South Korean mobile titan Netmarble has spent $190 million to acquire a 25.71 percent stake in Big Hit Entertainment, the music label behind the popular South Korean pop group BTS. The investment makes it the company’s second largest shareholder. This announcement comes ahead of the release of BTS World, a mobile game that’s slated to launch later this year.
Netmarble is developing BTS World, but it’s not the first time the pop group has appeared in video game format. Four days ago, the Japanese mobile messaging company Line released Puzzle Star BT21, a Tetris-like puzzler that stars Line stickers created by the BTS band members. It currently sits at No. 4 on the Apple App Store in the puzzle category, according to market researcher App Annie.
And earlier this year, Dalcomsoft developed and released the rhythm game SuperStar BTS in South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia. When it debuted in the U.S. last month, App Annie’s charts show that it hit No. 1 and No. 2 on the Apple App Store and Google Play in the music game category. It’s now sitting at No. 4 and No. 2 respectively.
BTS World will take a different tack. It’s a management simulator where players will train the seven members of BTS. A Korean-language report on Naver notes that the game will also include exclusive content, such as photos and new songs.
Even before the pop group released official games, though, its fan base was busy creating its own. The interactive fiction game BTS Outcast went viral on the social media platform Twitter, where people would vote on what would happen next. Each step of the story was told in screencaps of text message exchanges between fictionalized versions of the band members.
BTS also inspired indie developer Aeon Dream Studios to create a visual novel game, To the Edge of the Sky, which stars the band members and features science fiction ideas. A free demo is up on the studio’s Itch.io page, and fans have already offered to translate the game into over 10 different languages.
Other K-pop (which stands for “Korean pop”) bands have released games, like pop group EXO’s endless runner EXORUN or entertainment company S.M. Entertainment’s rhythm game SuperStar SMTown. However, BTS World has the potential to be a big hit because of its fans, who have been dubbed the “BTS ARMY.”
Viral games like Outcast showcase the international community’s enthusiasm, and the fans also helped boost the pop group to win the Top Social Artist Award from Billboard last year. BTS has topped the Billboard charts, and it has a huge social footprint on Twitter, where people liked and retweeted its posts over half a billion times in 2017. Its popularity also garnered it a behind-the-scenes documentary series that’s currently airing on YouTube Red.