Should you consider localization for the Korean game market?
In simple words: YES.
Why does it matter? Why is the Korean market important? And what does it involve? What should you take into consideration when starting the translation and localization for the Korean market?
When speaking about the Korean game market, there are a lot of questions. But for sure, one thing is clear: if you want to conquer the South Asian market, South Korea should be on your shortlist.
In this post, we will briefly describe the Korean gaming market in terms of the size and revenue it generates and describe the South Korean audience. We’ll also point out the favorite game genres of Koreans and share the most important localization tips on this market. By knowing them, you will be able to avoid the biggest mistakes and increase the game’s chances of conquering this demanding audience.
Korean game market overview
Let’s consider the following facts:
- South Korea is the 4th largest game market worldwide, after China, USA, and Japan (according to Newzoo’s Global Games Market Report) and in the top three Asian languages for game translation and localization
- With almost zero censorship, Korea is one of the most unrestricted Asian game markets.
In terms of revenues and spending, the Korean players are some of the biggest game spenders in the world. 85% of gamers spent money on in-app purchases, the average amount being nearly $220 per year. This has led to $ 7.325 billion in revenue for the South Korean game industry in 2020.
Given that Germany, the UK, France, Canada, Italy, and Spain (countries in the top 10 list in terms of gaming industry turnover) each generated less than $ 7 billion, the Korean figures are quite impressive.
We should also mention that the Korean audience mainly prefers free games, so the best option might be to use a freemium game model. This means that the game itself is free, but offers in-app purchases, and players can decide whether to buy or not.
Korean audience overview
With 28,9 million players, 56% of the total South Korean population were gamers in 2018.
A quick overview shows that 73% were male and 27% were female, while:
- 59% of men and 47% of women play mobile games at least once per month
- 24% of men and 14% of women play console games
- 49% of men and 25% of women play PC games.
And these numbers are on the rise!
In terms of the age of Korean game players, 62.3% of gamers are aged 20 to 24 years. However, people being between 30 to 50 years old also play a lot of games, so don’t ignore this category of users.
The Korean mobile market evolution
Unlike other nations, Korean consumers are fast adopters. In 2020, 95.42% of South Koreans had a smartphone, and it’s expecting this percent to reach 97.4% by the end of 2025. Thus, South Korea has become the #1 country globally in terms of both smartphone penetration and internet usage.
56% of mobile users use their smartphones more than a computer or a tablet. Having some of the most network connections in the world, South Korea is rapidly adopting 5G in terms of mobile communication and consumers have begun the transition to 5G devices and services. It’s expected that in the next few years, 5G will overtake 4G.
Which game genres prefer the South Koreans?
As the Koreans prefer mobile gaming to PC games and consoles, they can play everywhere. This also influences the genres of Korean games.
The main takeaways of the market research are:
- Koreans often view games as a social element
- Korean players enjoy competitive games
- They like to be part of a team when playing
That’s why, in Korea, RPGs (role-playing games) and MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) are the favorites of men (57.9%), followed by strategy (12.2%) and action (8.4%) games. Women also play RPGs but also enjoys web board games, puzzle, and casual games. 3 of the 10 top-grossing iOS games are published by foreign companies, and all are strategy games.
Things to consider before localizing games for the Korean market
With such an attractive gaming market, Korean is one of the top three languages for game translations. The Korean players tend to be extremely loyal to games with quality Korean localization. Therefore, if you really want to conquer this market, it’s important to pay great attention to this process.
#1 Consider the Korean game’s UI
Known as Hangul in South Korea, the Korean alphabet consists of 24 consonants and vowel letters grouped in blocks. Every block includes 2 to 6 letters, with at least 1 vowel and 1 consonant. The text is usually written from left to right, and sometimes, from top to bottom. Vertical writing is considered obsolete, but if the game also includes old manuscripts, you should consider this option if you want to be authentic.
#2 Localize the visuals
Korean users like to play games in their language. Therefore, even if it is a video game or a mobile game, the images and other design elements included must be localized along with the text and user interface of the game.
#3 Consider the word order
As the orders of words in Korean differ completely from English and other European languages, often it doesn’t make sense and it’s also impossible to combine strings. For example, because the larger number should go first, the phrase “Select 3 out of 10 weapons”, in Korean, will literally sound as “Out of 10 weapons, select 3”.
Also, keep in mind that the Korean players are not the best English speakers, and therefore, they may find it hard to understand the meaning of incorrectly translated English text.
#4 Formal expression
The level of formality of the Korean language differs depending on the situation and the relationships between the characters. Like it or not, Korean culture is influenced by the peculiarities of Asian culture. When translating Korean, it is very important to take care of this aspect and localize it.
#5 Avoid excessive cruelty
South Korea is a pretty fair and liberal market, where people respect both the other’s freedom of expression and speech. However, some games have been banned for cruelty and violence (see Manhunt or Mortal Kombat). In addition, political issues (especially those related to the Korean War and relations with China and Japan) can cause controversy. Therefore, you should treat them very carefully and create a story or an element of the game while avoiding various issues to which users react sensitively.
#6 Localize with voice over
Rather than localizing only with subtitles, it’s better to add dubbing with voice-over. As mentioned before, In Korea, the immersion of the game is important, but rather than simply localizing the subtitles and UI, it is helpful to dub the voices of the characters so that they are familiar to Korean users.
#7 Localization of dates and pricing
As we mentioned before, Korean players are huge spenders – but if you want to get them to spend money with your game, you need to localize the pricing correctly.
Rule number one: don’t use foreign currencies such as the dollar or the euro! Korean players want to see their own currency in the Korean game or app they’re using. As symbols, you can use either ₩ or 원, as both are accepted. Using the acronym KRW is not recommended, as it is not common in Korea.
Rule number two: formatting the data is important, whether it’s about time and/or date or the money. Therefore, make the pricing understandable and clear. This means also using commas correctly, not using decimal points, and using only whole numbers. For example, use ₩ 1,200 instead of ₩ 1120.00.
#8 Do a LQA test before publishing
Even if having a good LQA testing process can improve their games, many game publishers seem to skip this step. And the consequences are not the best.
For example, in a 2018 game called Darkest Dungeon, the sentence “Claim your birthright” was translated as “Find your life” (네 삶을 찾고.)and the translation was controversial among the Korean game community.
Performing LQA tests and correcting all errors before the game is released increases its overall quality.
#9 Consider KakaoTalk
To succeed in Korea, you must include a social component in your game. As almost every smartphone sold in Korea uses KakaoTalk messaging system and it’s an important piece of the puzzle. Through KakaoTalk, Korean players share scores and invite their friends to play, so many applications are sold through this channel.
With a base of over 50 million users, KakaoGames is the second-largest mobile game distribution channel after Google Play. So, if you want to boost your game downloads, use Kakao.
The Korean audience is extremely demanding, and it may take time and resources to localize your game in a such way that adheres to its standards. You will also want to make sure that none of the important aspects of the Korean language and communication style is missed.
But if you translate and localize your game in a way that fits in their culture, customs and regulations, you have great chances that Korean game players spend money on your game. This way you will not only increase your fanbase but also be able to get an interesting return on investment.