South Korea has been a leading video game market for years. Back in the 1990s and 2000s, Korean game developers were strong contributors to the rise of the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) genre in Asia. The subsequent rise of e-sports in South Korea has created a legion of dedicated and skilled professional gamers who, as champions of many worldwide e-sport competitions, have become national heroes. South Korea’s position as a mobile technology leader has helped drive its strong growth in mobile gaming, boasting an astounding 99% coverage for LTE (Long Term Evolution) networks and a smartphone penetration rate of 70%. Currently, South Korea is ranked as the third largest mobile game market by revenue from the iOS App Store and Google Play combined.
Following on the success of G-STAR 2014, App Annie is excited to announce the Fall 2014 South Korea App Annie Games Top Achievers. In this report, we look back at the top-performing Korean games within the 12-month period ending October 2014. To find out what games are hot in South Korea this month, please check out the 2014 October South Korea App Annie Index for Games. For more information on global top apps and publishers, see the full Index charts for October, including newly added charts for other countries.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- The Technology Behind the Report
- The Longevity Achievers
- The Fast-Moving Achievers
- The Monetization Achievers
- The Worldwide Success Achievers
- The Top Foreign Achievers
The information contained in this report was compiled from App Annie Intelligence, the leading market data solution for the app store economy. To see how our app store download and revenue estimates can help guide your critical business decisions, take a tour or request a demo today.
Definition: The Longevity Achievers were awarded based on how frequently a game appeared in App Annie’s top 5 monthly rankings in South Korea.
Qualification: A game must have appeared in App Annie’s top 5 rankings by monthly revenue or downloads in South Korea’s Games category on either iOS App Store or Google Play within the 12-month period from November 2013 to October 2014, based on the estimates from App Annie Intelligence.
Significance: This metric focuses on a game’s staying power. Long-term success is usually the result of solid game design, frequent updates, and effective user acquisition and retention strategies. These types of games usually provide their publishers with solid revenue streams. By maintaining and evolving their staple apps, a publisher can boost development cost efficiency by focusing on their existing apps rather than developing new titles. Not only is it cheaper to retain existing customers than to acquire new ones, it is also easier to cross-sell new games to existing customers.
The monthly downloads chart was much more volatile than the revenue chart in South Korea from November 2013 to October 2014. In that time, more than 45 games broke into the monthly top 5 by iOS downloads -- more than 40 games accomplished the feat on Google Play. During the same period, only 13 games made it into the monthly top 5 by revenue on iOS -- 11 games cracked the top 5 on Google Play.
From an audience perspective, the mobile game markets are very energetic and competitive in South Korea. Each month, hundreds of games are released with hopes of becoming national hits. Publishers use pre-registration platforms to inject initial users, invest heavily on TV and outdoor commercials, and pay for exposure on social platforms like KakaoTalk -- which costs publishers 21% of their game revenues. This level of marketing spend is not sustainable for all but the biggest publishers. The short-burst type of consumer exposures made it difficult for any game to top the downloads charts for very long in South Korea. The #1 achiever by Google Play downloads, Anipang 2 (애니팡2 for Kakao), was among the monthly top 5 for only six times. In Japan, Puzzle & Dragons, the top Google Play game in terms of longevity, made ten appearances in the monthly top 5.
When looking at monetization, Monster Taming (몬스터 길들이기 for Kakao) and Everybody’s Marble (모두의마블 for Kakao) claimed the two top spots for revenue across iOS and Google Play. Developed by Netmarble, both games were designed to be casual games featuring simple and proven gameplay, as well as cute graphic designs beloved by mainstream consumers. However, by incorporating well designed features such as card (monster) collecting, trading, and other character growth systems into the gameplay, Monster Taming and Everybody’s Marble could set mid-term or long-term goals and achievements for players to pursue. This helped to bring in the satisfaction of growth in addition to the fun available in other casual games, presenting an opportunity to help keep users engaged over a long period of time. Moreover, the in-app purchase designs of both games were well balanced with game difficulty, which enabled strong retention as well as monetization.
Channel wise, both games opted to publish on KakaoGames, a feature tab within the extremely popular KakaoTalk messaging apps, in order to reach approximately 30 million players out of the 100 million registered users of KakaoTalk. Because of both games’ successful engagement and monetization of the non-gaming mobile segment, publishers in South Korea have been striving to replicate their success with the same formula.
Definition: The Fast Moving Achievers were games chosen based on how quickly they joined South Korea’s top 5 by daily grossing or free downloads.
