Korea’s Paprika Lab and Gaming Culture in Korea, Japan, and the US

October 7, 2011

11:30 am

Since 2009, Seoul startup Paprika Lab has raised US$3 million in funding and grown to 26 team members; they are now preparing to launch a third game. In that time, they’ve also gained some insight about gaming culture across the world.

“People in each country behave very different – the level of skill, the tendency to spend on things, what they spend on,” says cofounder John Kim, who previously worked at NCsoft. “If you want to succeed globally, you have to cater to the main market you’re targeting.”

For Paprika Lab, that’s an international market. Their second game, Hero City, launched at the end of April and now has about 1.5 million users on Facebook and Cyworld, Korea’s Facebook. Kim and his team customized it for Korean gamers by making everything “10 times harder,” though Kim says that users still speed through it twice as fast.

Kim’s experience in gaming, as well as Paprika Lab’s analytics and focus groups, reveals several other differences across gamers. For example, Koreans and Chinese are combative and like to beat each other up – “it becomes very nasty” in Korean games, says Kim. The Japanese, on the other hand, are peaceful: they wait in line to buy items when they could bypass everyone, and they take turns owning castles rather than fighting.

In terms of in-game payments, Kim says, the Japanese are renowned for being big spenders; Koreans clock in ahead of Americans, although virtual goods are becoming more popular in the States. He recalls stories of Koreans paying thousands of dollars for swords, and US$50,000 for a particularly well-equipped castle.

“It’s very scary,” says Kim, referring to how hardcore Korean gamers are. They finish entire games in a month, and sometimes hire others to play for them; Kim has seen users average 23 hours of play per day for months. Gamers are also persistent with complaints; Korean users have followed-up on service requests with Paprika Lab within an hour to find out why nothing has been done, while Americans on Facebook are delighted to receive a personal reply a week later.

As a final tip for developers looking to break into Korea, Kim suggests competitive games with Japanese-style graphics, rather than the cartoon style of games like Pet Society.

“Korean people are very tenacious, very picky, very fickle,” he says. But when you catch their eye, they may be glued forever – or at least until they beat your entire game.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact [email protected]

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