Online gaming is all the rage in South Korea, thanks in large part to Kim Taek Jin. Five years ago, he founded NCsoft Corp., which took early advantage of Korea's embrace of superfast broadband connections to introduce Lineage, an online fantasy game that Korean youths just can't get enough of. Lineage players fashion their own medieval adventures, fighting dragons, and forging alliances with other players. Competitors soon rushed in, and now the combined sales of Korea's online-game companies are expected to reach $270 million this year.
Kim boasts that as many as 120,000 Lineage gamers have been logged on at one time to NCsoft's server -- and he has signed up 5 million users, mostly in Korea and Taiwan. In a tough e-business environment worldwide, NCsoft posted $27 million in net profits on sales of $65 million in the first half of 2002, up 49% from the same period last year. Individual users, who pay $25 a month, account for 57% of revenue. The rest comes from fees paid by 20,000 computer salons, which offer high-speed Web access for less than $1 an hour.
Kim, 35, believes this is just beginning. Indeed, he sees NCsoft emerging as a global leader in the gaming industry. "About half of our revenues will come from overseas operations within three years," he predicts. In the past two years, the NCsoft has set up subsidiaries or joint ventures in the U.S., Japan, and Hong Kong. This year, it plans to form a joint venture in China to grab more of a worldwide gaming industry where revenues are estimated at nearly $200 billion annually.
CYBER-ROOTS. The biggest challenge will be cracking the U.S. market -- the world's largest. To help overcome cultural differences, Kim last year recruited Richard Garriott, a veteran American programmer who created the popular Ultima series of PC games, to develop 3-D, movie-like entertainment games that will be marketed in the U.S. next year.
A computer-savvy engineer himself, Kim has a track record of setting high standards. He co-wrote the best-known Korean-language word-processing program, called Hangul, in 1989, and led the team that created the country's first Internet service provider in 1995. Now, he's angling to outshine the likes of Sony (SNE
), Microsoft (MSFT
), and Electronic Arts (ERTS
) in the gaming world. Anyone up for a real-world version of Lineage? By Moon Ihlwan in Korea