Video gaming in South Korea

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In South Korea, video games are considered to be a major social activity, with most of the games being cooperative or competitive. Locally developed Role-playing games, MMORPG and Mobile games have proven to be very popular in the country. Professional competition surrounding video games (especially those involving real-time strategy games) also enjoy a substantial following in South Korea—major tournaments are often broadcast on television, and have large prizes available.

South Korea has developed a strong economy in Asia through the development of creative industries (i.e. Online Game).[1] New York Times culture writer Seth Schiesel has commented "When it comes to gaming, Korea is the developed market... When you look at gaming around the world, Korea is the leader in many ways..." [2] Statistic provided by Korea Creative Content Agency shows that the industry has gained an average growth of 14.9% in sales since 2008.[3] This statistic may reflects an increasing interest in online gaming, especially the youth. Although it is difficult to mark an exact period that is responsible for increasing trend in online gaming; however, it is quite clear that gaming has become much more than activity for leisure.



In January 1975, three units of the relabeled Pong machine Computer TV were installed in the Midopa Department Store in Seoul. The newspaper explained it as a "TV game" and said that big companies such as Samsung and Goldstar (now LG) were producing new machines, most of them Pong clones. Until the end of the 1970s, "electronic entertainment rooms" quickly spread around the country, despite fierce opposition by conservative parents, media and the regime. By 1980, only 43 arcade establishments were government-approved, while many hundreds were opened illegally.[4] The Korean gaming industry started as mostly an import market, getting machines from Japan and the USA. Since it didn't have any form of localization, the arcade manufacturers would put names in Hangul, making some name changes such as "Donkey Kong" becoming "King Kong".[5][6]

Home computers were a luxury import in Korea in the late 1970s and software programming was the domain of institutes like KIST.[7] In 1983, domestic computers – which were clones of Japanese and American models – started being distributed as well as computer magazines. In March of the same year, companies like Samsung started to offer computers to schools to raise a computer-savvy generation. These same companies would host software competitions, but most of the programmers that won those competitions developing games preferred to use their knowledge for more serious software or jobs. In 1984, the computer models became more standardized, with almost all new models based on either MSX or Apple II standard. This made it easier to import and copy foreign games, as there was no copyright law in Korea at the time for computer programs.[5]

In December 1985, Daewoo released the Zemmix, a MSX-based video game console. It was the first successful gaming hardware, thanks to the huge number of imported and pirated games available. Because of that, domestic game development wasn't seen as necessary until July 1987, when a law protecting copyright ownership of computer programs was enacted. This led to the creation of small businesses with the intention of producing and publishing games. The country's first fully-fledged computer game was Sin'geom-ui Jeonseol, also known as Legend of the Sword, released for the Apple II computer platform in 1987. It was programmed by Nam In-Hwan and distributed by Aproman, being primarily influenced by the Ultima series.[5]

Most of the stores that used to pirate games started to port them to Zemmix, the most representative publisher being Zemina, the first company to publish a domestic title, Brother Adventure, a Mario Bros. clone. However, the copyright law only covered the code itself, allowing the video game adaptation of foreign games. A group of Japanese companies (including Taito, Konami and Capcom) brought to court cases against Haitai and Young Toys, but failed to win anything because the games in question were released before the enactment of the law. Most of the original Korean games were made by independent teams, such as "Mickey Soft's Kkoedori" and "New Age Team's Legendly Night". The Korean company Topia was one of the first to begin producing action role-playing games, one of which was Pungnyu Hyeopgaek, for MS-DOS, in 1989. It was the first Korean title published for an IBM PC compatible and set in ancient China.[5]

Foreign companies like Sega and Nintendo had difficulty to enter the market, so they licensed out their consoles to Korean companies. Samsung took Sega's Master System, which was then released in April 1989 as the "Samsung Gam*Boy". Most of the games were released on Korea on their original languages, being Phantasy Star the first game to be fully translated to Hangul. One year later, the Mega Drive arrived with the name of "Super Gam*Boy", having on 1992 all Samsung consoles renamed to "Alladin Boy". Samsung also produced its own game, a shoot 'em up called "Uju Geobukseon". Hyundai was the responsible for the releasing the NES, named Comboy. However, It didn't have any translated games.[5]

