South Korea is a very dynamic and competitive market for online games. Most free-to-play FPS games have been developed there. Here is a status quo of the FPS games market in Korea:
Free-to-play FPS games in Korea
South-Korea is the country where most of the free-to-play FPS have been developed. The reason is that the Korean PC games retail market died years ago. The market share of boxed PC games did not even reach 1% of the total gaming revenue in Korea in 2012. Of course many Korean gamers played the Call of Duty and Battlefield series, but many on illegal copies. Downloading a game over the internet instead of buying a boxed PC game was also just more convenient for Korean gamers. Consequently, Korean studios and publishers had developed games that were based on a free-to-play business model. Free download and an in-game item shop proved to be profitable and sustainable. One way was to acquire and modify license and sources of Western FPS games. Best examples are:
|Battlefield Online||The f2p version was developed by Neowiz Games and based on a mix of Electronic Art’s Battlefield 2 and Battlefield 2142. The MMOFPS is recently announced for termination. It has reached the end of its life-cycle after 5 years in Korea.|
|Counter-Strike Online||The Korean f2p version of Valve’s FPS had been modified and published by Nexon for Asia. CSO entered beta by end of 2007 and is still in service.|
|Counter-Strike Online 2||The successor to CSO is now in CBT.|
|Quake Wars Online||Dragonfly developed a f2p version of Activision and ID's arena shooter, the game is no longer in service.|
|Soldier of Fortune Online||The Korean online version of Activision's Soldier of Fortune had been operated for a little longer than one year. It was adapted and launched by Dragonfly.|
Not only did they license FPS from Western countries, Korean studios surfaced with in-house developments, some based on licensed game engines and some on proprietary source engines, such as:
|Game Title||Developer||First Release|
|Another Day (Genesis AD, Repulse)||Queen's Soft||Beta 2009|
|Alliance of Valiant Arms (A.V.A)||Red Duck||Beta 2007|
|Battle Territory (Arctic Combat)||Webzen||Beta 2010|
|Black Shot||Vertigo Games||Beta 2008|
|Combat Arms||Nexon||Beta 2007|
|Cross Fire||SmileGate||Beta 2007|
|Karma 2||Dragonfly||Beta 2002|
|Karma Online||Dragonfly||Beta 2009|
|Mercury Red||ChoiRock Games||Beta 2012|
|Operation 7||Park ESM||Beta 2008|
|Point Blank (Project Blackout)||Zepetto||Beta 2008|
|Renaissance Heroes||Bridea||Beta 2013|
|S2 Online (District 187: Sin Streets)||CJ Gamelab||Beta 2008|
|Special Force||Dragonfly||Beta 2004|
|Sting (K.O.S. - Secret Operations)||YNK Korea||Beta 2008|
|Sudden Attack||GameHi||Beta 2005|
|Tactical Intervention||Fix Korea||Beta 2011|
|War of Zombie||Vertigo Games||Beta 2011|
|War Rock||Dream Execution||Beta 2005|
A number of FPS have reached the end of their life-cycle and have been terminated in the country where they originated from, but are still in commercial service outside Korea, and some of those with commercial success:
- Black Shot - available in Europe and Southeast Asia
- Battle Territory - available on Webzen's global platform
- Cross Fire – had been shut down on Pmang.com due to a dispute between publisher Neowiz Games and developer SmileGate
- Mercury Red - was shut down shortly after launch, but is available in some few countries
- Point Blank – the FPS enjoys popularity, also known as Project Blackout, but not in Korea anymore
- Renaissance Heroes - the fantasy shooter is still not launched in Korea
- Sting - known as K.O.S. was in service a short period, that was long time ago
- Tactical Intervention - it seems that this FPS will also not be published in Korea, it entered OBT recently in North America
and other games might phase out soon too.
Which shooters are being played in Korea?
The overview of the most played shooters reveals that games in Korea can have a longevity with a loyal fanbase. There haven't been any major changes for months, even years, except that Special Force 2 climbed up and is likely to maintain the position as the second most played FPS in Korea.
Sudden Attack is still the unbeaten number one shooter game in Korea. It had been even the most played MMO overall, including MMORPG, and maintained the number one position for many consecutive months in 2011 and 2012. As of March 2013 it is still even the second most played online game overall, following the MOBA game League of Legends. A March 2013 shooter ranking could look like this (positions differ at Korean game metrics sources):
- Sudden Attack
- Special Force 2
- Counter-Strike Online
- Special Force
- War Rock
CrossFire Drives the Korean Online Games Industry
But what drives Korean developers the most is an astounding success story of CrossFire, an FPS that evolved to an ultimate cashcow. SmileGate started the development of CrossFire in 2006 and partnered up with Neowiz who acquired global publishing rights for the FPS. Neowiz signed a license agreement with Tencent to publish CrossFire in China in 2007. Just shortly after the launch number of players were dramatically increasing, reaching 1 mio. PCU (Peak Concurrent Users) a year after, topped 2 mio. PCU in 2009 and made another record in 2011 with astounding 3 mio. PCU.
And as of this date CrossFire is the world's most played MOFPS, China's number one PC game and a multi-billion dollar business, which shaped China's games market, cemented Tencent's number one position and poured tons of cash into the Korean gaming industry. Gross revenue of CrossFire almost reached $900 mio. in 2011 and must have been significantly higher for 2012.
But that success was unexpected or intended on that scale. Neither Smilegate, nor its publisher Neowiz Games or games operator Tencent would have projected that CrossFire would be of that paramount significance. A bit like PSY's success story. PSY or any other common Korean consumer wouldn't have thought that Gangan Style had potential to rack up recognition outside Korea. It wasn't even made for an international audience. But things just happen.
China has become a highly interesting gaming market. And more companies try to get a piece of the cake. The latest additions to Tencent's shooter portfolio are Crytek's Warface and upcoming Call of Duty Online. The latter is based on an alliance with Activision who has been working with Tencent on a mix of maps and themes off the Call of Duty franchise to present a free-to-play version solely for the Chinese market in the next weeks.
And for Korean developers China has become the number one priority. What initially was intended to make profit in Korea only, has become a global business, and for FPS developers it is top priority to launch their game in China.
Interestingly, the following overview on upcoming free FPS reveals that there aren't any too many newcomers. It is one big deal to develop a solid AAA-quality shooter and another big challenge to make a profitable, long term and balanced game that is based on a free-to-play model. Many new f2p FPS in the Western markets struggle to maintain or increase their player base, or even see the numbers dwindle down, because they evolve to a pay-to-win game. Established studios are developing sequels to their existing brands or veterans founded spin-offs to pursue their dream to release their own shooter.
Having said this there will be around 16 new shooter games announced for a launch within the next 24 months, all developed by Korean studios, but not all will make it to a market release and not all of them will meet the quality criteria to maintain profitable operations for the next years.