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 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 nationÂs had lately?
Min Kim: EverybodyÂs 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, thereÂs no reason for you do dump them unless you are cutting your Internet.
Ten Ton Hammer: HowÂs the development of Sugar Rush going so far? I know you guys closed it down at the end of December and it still hasnÂt come back up yet.
Min Kim: I donÂt 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. WeÂre still trying to figure out how weÂre 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, weÂre 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 hitÂreally decent hits, or actually homeruns for usÂjust 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 ÂDungeonÂ and ÂFighter.Â
Ten Ton Hammer: Yeah.
Min Kim: Grammatically, itÂs probably correct, but it sounds like The Killers song, like, ÂAre we human or are we dancers?Â [The Killers song ÂHumanÂ is found on the album Day & AgeÂEd.]
Ten Ton Hammer: [laughs] I love The Killers.
Min Kim: So theyÂll change it to Dungeon Fighter Online, and that game is actually just taking no prisoners out in Asia right now. ItÂs one of our biggest titles. ItÂs probably doing better than MapleStory in Asia. I think weÂve hit 170,000 concurrent users in Korea. In China itÂs hit [around] 1.5 million.
Nexon delivered another hit with Mabinogi.
Ten Ton Hammer: Wow.
Min Kim: ItÂs kind of like a throwback to the old arcade style games.
Ten Ton Hammer: Ah. Like Gauntlet? Is that what youÂre thinking?
Min Kim: ItÂs more like a Final Fight-ish type game. It totally looks like it came straight out of the arcade. ItÂs very accessible and when we bring it out here, I think thatÂs going to be the growing trendÂ people playing games like that.
ItÂs a multiplayer online game, so youÂve got a lobby where everybodyÂs kind of hanging out but you join up with three of your other friends and basically hop in and go into instanced dungeons. ItÂs a lot of fun.
If you look at the graphics style, some people might look at it and say, ÂYeah, I donÂt know if itÂs for me.Â 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 havenÂt played games like that before, they are really hesitant because they donÂt really know what to do. But I can see someone will be playing Dungeon Fighter Online and their friend coming over and saying, ÂHey, move over. Let me try that.Â ItÂs kind of the same for KartRider, too. So we think the gameÂs 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 itÂs a side-scrolling type of thing.
Min Kim: ItÂs side-scrolling. ItÂs 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. ItÂs very Diablo-esque in some ways, too.
Ten Ton Hammer: Because itÂs all about action and hitting the button?
Min Kim: Exactly. ItÂs not really turned-based. ItÂs 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 donÂt translate very well [to Western audiences]. Are there any times when you have made a mistake?
Min Kim: It gets pretty complicated when youÂre a publisher like we are and weÂve got our own titles and third party titles. A lot of it really isnÂt just about the game. ItÂs 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, itÂs 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 youÂre looking at?
Min Kim: I think Dungeon Fighter is going to be the big game for us. We think itÂs going to be bigger than Maple[Story] has been in the States. We really believe in that. ThatÂs the one weÂre spending all of our money on right now. We trying to do a Âless is moreÂ focus, and so thatÂs 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: WeÂre still developing our marketing time because the game is pretty unique in some ways. WeÂre trying to figure how weÂre going to do that. But weÂll probably spend more money marketing for Dungeon Fighter than weÂve done for any of our games.
Part of the problems weÂve had is we bring games over here that we donÂt have necessarily all the resources to fund each of those games responsibly. So the strategy weÂre taking is ÂletÂs 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: WeÂre trying to figure that out with all of our games, how do we present these games [the media]?
WeÂre constantly adding new content, but how [does the media] know whatÂs basically the right content to highlight? WhatÂs important and whatÂs not? And so weÂre 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 weÂre going to try to think of more ways to do things like that. With Combat, weÂre just constantly adding new features to make it better. The gameÂs actually doing really well. WeÂve 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? ThereÂs some pretty big ones coming up, like Runes of Magic and Atlantica. Those games are doing really well.
Min Kim: IÂm hoping they all do well to be honest. A lot of it is in the titles. What weÂre trying to do is focus on marketing titles and how we talk to [the media], like localization that weÂre doing with Combat right now. You might have seen the stuff about the Ânut shot.Â
Ten Ton Hammer: I did, actually. That was funny because we had a bunch of ÂnutÂ press releases the last couple of days. Somebody else released Âflesh sacsÂ for their game, and IÂm like, ÂOh, thereÂs a nut shot and thereÂs a flesh sac.Â [laughs] It was pretty funny. [Dreamlords announced the flesh sacsÂEd.]
Min Kim: What we did with that is weÂre kind of just joking around, but it was actually very strategic at the same time. The challenge that we have with Combat is that itÂs a first person shooter. Unless you are a Counterstrike or Call of Duty [fan], a lot of people just glaze over it.
ItÂs a first person shooter and itÂs 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, ÂHey, youÂve got the Bruce Lee issue,Â 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 weÂll 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 theyÂre getting to see what the game is looking like. So itÂs kind of working for us in that way. Like the Trojan horse that is getting us into Minor. ItÂs getting us out there right now.
Ten Ton Hammer: Is there anything else that is coming up? YouÂve 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 donÂt know if you know, but we actually acquired the company that made it. We didnÂt build this internally.
Ten Ton Hammer: Oh really?
Min Kim: So, we donÂt 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 NexonÂs gotten where itÂs 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!