It's been awhile since I've posted any articles and that's mainly due to the fact that I've spent the past two months getting acclimated to life in Korea (it's a lot to wrap your head around...trust me). But one big problem has beem simmering in my head: "What do I do with my consoles?"
If you know anyting about me, I take gaming to a ridiculous extreme. I'm not the crazy gamer who is numero uno at CoD, but rather I'm that guy who has every console since the NES chilling in his apartment (okay, I'm missing the Saturn, but it really wasn't that great a console. Sorry.) and has played hundreds of games on each platform. I'm not an idiot. I realized that I couldn't bring all of them to Korea; I would be lucky if I could fit one. So what did I pick? The reigning champ - my PS3 slim. Bluray player + free internet + sexy gaming hardware? Easy choice. Okay...maybe I cheated and brought all my handhelds too...
I immediately thought something was strange when I called Delta and the Korean consulate to ask about any restrictions on bringing such hardware into the the country as a resident and they had NO IDEA. As in, no one had ever so much as mentioned considering doing such a thing before. Prepared to try anyway, I packed my bags full of enough hardware to concern a DIY computer engineer/demolitions expert, and managed to make it into the country without so much as an eyebrow raised.
Unfortunately, I soon learn my apartment TV doesn't have HDMI, so PS3 is out, but at least I have my handhelds. Oh wait, my step-down converter exploded in a literal puff of smoke so now I can't charge my handhelds (US voltage is 110...Korea is 220...so if I tried [even with an adapter] my handhelds would be the ones having the funeral). I'm tweaking a bit at this point. I have a Mac (premptive "fuck you, I know it's not for gamers") which runs Steam about as fast as stoner doing long division, so getting my fix on that is out of the question.
Finally, a recent accquaintance decides "hey dude, you look like you could be dying...want to try out a PC Bang?" I take the bait, "What's a PC Bang?" Come to find out it's literally what it sounds like. "Bang" is Korean for "room" and "PC" is well....look, its a room full of PCs. And we aren't talking like old ass Pentiums with Windows 98 still installed and a dial-up modem like those "computer rooms" in your local library. We're rows of pure gaming luxury. Reclining leather desk chairs, solid sound systems, 42' moniters, preloaded with WoW, Diablo III, Starcraft II, etc, etc. Oh, and fucking snacks. At the nicer ones, people will BRING you the snacks and you can even order MEALS! It's like the social version of WoW nerds who got sick of their mom telling them to pick up their underwear, but still wanted to be catered to. I get a little worried after a few hours of stomping Zerg in Starcraft and start doing mental math in my head to see how much this is going to cost me. I'm thinking that I'm probably going to end up dropping about 20 bucks after 3 hours of gaming. But whatever, cool experience at least, right?
We go to pay and guess how much it costs me? 2100 Won. Does that sound like a lot? Well, it shouldn't, because that's only about $2 USD. It cost 700 Won an HOUR, which roughly equates to 60 cents. I could spend 24 hours a day, every day, at that PC Bang for less than $15 dollars a day. Still wonder why Koreans are so good at Starcraft? Because I'm starting to figure it out.
But now that the dust setted, we're back to my original question: Why have I not so much as seen a single advertisement for a console title? Not on TV, the internet, street signs, anywhere! This is especially confusing because Koreans LOVE gaming! They are so open about it, I thought I would see every kid with a DS or SOMETHING! After living here nearly two months, I've learned a few important differences between Korea and America that help me understand the lack of console usage in Korea.
Basically Korea is radically different from America in four very important ways:
1) PC Gaming is Much Cheaper Than Console Gaming.
In America, PC gaming is a huge invenstment. It pays off down the road with enough TLC and technical knowledge, but most people aren't willing to deal with that learning curve or even have that kind of attention span. Console gaming is far cheaper for us psychologically, even though people like me probably end up spending way more when we have every generation of every competitor's hardware. In Korea, most people don't have a gaming computer at home. Probably less than .001% of Koreans would even bothing having a gaming rig, because they can walk to nearly any block and throw pennies at a PC Bang to have a Starcraft LAN party with their buddies on premium machines (Note: just like anything else, there are really crappy PC Bangs out there too). There are some Bangs that are for Xbox or Wii, and those are slowly gaining popularity, but PC still dominates.
