As South Korea continues to be focused on the escalating trade conflict with Japan that is threatening the tech companies, a different kind of conflict is haunting the game industry here.
From early 2017, not a single license has been issued for new games from Korea in China -- whose gaming market is estimated to be worth around 37 billion won ($30 billion).
NCSoft has been waiting for Chinese approval of Lineage Red Knights since January 2017. Netmarble’s mobile games Lineage 2 Revolution and StoneAge are also on the waiting list.
This is in stark contrast to active businesses by Chinese games in Korea. Since 2017, some 172 Chinese PC, online, mobile and arcade games have been available in Korea, according to Game Rating and Administration Committee.
“The government has allowed the lopsided trade to go on for over two years,” said an industry source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“It’s regrettable to see the semiconductor industry getting so much (government) support in the dispute with Japan, while the gaming industry, which accounts for average annual revenue of 10 trillion won, is neglected,” he said.
In the Apple App Store, as of Tuesday, Laplace M by ZlongGames ranked first in terms of revenue; Be The King by Chuang Cool Entertainment ranked sixth; and Archero by Habby ranked 10th. In the Google Play Store, ZlongGames’ Langrisser and Laplace M ranked sixth and seventh, respectively.
“In the beginning, Chinese gaming firms could not compete with Korean games. But now the two are indistinguishable in terms of quality. It’s surprising that the Korean games are holding up so much through the social stigma and the lack of governmental support here,” a game company employee told The Korea Herald.
“It’s tricky for the government to act, however, as China has never officially declared that it is intentionally discriminating against Korean gaming firms.”
Some Korean companies, such as WeMade, have taken the indirect route of selling intellectual properties to Chinese developers to penetrate the market. This strategy works better for the company as Chinese developers localize the IP more efficiently, a WeMade representative said.
But many others, including NCSoft, prefer to retain their brand identity.
“There is nothing much an individual game company can do to influence Chinese policy, so we’re grateful that the Culture Ministry is trying to resolve the matter,” a game company representative said, referring to Culture Minister Park Yang-woo’s vow to broach the matter with his Chinese counterpart at a trilateral meeting in August in Incheon.
Park was appointed as the minister for culture in April, and has openly expressed support for the game industry, condemning the WHO’s adoption of gaming disorder in its revision of the International Classification of Diseases.
Gaming disorder is defined as a pattern of behavior characterized by impaired control over gaming, despite the occurrence of negative consequences.
By Lim Jeong-yeo (firstname.lastname@example.org