Exclusive Interview with Nexon's Min Kim

It's hard to deny the powerful presence of Nexon in the free-to-play market. The company's wildly successful MapleStory was one of the first titles supported by microtransactions to...

It's hard to deny the powerful presence of Nexon in the free-to-play market. The company's wildly successful MapleStory was one of the first titles supported by microtransactions to shoehorn its way into the West. Mabinogi, another Nexon title has been in the top half of the Top Ten Free-to-Play Games for a long while, and the publisher continues to look for the next game that will make a big splash in Western markets.

Ten Ton Hammer's Cody "Micajah" Bye recently got a chance to chat with Min Kim, Nexon America's Director of Game Operations, about the status of the Nexon company, future plans, music, and more.

MapleStory is one of the giants of the industry.

Ten Ton Hammer: Is Nexon feeling any sort of pressure with the economic problems the nationÂ’s had lately?

Min Kim: EverybodyÂ’s feeling it. Historically, I think our games really take off when we hit this kind of financial crisis. If you want to play online games and you know these games are totally free-to-play, thereÂ’s no reason for you do dump them unless you are cutting your Internet.

Ten Ton Hammer: HowÂ’s the development of Sugar Rush going so far? I know you guys closed it down at the end of December and it still hasnÂ’t come back up yet.

Min Kim: I donÂ’t know if you heard we shut down our Vancouver studio [which was working on Sugar Rush] some time in January. Not to say Sugar Rush is dead. WeÂ’re still trying to figure out how weÂ’re going to do that. That we definitely did feel, I mean, [with the current economic situation]. That was really unfortunate because we still believe in it.

So right now, we’re really focusing on launching fewer titles but launching them better and putting more marketing dollars behind them and hope eventually they grow. We know what titles in Asia work for us, so bringing the ones that actually hit—really decent hits, or actually homeruns for us—just branching off from that would be a good way to introduce Dungeon and Fighter, which will be renamed for the States to Dungeon Fighter Online. It sounds a little weird to say “Dungeon” and “Fighter.”

Ten Ton Hammer: Yeah.

Min Kim: Grammatically, it’s probably correct, but it sounds like The Killers song, like, “Are we human or are we dancers?” [The Killers song “Human” is found on the album Day & Age—Ed.]

Ten Ton Hammer: [laughs] I love The Killers.

Min Kim: So theyÂ’ll change it to Dungeon Fighter Online, and that game is actually just taking no prisoners out in Asia right now. ItÂ’s one of our biggest titles. ItÂ’s probably doing better than MapleStory in Asia. I think weÂ’ve hit 170,000 concurrent users in Korea. In China itÂ’s hit [around] 1.5 million.

Nexon delivered another hit with Mabinogi.

Ten Ton Hammer: Wow.

Min Kim: ItÂ’s kind of like a throwback to the old arcade style games.

Ten Ton Hammer: Ah. Like Gauntlet? Is that what youÂ’re thinking?

Min Kim: ItÂ’s more like a Final Fight-ish type game. It totally looks like it came straight out of the arcade. ItÂ’s very accessible and when we bring it out here, I think thatÂ’s going to be the growing trendÂ…people playing games like that.

ItÂ’s a multiplayer online game, so youÂ’ve got a lobby where everybodyÂ’s kind of hanging out but you join up with three of your other friends and basically hop in and go into instanced dungeons. ItÂ’s a lot of fun.

If you look at the graphics style, some people might look at it and say, “Yeah, I don’t know if it’s for me.” But if you look at it another way, I think the graphics style actually makes it really accessible. When we were playing another MMO, like [Mabinogi], [that] people that haven’t played games like that before, they are really hesitant because they don’t really know what to do. But I can see someone will be playing Dungeon Fighter Online and their friend coming over and saying, “Hey, move over. Let me try that.” It’s kind of the same for KartRider, too. So we think the game’s really got a lot of reach.

Love for Diablo-style gameplay is evident in the need for a third title in the series.

Ten Ton Hammer: So is it 2D? I mean obviously itÂ’s a side-scrolling type of thing.

Min Kim: ItÂ’s side-scrolling. ItÂ’s really kind of like Final Fight.

Ten Ton Hammer: I love Final Fight! My name is Cody, and there was Cody in the game. How could I not love it? Does it have the same sort of RPG elements as normal MMOs?

Min Kim: Yeah. Basically you can choose from five character classes and an additional four sub classes below that. You progress and gain skills and are picking up items. ItÂ’s very Diablo-esque in some ways, too.

Ten Ton Hammer: Because itÂ’s all about action and hitting the button?

Min Kim: Exactly. ItÂ’s not really turned-based. ItÂ’s about hitting stuff.

Ten Ton Hammer: How do you guys pick the games that are coming out of Asia? Obviously some games that do really well in Korea donÂ’t translate very well [to Western audiences]. Are there any times when you have made a mistake?

Min Kim: It gets pretty complicated when youÂ’re a publisher like we are and weÂ’ve got our own titles and third party titles. A lot of it really isnÂ’t just about the game. ItÂ’s about the relationship between the publisher and the developer. A lot of titles we bring over are internal titles so we have really tight relationships with those teams.

