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The Free Zone: Long-Distance Thoughts on G-STAR 2014

By Richard Aihoshi on November 25, 2014 | Columns | Comments

Long-Distance Thoughts on G-STAR 2014

Unbeknownst to many in this part of the world, the latest iteration of G-STAR wrapped up its usual four-day run on Sunday. For observers in this hemisphere, Korea's trade and consumer game industry event has never even remotely approached the levels of visibility and hype that its western counterparts typically generate. Accordingly, it's seldom held in the same regard. Nonetheless, this year's version drew my attention for various reasons.

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Nexon's thrust to improve its brand image

Both in the west and in Korea, Nexon has acquired an image of being even more profit-driven than other publishers. The degree to which this is deserved is a matter of opinion, but it's undeniable that many people feel this way. At its pre-show event, the company seemed to acknowledge there is at least some basis for this point of view, stating that it has released some titles before they were completely ready for prime time. From what I've seen, none were named.

Nexon reportedly followed by saying it is working to change this image by placing increased emphasis on delivering well-made, entertaining games. It also unveiled a new slogan, one that seems to demonstrate a clear awareness of the need to improve its brand image. Unfortunately - and rather disappointingly - it appears the company was unwilling to address questions about what is arguably the biggest single negative element of the reputation it is aiming to alter, the perception that it favors highly aggressive monetization policies.

It's something of a sad commentary on the state of the industry that this reticence is merely another example of what we have learned to expect from large publishers. Like the others, Nexon is led by intelligent people. Accordingly, it doesn't seem likely that they thought they could talk about improving the company's brand image without addressing a significant element thereof. I find it hard to believe they are naive enough to think monetization wouldn't come up or that it could be easily danced around.

There's nothing easy about significantly improving a flawed brand image. Promising to deliver better quality games isn't nearly enough, especially for the portion of your target audience that already has a negative impression. Those individuals tend to be predisposed not to cut you any slack. Some may even feel empowered. They tell themselves they were right and become even more critical of a product, service or company that, by more objective measures, has actually improved.

Nexon has set a very difficult challenge for itself, one that will require a long-term commitment. As the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I look forward to seeing if the company will feed us better to a meaningful degree in the coming years.

Busan, not Seoul

Busan is a large, modern metropolis. BEXCO, the facility where G-STAR takes place is great. Indeed, it's probably better than it was during my last visit a couple of years ago because the new hall that was under construction then is now available. What's more, the complex sits in a very convenient, central part of the city. However, I've never fully understood why the show isn't held in Seoul.

My understanding is that the government has always favored locations other than the capital, presumably to support other parts of the country. One stumbling block associated with this is the fact that the development industry is very heavily concentrated in and around Seoul. So is most of the country's enormous gamer population. This means that when the show takes place elsewhere, it's both less convenient for the exhibitors and likely to draw fewer attendees.

Accordingly, I suspect that G-STAR's location is a drag on its growth - not the reason the show isn't more important globally, but a contributing factor. Holding it outside Seoul makes it easier for publishers, even pretty major ones, to justify not exhibiting. This is precisely what has happened the past few years. Some of the large domestic companies haven't shown, which certainly hasn't helped in terms of improving the event's visibility here in the west.

Lost Ark

Lost Ark is the new MMORPG that Smilegate revealed a week before the show. This may seem rather insignificant here, but it's certainly news in Korea and to observers of the global MMOG landscape. Although not well known to most North American gamers, the company has attained enormous success with the world's most popular MMOFPS, Crossfire. I don't expect the upcoming title to generate much buzz in this part of the world, but I'll certainly have my eyes open for whatever information I can find moving forward.


Closing queries

  • Do you feel Nexon is more profit-driven than most other publishers, and if so, what basis do you have for this opinion?
  • Can the company realistically expect to improve this image? If so, what's a realistic time frame to make this happen?
  • What would encourage you to pay more attention to G-STAR?
  • Have you checked out Lost Ark? Will you? Why or why not?
The Free Zone The Free Zone Editorials
Richard Aihoshi has been writing about MMOGs since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. As a result, he has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.

He is the former Editor of RPG Vault and his column, focusing on free to play MMOs, appears on MMORPG.com every Monday.
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