Gaming in Korea has enjoyed around 15 years of great success. Among Korea’s top performing gaming ‘startups’ of the last 15 to 20 years are several that have achieved well over billion dollar valuations. These include NCSoft (US$1.2B), Nexon (US$3.7B), Com2US (US$1.3B), and Devsisters (US$755M) which just went public this month. Smilegate, another domestic star, is still private and its estimated valuation is around US$4B.
Where other areas of software innovation in Korea are developing at a more conservative pace, Korean gaming companies continue to impress. They continue to develop under the leadership of long-term gaming professionals and often prove successful, both in raising investment and with gamers across the globe.
Today, two fresh faces in the Korean gaming industry have emerged, raising investment capital to complete their first titles and bolster Korea’s gaming credentials.
BlackBeard Inc. is a new gaming startup that was founded by highly seasoned gaming professionals from some of the top gaming studios. It announced today that it has raised US$600K to complete development and release of its first title, Distopia.
Its Founder and CEO, KeonWoo Kang previously worked at NCSoft, one of Korea’s top game developers. He was one of the key people developing the core gaming systems for both Blade and Soul titles, which achieved high acclaim in gaming circles and went on to become highly profitable.
Co-Founder, Kevin Baik also has a high-level gaming heritage, having worked for Activision Blizzard prior to joining BlackBeard. He served as the first concept artist for the wildly popular Call of Duty.
While the heritage of the team is in PC games, BlackBeard will be a mobile-first game developer. Kang explained that they aim to use their experience developing for PC, to bring the same quality of gaming experience to the mobile environment.
BlackBeaard will focus on SF Action RPG titles. It has been developing its first title, Distopia, which it plans to release next year. It is based in a fictional 2120 world, at a time when humans are in a desperate battle against marauding alien forces.
Distopia’s core system development is almost finished and many of the additional systems and game content will be completed by the end of this year.
Jimmy Rim, CEO of K Cube Ventures said: “The team at BlackBeard come from a very strong gaming background. These days there are a lot of RPG games, but BlackBeard due to their depth of experience and grand vision, they are creating something new and unique. I also have great faith in their ability to develop higher quality games than the competition.”
NOVN has also today announced investment from The Ventures, an accelerator and early-stage investment firm that incorporated this year.
According to a spokesperson for The Ventures, “NOVN are developing a very innovative new concept in mobile gaming called ‘timeline dungeon’.” While on the surface it might look similar to an RPG style game, the way players interact with the game and other gamers is unique.
Used in a similar way to Twitter’s timeline, there is an in-game chat that controls game dialogue and the game’s timeline. “The storyline is very important in this game,” stated one of the Founders in an interview. “And our timeline feature is very different to what you’ve seen before, in that the game’s timeline is written there.”
Also somewhat unique to Korean game developers, NOVN is targeting North America. “Americans care about a good storyline in a game as well as advanced means of connecting to other users,” according to a company representative. “In addition, this game is targeted towards mobile devices, where communication between users and devices is constant and smooth,” he added.
Like the Founders of BlackBeard, the team at NOVN are all seasoned gaming and technical experts, heralding from some of Korea’s top tech brands. CEO Yong-Goh Choi previously worked for both Nexon and Devsisters. Its CCO, Donghyun Kim, came from Daum, and CTO Young-Uk Oh previously worked for Neople and Vanilla Breeze. According to an industry source, it is unusual for a team of this calibre to work together on a new venture, and this bodes well for the future success of the company.
NOVN also wants to realise a new concept in mobile gaming. It has identified that these days most games are built on similar structures, and that formula used in the making of contemporary games has taken some of the individuality out of the experience for users.
It believes that in many cases the graphics and visual merits of a game is what draws users in, but that reliance on visual features is not sustainable. In contrast, NOVN has focussed on building interesting in-game scenarios, characterisation, in-game features, and player interactivity. It believes that this will make users focus on the core makeup of the game and will increase long-term engagement.
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