Qualification: A game must have ranked among the top 5 by monthly revenue or downloads in the Games category of the South Korea iPhone App Store or Google Play at least once within the 12-month period from November 2013 to October 2014, based on the estimates from App Annie Intelligence.
Significance: This metric evaluates the ability of a game to quickly attract downloads, which hinges on a number of factors: the brand strength of the game, its publisher, the scale of the platform or distribution channel, and effectiveness of the marketing campaign.
As mentioned before, competition, consumer behaviors, and many other factors in the Korean mobile game market have forced publishers to focus on short-term app discoverability in order to maximize player trials. As a result, many games climbed into the top 5 by downloads within a day of launching.
On iOS App Store, SuperStar SMTOWN rose the fastest, starting off at #2 by daily downloads within the Games category. While SuperStar SMTOWN’s musical gameplay is very similar to hit console game Guitar Hero, what differentiates it is its strong association with K-Pop powerhouse SM Entertainment. Players can play through hit songs from popular singers and bands like BoA, EXO and Super Junior. In career mode, players can even virtually interact with the stars as they level their character up to stardom. In a country as deeply rooted in its local pop culture and entertainment industry as South Korea is, games such as SuperStar SMTOWN appeal to a broader mobile audience that includes culturally savvy non-gamers. Much like Glu and Kim Kardashian’s partnership game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, SuperStar SMTOWN may signal the continued growth of pop culture in games, as publishers appeal to a broadening mobile demographic.
In the Google Play store, Cookie Run Rub Rub (쿠키런 문질문질 for Kakao) took the top spot, reaching #2 by daily downloads in the Games category on the second day of release. The game’s success is likely due to its strong brand. The big success of the original Cookie Run (쿠키런 for Kakao) in 2013 established the franchise’s brand equity and made a national icon of the game’s ginger cookie man in South Korea. The game’s success spawned sticker packs in messaging apps, toys, stationery, and assorted merchandise, firmly entrenching Cookie Run as part of pop culture. In other words, Cookie Run is the Angry Birds of South Korea. There is no wonder that when Cookie Run Rub Rub was released, so many loyal fans downloaded the game immediately.
Strong intellectual property (IP) has long been key to the success of many mobile games. We can see that from the success stories of mobile games based on IPs of blockbuster movies, comics, or other types of media. However, Cookie Run and Angry Birds are examples of mobile-first IP making their way into broader pop culture, which further illustrates the importance of mobile gaming in the global entertainment industry.
Definition: The Monetization Achievers tracks games with the highest cumulative revenue per download since their initial release date on the South Korea iOS App Store or Google Play.
Qualification: The game must have ranked in the top 5 by monthly revenue or downloads in the Games category of the South Korea iOS Apple Store or Google Play at least once within the 12-month period from November 2013 to October 2014 to qualify, based on the estimates from App Annie Intelligence.
Significance: A close proxy for average revenue per user, cumulative revenue per download is a good indicator of a game’s monetization capability via in-app purchases. Key factors impacting monetization include game design, the in-game economy, and live game operations such as promotions, which can create more in-app purchase opportunities for players. Excellent promotion strategies and game updates can boost the lifetime value of a game for the publisher by creating an incentive for gamers to keep playing, substantially increasing its life cycle.
Although Everybody’s Marble and Monster Taming were ranked at the top of revenue charts in South Korea, other games have generated more revenue per download since their release on iOS or Google Play app stores. Content-heavy games, including RPGs like Dragon Blaze and Summoners War, and Strategy games have shown a propensity to collect higher cumulative revenue from each download.
The higher average revenue per download may influence game developers and publishers to shift more development resources towards content-heavy games. It is not difficult to observe that in late 2013 and early 2014, fierce competition in South Korea has gradually pushed up the game companies’ unit cost of user acquisition –- including both the costs and volume of outdoor and TV advertising, pre-registration, and channels (like KakaoGames) needed to acquire a certain number of players. In other words, Cost per Installation (CPI) or Cost per Acquisition (CPA) has increased significantly. In this case, making casual games with fewer in-app purchase opportunities, shorter engagement periods and hence lower Average Revenue per Download (ARPD) may not be as financially lucrative as it once was.
Definition: The Worldwide Success Achievers track the cumulative downloads or revenue of a South Korean game collected outside South Korea.
