An increased use of smartphones and tablets is leading to a paradigm shift in South Korea’s game industry. The nation’s mobile game market, which was valued at 420 billion won ($383 million) in 2012, saw a sharp jump to 2.4 trillion won last year, accounting for 25 percent of the game industry.
Here are top 10 promising mobile game start-ups in Korea picked by Demoday, a local start-up portal, together with Startup Alliance, a start-up support firm headed by Naver Corporation’s chief executive Kim Sang-hun.
(4:33 Creative Lab)
4:33 Creative Lab
4:33 Creative Lab, which was set up in June 2009, has so far launched 16 games in the local market. Among them, “Blade for Kakao” became one of the most sought-after mobile games, making 100 billion won and reaching 5 million downloads during the eight months since it was released last April.
Last year, 4:33 Creative Lab attracted an investment of 130 billion won from Japan’s Line Corporation and China’s Tencent, which run the mobile messengers Line and WeChat.
The value of the firm, which is set to go public this year, is expected to be around 600 billion won, according to industry watchers.
Fincon started with 11 developers in 2012 and an investment of 350 million won from K Cube Ventures, a local venture capital firm.
It opened a casual role-playing game market with its first game, “Hello Heroes” in 2013. Reaching the top of Apple Store and Google Play’s charts, the hit game has secured 15 million downloads.
Aiming to jump into the global market including the United States, Germany and Russia, Fincon is offering its games in 12 languages by connecting to Facebook in 160 countries.
Next Floor, a small game firm with less than 10 developers, has held the spotlight by releasing its hit game “Dragon Flight for Kakao” in 2012, which hit 25 million downloads.
Since the company rolled out “Dragon Flight Season 2” last September, it soared up the Google Play charts.
Next Floor is set to launch its mobile role-playing game “Destiny Child” in the first half of this year, in partnership with a new mobile game developer Shiftup.
Tree Planet is the first local game firm focused on environmental issues such as tropical forests, yellow dust and global warming.
By connecting its mobile game to sponsor companies, trees that users virtually plant are planted in reality in countries including Korea, China, Thailand and Indonesia. A total of 488,000 trees have been planted in 10 countries since 2010.
The company plans to set up global crowd-funding platforms, aiming to plant 200 forests in 20 countries each year.
Neptune was set up in 2012 by Jung Wook, former chief executive of Hangame, an online game portal operated by NHN Entertainment Corporation.
The firm made a successful debut by attracting an investment of 500 million won from K Cube Ventures, a local venture capital company, and by signing a publishing contract with the nation’s largest game company Nexon.
Neptune has mainly focused on sports simulation games such as “Pro Baseball Master 2014” and “Perfect Lineup.” They also released a role-playing game, “Touch Hunter” last March and have donated 5 percent of its profits to game developers.
Novn has gained attention in the local gaming industry by developing a new genre with “Timeline Dungeon,” a mix of social factors and a multi-user dungeon game.
The firm, founded by Cho Young-ko, former game developer of Nexon, attracted seed investment from The Ventures, a local start-up accelerator, last July, and attracted an investment of 500 million won from NCSOFT, the second largest game developer in Korea, in December.
Currently, Novn is stepping up its efforts to release “Timeline Dungeon” in the first quarter of this year, targeting the global market including the United States.
“Timeline Dungeon” will enable users to enjoy story-centered games through chat windows similar to Twitter’s timeline instead of controlling moving characters real-time.
Placing a value of “Relax of Life” on game contents, Five Thirty was set up in 2012 by Jung Sang-hwa, the former head of global business at Nexon and NDOORS.
Targeting the global market, they developed a new mobile game called “Let’s Fold,” a mix of origami and puzzles, which hit 1.8 million downloads. Users can fold paper 10 times per round by tapping the screen or drawing lines with their fingers.
“Let’s Fold” was picked as the nation’s best App last year and it has stayed on Apple Store and Google Play’s top charts.
Dotomchi Games was started by game developer Chang Suk-gyu, who did everything from planning to development by himself. Under the nickname Dotomchi, he has unveiled diverse game series for iOS and android phones since 2009.
Some of its games, including the real-time action game “Mystery of Fortune” have ranked first on the charts of Apple Store’s paid games.
Attracting an investment of 300 million won this month from NCSOFT, Dotomchi Games is set to release a role-playing game “Heroes of Fortune” this year.
Araso Pandan, which literally means “It’s up to your judgment,” was set up by a developer of stylish iOS game “Red Rusher.”
Based on know-how from the hit game, the company is now developing new games including a defense game “Z-Rush” and games based on different platforms such as consoles, steam and oculus.
“Z-Rush,” a game which enables a group of users to stop zombies from endlessly flocking, is set to be released in the first half of this year.
Comprised of veteran developers having worked for major game companies, Action Square is the first start-up to win an award from the Korea Game Awards, for its hit game “Blade.”
“Blade” occupied the No. 1 spot in Google Play’s games chart for 90 days and made the biggest profit of any Korean game in 2014.
Action Square, which is set to go public this year, is also taking aim at global markets. The company has recently launched “Blade” in Australia’s market to get feedback from foreign users to complement its global version.
By Shin Ji-hye (firstname.lastname@example.org)