And having a really good relationship there magnifies and multiplies your chance of success. Again, itÂ’s going back to Asia and seeing what worked and what games have been successful there for us and what games we know, at least at the core, are games that can generate money.

Will Nexon send another Mabinogi through its gates?

Ten Ton Hammer: Are there any more big, full-featured MMOs like Mabinogi that are over there right now that youÂ’re looking at?

Min Kim: I think Dungeon Fighter is going to be the big game for us. We think it’s going to be bigger than Maple[Story] has been in the States. We really believe in that. That’s the one we’re spending all of our money on right now. We trying to do a “less is more” focus, and so that’s going to be the whole show this year.

Ten Ton Hammer: Are you going to do the commercials like you did for MapleStory? Or something like the 7-11 promotions. That sort of thing.

Min Kim: WeÂ’re still developing our marketing time because the game is pretty unique in some ways. WeÂ’re trying to figure how weÂ’re going to do that. But weÂ’ll probably spend more money marketing for Dungeon Fighter than weÂ’ve done for any of our games.

Part of the problems we’ve had is we bring games over here that we don’t have necessarily all the resources to fund each of those games responsibly. So the strategy we’re taking is “let’s just bring our best titles here and then market those titles and operate them in the best way possible and localize them well.

Nexon understands that marketing is key.

Ten Ton Hammer: You guys have definitely put a lot of effort behind MapleStory and Mabinogi but maybe not so much for Audition or Combat Arms.

Min Kim: WeÂ’re trying to figure that out with all of our games, how do we present these games [the media]?

WeÂ’re constantly adding new content, but how [does the media] know whatÂ’s basically the right content to highlight? WhatÂ’s important and whatÂ’s not? And so weÂ’re trying to go with this type of expansion method where we try to lump up a lot of stuff. Then [we] release one gigantic expansion a year that everybody can focus on. We changed our business model up for that, too. You knew that right? That we changed our business model up?

Ten Ton Hammer: Yeah, with the aging system in Mabinogi, right?

Min Kim: Yeah, the rebirth card and we added two new races. That actually worked for us, so weÂ’re going to try to think of more ways to do things like that. With Combat, weÂ’re just constantly adding new features to make it better. The gameÂ’s actually doing really well. WeÂ’ve added a lot.

Ten Ton Hammer: You guys had a lot of competitors jump in the market last year. What do you need to do to stay ahead of everybody else? ThereÂ’s some pretty big ones coming up, like Runes of Magic and Atlantica. Those games are doing really well.

Min Kim: I’m hoping they all do well to be honest. A lot of it is in the titles. What we’re trying to do is focus on marketing titles and how we talk to [the media], like localization that we’re doing with Combat right now. You might have seen the stuff about the “nut shot.”

Ten Ton Hammer: I did, actually. That was funny because we had a bunch of “nut” press releases the last couple of days. Somebody else released “flesh sacs” for their game, and I’m like, “Oh, there’s a nut shot and there’s a flesh sac.” [laughs] It was pretty funny. [Dreamlords announced the flesh sacs—Ed.]

Min Kim: What we did with that is weÂ’re kind of just joking around, but it was actually very strategic at the same time. The challenge that we have with Combat is that itÂ’s a first person shooter. Unless you are a Counterstrike or Call of Duty [fan], a lot of people just glaze over it.

It’s a first person shooter and it’s free, so there are probably a lot of stereotypes that are going to pop up and all that. Somebody in our office really related well to the whole thing by saying, “Hey, you’ve got the Bruce Lee issue,” which Counterstrike is basically Bruce Lee and any other game that came out after that was basically stupid.

Being successful means knowing when to allow gamers to use a nut shot.

How do we break that? We know there are some [popular] features in the game, like the persistent stat tracking and all the client features, and weÂ’ll continue to add stuff. But how do you convince gamers to give it a try?

Check out the nut shot video. The funny thing about that is a lot of people are talking about it. A part of the strategy is if were just to put out a video about the gameplay, would a lot of people have looked at it? Probably not. But then when we put in the nut shot thing, people are looking at the nut shot, and then theyÂ’re getting to see what the game is looking like. So itÂ’s kind of working for us in that way. Like the Trojan horse that is getting us into Minor. ItÂ’s getting us out there right now.

Ten Ton Hammer: Is there anything else that is coming up? YouÂ’ve talked about Dungeon Fighter. Is there anything else that you want to talk about?

Min Kim: Dungeon Fighter again has been the game that has been killing it for us out in Asia. And I donÂ’t know if you know, but we actually acquired the company that made it. We didnÂ’t build this internally.

Ten Ton Hammer: Oh really?

Min Kim: So, we donÂ’t buy a lot of companies, but this one we actually did buy.

Ten Ton Hammer: Because you thought the game was that impressive?

Min Kim: Oh yeah. Super solid. And NexonÂ’s gotten where itÂ’s really good at being able to take those titles and then branch them off into different countries. As an international publisher, we can probably do more than just a company doing it on their own for the first time.

Ten Ton Hammer: Thanks for your time, Min! I wish you and Nexon the best and look forward to seeing more about your games in the future!

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