Qualification: A game must be developed by a publisher under a Korean parent company to be considered and will be ranked based on its cumulative downloads or revenue in Worldwide’s Games category excluding South Korea on either iOS App Store or Google Play within the 12-month period from November 2013 to October 2014, based on the estimates from App Annie Intelligence.
Significance: The Worldwide Success Achievers measure a Korean game’s success outside of South Korea, which is an important strategic goal of many Korean publishers.
Korean games are exceptionally popular and influential across Asia, especially in China and Southeast Asian countries -- wise partnerships for game distribution has been a critical component of international success.
The leading Korean mobile game developer CJ Games (formerly the development holding company of the CJ E&M Netmarble, now merged into the Netmarble Games Corp) leveraged its long-term relationships with Tencent and LINE, operators of the largest messaging / social platforms in China and Japan, respectively. The portfolio of CJ Games consisted of a series of content-light casual and puzzle games like Everybody’s Marble, Pokopang and Everybody Pong Pong Pong, which were catered to non-hardcore game players or even non-players and therefore suitable to be launched on massive social platforms. With easy gameplay and massive distribution, CJ’s portfolio of casual games went viral in China and Japan through existing social relationships on WeChat and LINE, and in other countries where LINE has significant market share, such as Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia.
Realizing the match of each other’s business needs and strategic importance, CJ Games and Tencent further teamed up through direct investment. In March, Tencent agreed to purchase a 28% stake in CJ Games, which is translated to a stake in the newly merged Netmarble Games Corp. in October.
Definition: The Top Foreign Achievers measure the cumulative downloads or revenue that a foreign game generated in South Korea.
Qualification: The game must have been developed in a foreign country and generated downloads or revenue in South Korea’s iOS App Store or Google Play Store within the 12-month period from November 2013 to October 2014, based on the estimates from App Annie Intelligence.
Significance: This measurement provides an overview of what kind of foreign games are currently successful in the Korean market -- one of the largest mobile game markets with strong local game culture.
Clash of Clans was ranked between #100 and #300 on the overall Google Play charts by downloads in South Korea before June 2014. Beginning in May 2014, Supercell started to heavily advertise the game on TV and outdoor commercials. Clash of Clans posters and billboards were prominent featured in public transit hubs, buses, shopping centers, and buildings. Supercell even opened an office in the famous Gangnam area of Seoul to manage its marketing and business expansion in South Korea, making it the Finnish company’s second office in Asia after Japan. The significant marketing spend coincided with a surge in downloads for Clash of Clans, as it leapt up the charts and maintained a higher position into Q4 2014.
Candy Crush Saga opted to boost its game discoverability by publishing on KakaoGame. In addition to the requisite translation, King made massive localization efforts in order to adapt to the local market. By connecting to KakaoTalk, Candy Crush Saga was able to access existing Korean social networks, boosting game virality and engagement. King also deployed “sticker marketing” -- special emoticons based on Candy Crush Saga that were offered to KakaoTalk users for free to create awareness of the game.
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- The publisher and app rankings reported in the App Annie Awards are based on the download and revenue estimates available through App Annie Intelligence. The daily rank history charts and the home page feature app data are available to all users through App Annie’s app tracker solution, Store Stats.
- All the games are ranked at apps level without considering unification.
- A game must be categorized in iOS Games or Google Play Games category to be qualified for ranking.
- In the App Annie Index, all apps and publishers are reported under their parent companies, where available; for example, the Summoners War app is reported under its parent company GAMEVIL, rather than its direct publisher Com2uS. Note that if you view the gumi parent company page on Store Stats, you will see the publishers that roll under the parent company GAMEVIL, including Com2uS. The Summoners War app will be listed under the Com2uS publisher page.
- Revenue rankings are based on revenue that the iOS App Store and Google Play earned from paid downloads and in-app purchases. They do not include revenue earned from in-app advertising.
- For the Fast Mover Award, “the days a game takes to join the top 5” is calculated by counting the days from the game’s release date in Japan, as specified by its official website or press release, to the date when the game joined the top 5 according to App Annie Store Stats. This is inclusive of the start and end dates. For example, if Everybody’s Marble was released on June 10, 2013 in South Korea Google Play and climbed to #1 by downloads in Games category on June 11 from #73 on June 10, App Annie consider that Everybody’s Marble took 2 days to join the top 5.
- Certain trademarks and/or images used in this report may belong to third parties and are the property of their respective owners. App Annie claims no rights in such trademarks or images.
December 10, 2014Market Data