It’s been almost 20 years since the first mobile game was launched. It was 1994, and a phone called Hagenuk MT-2000 came along with a simple Tetris game, forever revolutionizing the way we use and misuse our spare time. Now, mobile gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry, and nowhere is it as big as in South Korea, where it’s expected to bring in about 1.4 billion dollars for this year only. Anipang, a match-3 type of puzzle game has grown into somewhat of a sociocultural phenomenon, with more than 20 million players across the world, but primarily in Korea. It is not uncommon to see 60-year old ladies staring at their smartphones in the subway, popping 3 or more of the matching symbols. So what is the secret behind the exponential rise of South Korea’s mobile gaming industry? Well, a number of factors can be deemed responsible.
First, KakaoTalk is a mobile messaging service that has more than 100 million users. About 5 billion messages are sent via the platform every single day, and many of them are the primary reason why mobile gaming is taking over by storm. See, when players run out of lives while playing Anipang, they can either buy more hearts, or they can invite other people to the game in exchange for additional lives. As a result, millions of Anipang-related spam messages flooded KakaoTalk, as everybody exhausted their entire contact lists in order to keep matching 3 of the same things. Furthermore, Kakao itself also selects a limited number of games to host on its app store, bringing the unfamiliar game in front of a multi-million user auditorium.
Second contributing factor is the fact that Seoul is a holotype of a modern city. As such, the Korean system of trains and subway is relied upon heavily, and their subway cars all come equipped with free Wi-Fi, creating a very tempting ecosystem for mobile games to flourish in. The speeds are insane as well: the connection can shoot up to 150MBs per second, about three times greater than that generally used in the United States.
Finally, the fact that the largest smartphone maker in the world is based in South Korea sure doesn’t harm the mobile gaming industry. Samsung Electronics and other tech companies have found an extremely fertile soil in Korea, and the country is currently world’s number one when it comes to smartphone adoption, with a penetration rate of about 73%. So with ¾ of the population now owning a smartphone, it’s looking really good for the future of all games for all ages, from Tetris to Anipang, and beyond.