The development of those systems started slow, as the software necessary wasn't as available as home computers. Most pirate companies found ways to simply convert MSX games to the Gam*Boy, thanks to their similar architecture. Two companies, Daou Infosys and Open Production, under the Jaem Jaem Club label, were responsible for a steady flow of domestic games for Gam*Boy consoles. Daou was known for its licensed game from the TV animation series Agi Gongnyong Dooly, which had a game released for the MSX. Open Production, on the other hand, was mainly responsible for original games, although most of them were platformers similar to other famous games, however, having completely original sprites, levels and gameplay. Three Open Production games were published in Australia, but only in 1995 when the Master System was already dead in Korea.[5]

By 1990, the excitement for games made in Korea went off. The lack of skill, budget and manpower made it hard for the domestic developers to compete with imported games from Japan and America. However, the PC games started to rise. Until 1992, most of the games for PC were ports or adaptations of traditional boardgames or card games. When computers able to display colored graphics became more common, the industry started to produce games that could compete with consoles on the international market. Big companies started to invest on the development of games and Goldstar opened an educational institute for game developers in March 8, 1993. Localization of the games to the Korean language also became more frequent.[5]

1994 saw the release of two major Korean RPGs: Astonishia Story, and an MS-DOS enhanced remake Ys II Special, developed by Mantra. The latter was a mash-up of Nihon Falcom's game Ys II (1988) with the anime Ys II: Castle in the Heavens (1992) along with a large amount of new content, including more secrets than any other version of Ys II. Both games were a success in Korea.[8][9]

Commercial online gaming became very popular in South Korea from the mid-1990s. Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds, designed by Jake Song, was commercially released in 1996 and eventually gained over one million subscribers. It was one of the earliest massively multiplayer online role-playing games. Song's next game, Lineage (1998), enjoyed even greater success gaining millions of subscribers in Korea and Taiwan.

During February 24 to 27, 1993, Computer Edutainment and Game Software Festival - the first video game expo in Korea - was held at the electronic store complex in Yongsan, Seoul.[10] The first edition of the festival had high profile exhibitors such as Hyundai, but on the following years only small developers would continue to carry it on until its extinction on 1996. On the other hand, the Amuse World expo started as a small event and kept growing steadily, evolving to the nowadays G-Star, the largest game industry event in Korea.[5]

Home console predominance[edit]

Around January 1993, home consoles in South Korea were estimated to be present in one of every four houses.[11] However, they are not as popular as they used to be nowadays. The console downfall started with an photosensitive epileptic seizure mass hysteria successfully spread by the Korean mass media. Although the initial epileptic fit was proven not to be related to flashing light sensitivity,[12] the newspapers would report new or old cases, connecting them with video games. The media would blame Japanese video games, even stating that the cases happening in the USA and Canada were also caused only by video games from Japan. Video game sales were damaged, and Samsung reported a decrease of 71.4% during 1993 and Hyundai, 33%.[13] The industry started to slowly recuperate, but was slowed down by the decision of the Ministry of Culture and Sports, on July 1, 1993, to revise the censorship regulation, so that video games on CD-ROM or cartridge have to pass an evaluation by the Korea Public Performance Ethics Committee. The rating system of the Committee was considered one of the most strict of the world in the 90s.[14]


In 11 November 2001, the sprite-based Ragnarok Online, produced by Korean company Gravity Corp, was released.[15] Though unknown to many Western players, the game took Asia by storm as Lineage had done. The publisher has claimed in excess of 25 million subscribers of the game, although this number is based upon a quantity of registered users (rather than active subscribers).[16] 2002 also saw the release of MapleStory, another sprite-based title, which was completely free-to-play - instead of charging a monthly fee, it generated revenue by selling in-game "enhancements". MapleStory would go on to become a major player in the new market for free-to-play MMORPGs (generating huge numbers of registered accounts across its many versions), if it did not introduce the market by itself.

In October 2003, Lineage II (NCsoft's sequel to Lineage) became the latest MMORPG to achieve huge success across Asia. It received the Presidential Award at the 2003 Korean Game awards, and is now the second most popular MMORPG in the world. As of the first half of 2005 Lineage II counted over 2.25 million subscribers worldwide, with servers in Japan, China, North America, Taiwan, and Europe, once the popularity of the game had surged in the West.

PC bangs[edit]

See also: PC bang
Korean PC Bang

A PC bang (Korean: PC방; literally "PC room") is a type of LAN gaming center, where patrons can play multiplayer computer games and browse the internet for a small hourly fee. The typical cost for an hour of play ranges from 1000 to 1500 won (approximately $0.90 to $1.35 USD.), but as of 2013, 1200 won per hour is the most common cost in PC bang.[17] Although the per capita penetration of computers and broadband internet access is very high in South Korea, PC bangs remain popular as they provide a social meeting place for gamers (especially school-aged gamers) to play together with their friends. Furthermore, the computer hardware used by PC bangs may be more powerful than the systems available in the players' homes. Most PC bangs allow players to eat, drink and smoke (often with separate smoking and non-smoking sections) while they play. It is common for PC bangs to sell ramen noodles, canned coffee, soft drinks, and other snacks.

