Japan is next level for No. 1 game maker
Nexon, a local game developer, has many “firsts” to its credit. It launched Korea’s first graphical online game, “Kingdom of the Wind,” in 1995. Last year, it was first in sales among local game makers. In 2004, with the launch of “Kart Rider,” it finally took first place for most-played online game on the local market, displacing the U.S.-developed “StarCraft.”
In fact, the Korean Peninsula is beginning to look a bit small for Nexon. The game company has collaborations in the works with world-class entertainment companies including Walt Disney and Nintendo.
At the center of Nexon’s success is Kim Jung-joo, 41, founder and head of the company. Daum Communications founder Lee Jae-woong once called him a “money god.” Yet throughout Nexon’s 15 years of history, Kim has stayed quiet and avoided the press.
This year, Nexon aims to break 500 billion won ($402.5 million) in sales. In 2008, the company saw yearly sales totaling 450.8 billion won and operating profit of 143.9 billion won.
“We are looking into a joint business project at the moment instead of planning on selling the company,” said Kim last week in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul in an interview with the Joong-Ang Ilbo.
Nexon’s first target is Japan. Though the company has tried to penetrate the U.S. market in the past, it’s been dissatisfied with its performance there, which Kim blames on a different game culture. “As the local game market is saturated, it isn’t a good thing for Korean games to overly compete with each other. We are looking at Japan as our second ‘domestic’ market,” he said.
One of the pioneers of this approach was Disney, which opened Tokyo Disneyland. Disney has been looking to games as its next growth engine. Nintendo has also seen Nexon as a good candidate for supplying casual games for its handheld Nintendo DS.
In Korea, Nexon has seen average yearly growth of 20 percent and rose to the top of the local industry last year. Many wonder why, with its profit figures, Nexon didn’t list on the stock market a long time ago. But Kim said, “We didn’t want to rush being listed. We are looking into listing in Japan actually.”
Kim said that the secret to his success at Nexon is providing inexpensive but creative and fun games for the public without starting overambitious projects.
Kim and his business partner own a 60 percent stake in Nexon. But Kim doesn’t take care of everyday business at the company. “Nexon’s customers are mostly teenagers and twentysomethings. If you are of a certain age as I am, it is better not to meddle in new project developments. It is better now for me to focus on the big picture,” said Kim.
Forbes Korea recently called Kim the 36th richest person in Korea, with assets of $320 million. Looking at the companies that Nexon invested in, it is easy to see why Kim has been so successful. The company has a 4.7 percent stake in NHN, which operates Korea’s No.1 portal Naver, and a 4.9 percent stake in Gretech, which operates popular video streaming service Gom TV.
By Lee Weon-ho [email@example.com]