud noises, fast action or clever computer characters. More importantly, they are also eager to meet each other. This is why the country’s most popular online games involve role-playing sagas, which thousands of PC users can be logged into at any one time. Online, their virtual personas interact in complex and, of course, occasionally violent ways.

This gives South Korea a chance, perhaps a slim one, to thrive in offshore markets. But as they run into Sony with PlayStation2 and Microsoft with its Xbox, will the South Koreans be treated as allies or as invaders?

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.