2) Koreans Hate the Japanese
Seriously, it's strange. Japanese people love Korean music and Koreans love Japanese brands, but they absolutely hate each other culturally (it's not hard to understand given the history). Basically, what this means is there are huge restrictions on Japanese products coming in. Why would the Koreans want to support companies in countries that steal their islands? Especially electronics companies that could endanger the success of major sources of revenue for Korea ("Hey Sony? Yeah...that was Samsung and LG on the other line...they agreed that you should go fuck yourself"). So while we're bitching about Xenoblade Chronicles taking so long to get localized, Korea gets nothing. At all. And they like it that way. Okay, so they have Nintendo DS...but I've seen maybe 4 games displayed at any given time (You better fucking LOVE Cooking Mama, because that's all you're getting, Mister!). And Playstation is gaining popularity, but it's still only sold primarily in niche Playstation "dealerships" (The one I went to was still demo-ing with a fat body PS2...).
3) Koreans Are Obsessive As Fuck
In America, we have some games that always make our AAA chart topping list and everyone knows them. However, our indie game industry is thriving like no one would have believed ten years ago. In Korea it's AAA or nothing. They don't just love certain games, they fucking LOVE those games. Starcraft was the game to beat in the past (I still turn on the TV and see professional starcraft competitions), but I honestly think Minecraft is going to kick Starcraft's ass here pretty soon. Because people in Korea don't "dabble". How many genres of music do they have? Two: Traditional Music and K-Pop. Whatever is on the Top K-Pop charts they attack with a frenzy until it gathers what's left of it's limbs and drags itself into a corner to die and then they turn on the next big thing. What made Minecraft beat Starcraft? It went mobile. I teach English at a private school here and I'll walk into class on any given day and 60% of my students will be playing Minecraft on their phones. Oh, and Korea probably single-handly supports Rovio with all the Angry Birds merchandise they own: hats, stickers, stuffed animals, t-shirts. Notch, get on that merch, dawg. Koreans find a favorite thing and pelt it with money until it suffocates from the constant cash flow. You want to make money in the gaming industry? Find a way to market your game to Koreans and you're golden.
4. Koreans Are A Social People
Being in Korea and not being Korean sometimes feels like being a poor kid who snuck into a country club. There are no such things as "singles" bars, or "singles" anything. People don't do stuff alone in Korea. Ever. As far as I have seen. And the culture reflects this (or causes it? A chicken/egg scenario...). Dinner costs like $18 and I was like "Shit! That's expensive!" until you realize it's meant to be shared family style with 3-5 other people. Then dinner ends up costing you like $3-$6 bucks. Same with PC Bangs. They aren't seperate little cubbies, everyone's PC is together and you can play with your friends. Karaoke bars (no rae bangs) are super pupular here after a night of drinking, but again...group activity. Koreans are very amicable and the fact that gaming is part of such a social culture, it means that gaming in Korea is typically a rather social activity. That's why Koreans will watch professional gaming matches while most westerners won't bother. Because it's more about who you're with than what you're doing.
So now I've come to my final question: Will I ever fit in? Will consoles ever become super popular in Korea and I'll be able to start playing Persona 5 or 6 in Korean?
I predict that there will be a definite shift away from PC gaming in Korea, but not to consoles. Consoles just weren't built for the Korean lifestyle. Koreans are very social people and consoles rarely lend themselves to that party mentality outside of American shooters (which doesn't appeal to Koreans at all). Maybe they'd go crazy for LBP2, but not enough to fill their world with Playstations. The console games that do sell here speak to that. Games like Wii *Everything Party Fun Time Us!*(working title) or whatever are big hits. They're just a very social culture and gaming is a very extroverted, typical activity in Korea. Even if JRPGs were released here, Koreans would probably throw them out.
The shift I'm talking about will be from PC gaming to mobile/tablet gaming. Hell, Korean phones are already tablets. They're the size of a small purse. And Wifi is plentiful in Korean cities...to the point where I havent even needed to consider buying a Korean phone. I just use free wifi with my American phone. The technology has reached a point where a social, constantly on-the-go society like Korea will fully embrace an enthralling mobile gaming experience (notice I said "enthralling"...put it back in your pants, Zynga).
I think it would be super interesting to do a cultural study and see how societies with different social mentalities create different gaming communities. Americans are highly competitive, but very private about their gaming typically, so consoles with network play suit them best. Koreans are very open and social gamers so MMOs and mobile games work best. Japanese are very private and introverted people so single-player, console RPGs and simulators tend to work best. Chinese are fucking communists who steal shit, so they all just play games that are ripped off of everyone else's hard work. Fuck you, China.
I may end up doing that at some point (anyone know how the Russian gaming community is doing?), but for now I have a 3DS with Kingdom Hearts: 3D waiting for me (got a Korean charger! Boo-yah!)