Trio ahead of curve on mobile games

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Trio ahead of curve on mobile games

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Shin Jae-chan, James Song and Park Ji-young


While the conventional game industry has been struggling, games designed for mobile devices have been enjoying exceptional growth due to the widespread distribution of smartphones and tablet PCs.

Com2uS, the nation’s largest mobile game company, announced second-quarter sales of 22 billion won ($19.5 million) on Monday, marking a jump of 158 percent on-year from 8.5 billion won in Q2 2011. This is the first time that the company’s quarterly sales exceeded 2 billion won. Meanwhile, operating profit stood at 6.8 billion won, up 31 percent. The company’s mobile games account for about 90 percent of its total sales.

The game developer’s exceptional sales were largely fed by a social networking game called Tiny Farm. Roughly one million players log on to the game every day through their mobile devices.

Earlier in the first quarter, another major player, Gamevil, saw its sales expand 160 percent on-year to 16.6 billion won, while operating profit surged 131 percent to 6.2 billion won. The company got a boost from abroad as overseas sales moved up a whopping 437 percent over this period on-year, yielding earnings of about 6.5 billion won.

JCE, famous for its Freestyle series of online games, has also placed itself on the IT map as its mobile social networking game Rule the Sky, which was launched last year, saw monthly sales exceed 4 billion won recently, meaning it had crossed a significant industry threshold.

Assisting with the phenomenal growth of these mobile games are James Song (36) the founder and CEO of Gamevil, Park Ji-young (37), CEO and founder of Com2uS, and Shin Jae-chan (37), founder and CEO of InnoSpark. Shin helped produce Rule the Sky before starting his own mobile game developing company.

All three went to college in the 1990s, braved the nation’s first financial crisis toward the end of the decade, were part of the first generation to experience the exceptional growth of mobile devices, and saw the rise and fall of the dot-com era.

They are considered second-generation game entrepreneurs who have followed in the footsteps of Kim Jung-ju (44), who founded Korea Nexon and turned it into the country’s No. 1 game company, Kim Taek-jin (45), CEO of No. 2 player NCsoft, and Eric Sungkyun Na (41), CEO and founder of Neowiz.

The second-generation figures come from a more diverse educational background than their precursors, who all graduated from Seoul National University. In contrast, Song attended Seoul National University, Com2uS’ Park went to Korea University and Shin went to Yonsei University.

But whereas the first three forged strong friendships and remain close to this today, ties between the trio who followed are more distant.

Unlike the early pioneers, who grew up experiencing the rapid development of PCs firsthand, the second generation witnessed the wide distribution of mobile handsets while attending college. Another difference is that the second set jumped into starting up their own businesses after graduating, whereas their forebears opted to get master’s degrees.

This sense of haste seems to have been partly driven by ambition, but also by their cynicism at seeing the country turned upside down by the financial crisis of the late 1990s, when job opportunities at local companies dried up.

Although Korea was relatively late to adopt smartphones, the three entrepreneurs made a beeline for the mobile industry before app stores got up and running. Today, Com2uS has significantly closed the gap with Neowiz, which has annual earnings some 10 times the size of those posted by the mobile game developer.

“Mobile game companies like Com2uS have a lot of potential, especially in terms of overseas sales in markets like China,” said Kim Seok-min, an analyst at Hyundai Securities.

By Shim Seo-hyun, Lee Ho-jeong [ojlee82@joongang.co.kr ]

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