Gamasutra got a chance to interview Min Kim, the Vice President of Nexon America, and they discuss Nexon Americas plans on expansion to the western market, future plans for local development, and the challenges of bringing popular online games from the east, and making them popular in the west. They also discuss how they are focusing on turning casual players into hardcore players or semi-hardcore. This interview was on August 11, 2010.
Here is the Interview:Nexon’s been growing and making more acquisitions as of late. How big do you want to grow?
Min Kim: A lot. (Laughs) It’s all a bit about growth. I think right now we have a pretty established level of dominance in the Asian market with our games, but in the Western markets, it’s still pretty nascent. We represent probably about less than ten percent of what we do over in Asia.
But even when you look at the Korean revenue, international is getting bigger and bigger. I want the North American office to do hopefully thirty percent of global revenue. That’s where we’d like to be; hopefully we’ll get there.
MK: That is a really good question. It will be in the next couple of years. We showed three titles at E3: Dungeon Fighter, Dragon Nest, and Vindictus. The reception and the change in perception of free-to-play games have been pretty good.
I’ve noticed that you didn’t show every game you had at E3 or Comic Con this year, just specific, targeted stuff. It gives the impression that your games are mostly core-oriented. Why are you keeping your games so core-focused right now?
MK: The core market represents a lot of potential for us. People ask us, “Oh, I thought you came out with really light games like Maple Story. Isn’t this a step in a different direction?” Aesthetically, the games’ playstyles are different, but for our games, we want to get a casual user and turn them into a hardcore user. We start making money when they actually become hardcore.
We think we have games that gamers really want. The reason why we brought these three games out specifically is that we’re looking at them as cousins. Dungeon Fighter has a retro arcade style, Vindictus is made with Valve’s Source Engine and is a really beautiful looking game, and Dragon Nest is really charming.
But all three games are action games, and Dungeon Fighter, because it’s pretty much the biggest game in the world, gave us a lot of confidence that gamers actually want instant gratification in an online action game; these games are actually going to provide that.
How about the media perception? Most of the time, traditional game press think free-to-play models and monetization are bad. How has it been working against that perception in the media?
MK: It’s hard to do it with one company. (Laughs) Perceptions have been kind of hard because, again, our business is something that’s not easily describable. People don’t really understand it. But you look at companies like Turbine, and they turned Dungeons and Dragons Online into a free-to-play game; now people are scratching their heads saying, “Why is Lord of the Rings Online turning into a free-to-play game?”
It’s obvious. What matters is that it makes more money. On the business side, people are starting to understand that. But the press doesn’t cover us. The gaming press doesn’t really cover us because we don’t play in the area that they play in.
How has the reaction been to your core games at these shows?
MK: Pretty awesome! Everybody’s loving it; we got nominated for best MMO of E3. It’s like everything that’s going on these days; you don’t want to have a walled garden. You want to play where the people are, and so we brought it to them.
With Dungeon Fighter, others have said there were some potential issues with speed and lag in North America. Have these issues been overcome yet?
MK: Yeah, everybody knows that we’ve been working on it for a really long time, but we don’t want to make certain things official until we’ve addressed them. We’ve addressed a lot of it, so our user numbers have been pretty good for its official launch. We addressed that, plus a couple other things, and I think the game is looking really good right now.
When you’ve got a game that’s already successful elsewhere, how well does it have to perform in the U.S. to be considered a success?
If you’re doing something to test the market, does it actually have to be financially successful, or can it be an experiment? Dungeon Fighter is so popular everywhere else that if it doesn’t do amazingly well here, it’s not going to kill anybody. I’m talking about cost of operating in another territory versus what you’re getting back.
MK: At the end of the day, it’s all about numbers; so the game has to be profitable. If it’s creating a big loss, then we’ll probably shut down that game. But there is room for experimentation. There are no guarantees, especially with this market over here; just because it works there, it’s not necessarily going to work over here.
Every launch we do is really an experiment. When we come out with Vindictus, that’s going to be an experiment because the game will be awesome, but there are probably going to be challenges when launching that game here in terms of network infrastructure and all of that. Everything that we bring out is really a challenge, but you have to hope for the best, work your ass off, and hopefully it works out right.
Do you find local American content like Dungeon and Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online to be major competition for you?
MK: This is definitely not a cop-out answer at all: Anybody that’s jumping into this space really helps us. It’s hard to build a whole market with just one company, unless you’re Apple. (Laughs) But every company that comes in and develops for this market we feel is growing the market; we’re not really fighting over players at this point.
All those companies coming in, and it probably means that developers are going to shift focus and actually create an industry and not just one or two games that do really well. Right now, we don’t see anything as really competitive; everything that is being made specifically for free-to-play and microtransactions just helps grow the business as a whole.
Do you foresee any reason in the future to develop in North America again?
MK: Yeah. I think we probably made a pretty bad impression with the Vancouver studio shutting down, but when that happened, the market influences were pretty bad for the whole world. (Laughs) Ultimately, we do really feel that domestic development is where it’s going to be at once people understand what we do. Our team has also done the Nexon Initiative where we’ve called for submissions.
At the end of the day, the aesthetic and the cultural influence is everywhere. Developers are going to know what people want here, and at the end of the day, that’s what we’d like to do. That’s the publishing model we’d like to be in. Right now, we’re just taking games from Asia, localizing them, and popping them out here; we’d actually like to look for developers to invest in.
Do you think that will be the next acquisition spree for Nexon?
MK: North American developers? Yeah, we’d love to find some guys with the right DNA, whether it’s through acquisition or investment. We’re looking for them, and if they’re interested, they should call us!
They basically discuss the growth of Nexon America, and basically Nexon, and they ask him how big he wants it to be, and he says that he would hope it becomes 30% of the global revenue. He tells Gamasutra that they have basically dominated the Asian Markets, and that the western markets are just beginning to show signs of potential development. They want to accomplish what they have in the Asian Markets, and that is basically being one of the best, and they hope to do with in the next few years with games such as Vindictus, Dragon Nest, and Dungeon Fighter Online. Min Kim says that they are trying to focus on making casual gamers, and turning them into hardcore gamers, because that is when they begin to make their money he says. They brought these three games because it attracted more hardcore gamers, and these action games have been successful in other countries. They also address the lag, and speed issues with Dungeon Fighter Online, and he replies by saying that everyone knows about these problems, and that they are working on them, but the game so far looks good. He tells how they only focus on bringing games with low levels of beta to the Western Market, and that MapleStory has been a huge success for them. He says that it generates over a million dollars a month at the least. They don’t think of any other games really as a competition yet, because the Western Market is still growing, and they feel that more games, and companies will expand the industry. At the end of the interview Gamasutra asks Min Kim on what future plans they have for the Western Market, and he says they will just be bringing in games from Asia, and eventually hope to invest in some North American Developers that will help the industry grow.
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