Nexon Korea has established itself on the PC as a strong publisher of free-to-play games, now it’s trying to take that strategy to mobile.
Sangman Lee, Nexon Korea’s global mobile business director, is guiding a company that has a strong hold on PC gaming in Asia as it tries to work its way into mobile. That is a $34.8 billion business, and it’s growing fast in the territories that Nexon specializes in, like China, Japan, and Korea.
The company has had some good early efforts on mobile with games like Pocket MapleStory, Fantasy War Tactics, and DomiNations. More than 7 million people have downloaded the mobile version of MapleStory, the game that Nexon originally released for Windows in 2003, on iOS and Android. DomiNations is the top-grossing game in Pakistan And Fantasy War Tactics is in the top 100 highest-grossing apps in South Korea.
But Nexon is looking to build on that success in Asia while also expanding globally, and it’s up to Lee to make that happen. GamesBeat asked the executive a few questions about where his company is today and how it is trying to get to tomorrow.
GamesBeat: What has the effort been like to turn Nexon Korea into a major mobile-gaming publisher in Asia?
Sangman Lee: Nexon Korea has been building a strong foundation to adapt quickly to the fast-paced mobile games market trends. Expanding our mobile business team to a full-fledged department, we successfully launched numerous self-developed games and published various titles in Asia.
At the same time, to enter the global mobile games market successfully, the company organized its business structure to provide what we call the ‘Global One Build’ system: by signing up popular game [properties] to make them into mobile games, Nexon Korea has built a solid basis for our mobile business, and the company will continue to do so in 2016 and beyond.
GB: What is the key to getting that momentum and what does Nexon focus on to maintain it?
Lee: We strive to provide strong publishing services for new titles while maintaining stable live services for existing titles. For instance, following the launch of Legion of Heroes and Top of Tanker for Kakao, the company put a lot of effort into reinforcing its abilities as a publisher by adding constant expansion content and running fun advertising campaigns. When HIT launched in November 2015, the game became the best-selling mobile game in Google Play and the App Store in Korea. At the same time, Nexon Korea’s attention remained on providing stable live services for legacy games because servicing those is as important as introducing new titles to the market.
GB Success in Asia seems like a strong base, does that foundation give Nexon Korea the confidence to start looking globally?
Lee: Absolutely! Through our success in Asian markets, and what we learned from those markets, the next step was to strengthen our position in the global mobile games market by handpicking specific titles that can appeal to audiences around the world. Focusing more on overseas markets than ever before, we created a global mobile business department with expertise in the international game industry. Like PC online games, the life-span of mobile games tend to be longer these days, so Nexon Korea has been building a solid infrastructure to provide steady live services no matter where the game is released.
GB: What is the big appeal about expanding Nexon Korea’s reach to other regions?
Lee: In order to succeed globally, games must have more than just high quality content – they need to be supported by publishers experienced in managing specialized live services for each region. From the beginning with its PC online games, Nexon Korea established global branches and built partnerships with local publishers to promote the titles in many different countries.
Now, we can apply the same strategies to our mobile games business. In 2013, Nexon Korea invested in US developer Big Huge Games and successfully published the mobile game Dominations globally. Our success and leanings from that launch opened up more opportunities beyond the US and Korea with games including Fantasy War Tactics and Mabinogi Duel. To continue successfully launching games globally, the company plans to strengthen its partnerships with diverse game companies all over the world.
GB: What skills learned from the Asian territories spill over into making or releasing mobile games for the West?
Lee: This year we will launch several self-developed games and publish new games globally via our ‘Global One Build’ system, but we’ll take different strategies for each country. ‘Global One Build’ system allows international coverage, so the company can collect massive data about players and the industry.
However, because providing live services is becoming more and more important, countries that derive good outcomes should have different approaches to players. Because there is no set rule for success in markets around the globe, based on years of experiences, Nexon Korea believes that localization and globalization should be combined properly to provide services that most players want.
GB: What works in Asia but Nexon is discovering won’t necessarily work when taking games to the rest of the globe?
Lee: A successful global games business requires approaches that are not only specialized in each market, but also carefully consider each game’s own characteristics. In other words, it is necessary to consider which genre of games will succeed in each market and what kind of strategies should be applied on a market-by-market basis. The genre of most popular games in each region is different.
For example, casual, strategy, and social casino games are popular in America and Europe, whereas Role Playing Games take a huge part of the mobile games industry in Korea and China. RPGs are also the most popular game genre in Japan, but they are slightly different than ones that are popular in Korea. According to each region’s diverse trends, Nexon Korea has developed different marketing strategies for each country, and the company will focus on the differences to increase the number of Nexon mobile game players worldwide.
GB: Other companies have tried to go from East to West or vice versa and failed, what will make Nexon Korea’s mobile efforts different?
Lee: Nexon Korea has been putting a lot of effort in obtaining globally popular game properties and maintaining strong relationships with partners. Examples include contracting TT Games to utilize the Lego property for a mobile game in January 2015, and two months later, the signing of a contract with Square Enix for the Final Fantasy XI property to develop a massively multiplayer mobile role-playing game.
Currently, all new mobile game projects are going smoothly. Before a game’s final global launch, we’ll release a soft launch first to test out international players’ responses, and to apply updates constantly. Through years of experience, Nexon has built its own know-how in the games industry. With numerous tests and feedback from international players, we are ready to jump into the global mobile games market in earnest.