PC bangs rose to popularity following the release of the PC game StarCraft in 1998.[citation needed] Although PC bangs are used by all ages and genders, they are most popular with male gamers in their teens and twenties.[18]

Many popular Korean multiplayer games provide players with incentives which encourage them to play from a PC bang. For example, the Nexon games Kart Rider and BnB reward players with bonus "Lucci" — the games' virtual currencies — when they log on from a PC bang and the popular League of Legends provides free access to all characters and extra game currency on each match.


Korean E-Sports Stadium at Yongsan I'Park Mall
Hall of fame Located at the Yongsan E-sports Stadium.

South Korea is well known for the fact that professional gaming has a very substantial following in the country, with the top players earning big money prizes in competitions, and spending several hours practicing every day.[19] Two particularly popular video games for pro-gamers are StarCraft and League of Legends. Well-known players include Lim Yo-Hwan, Choi Yeon-Sung, Park Sung-Joon and Lee Jae-Dong.[20]

Video game addiction[edit]

Due to problems of widespread video game addiction threatening the health safety of players and after different incidents related to it,[21] the Korean government banned anyone aged under 16 from playing games online between midnight and 6 am.[22]


Video games in Korea are rated by the Game Rating Board, a governmental organization established in 2006. Games were previously rated by the Korea Media Rating Board (KMRB), but the separate board was established in 2006 following a scandal where the KMRB was allegedly bribed to allow a video slot machine known as Sea Story be put on the market after operators hacked the game to increase its payouts beyond legal limits.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Flew, Terry (2012). The Creative Industries Culture and Policy. SAGE. 
  2. ^ Schiesel, S. "The Land of the Video Geek". 
  3. ^ "Statistics / Trends<Korea Content Industry< KOCCA Korean Website". Retrieved 2015-08-05. 
  4. ^ "Dong-a Ilbo, page 7". Naver. Retrieved 12 February 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Derboo. "Part 1: First steps and emancipation (1976-1993)". Hardcoregaming101. Retrieved 12 February 2014. 
  6. ^ "Maeil Gyeongje, page 4". Naver. Retrieved 12 February 2014. 
  7. ^ "Maeil Gyeongje, page 3". Naver. Retrieved 12 February 2014. 
  8. ^ Szczepaniak, John (7 July 2011). "Falcom: Legacy of Ys". Games (111): 152–159 [157]. Retrieved 2011-09-09.  (cf. Szczepaniak, John (July 8, 2011). "History of Ys interviews". Hardcore Gaming 101. Retrieved 9 September 2011. )
  9. ^ Szczepaniak, John (7 July 2011). "Falcom: Legacy of Ys". Games (111): 152–159 [158]. Retrieved 2011-09-10.  (cf. Szczepaniak, John (July 8, 2011). "History of Ys interviews". Hardcore Gaming 101. Retrieved 10 September 2011. )
  10. ^ "Hankyoreh, page 8". Naver. Retrieved 13 February 2014. 
  11. ^ "Dong-A Ilbo, page 9". Naver. Retrieved 15 February 2014. 
  12. ^ "Dong-A Ilbo, page 22". Naver. Retrieved 3 March 2014. 
  13. ^ "가정용게임기 지난해 판매량". etnews. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  14. ^ Derboo. "Part 2: The rise and fall of the package". Hardcoregaming101. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  15. ^ Global Playground GRAVITY
  16. ^ Michael Kanellos (2004), "Gaming their Way to Growth," CNET News
  17. ^ Bang! Bang! Bang!
  18. ^ Kim, Tae-gyu (2007-07-23). "'PC Bang' Emerges as New Way of Promotion". The Korea Times. Retrieved 2009-04-05. 
  19. ^ Veale, Jennifer (2007-05-14). "Where Playing Video Games Is a Life". TIME. Retrieved 2012-05-09. 
  20. ^ "Why Is StarCraft So Popular In Korea?". 2010-07-24. Retrieved 2012-05-09. 
  21. ^ "Technology | S Korean dies after games session". BBC News. 2005-08-10. Retrieved 2012-05-09. 
  22. ^ Cain, Geoffrey (2010-04-20). "South Korea Gaming Curfew to Battle Video-Game Addiction". TIME. Retrieved 2012-05-09. 

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