K-pop stars burst into the mobile game industry: Experts say it’s a win-win for both celebs, companies

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K-pop stars burst into the mobile game industry: Experts say it’s a win-win for both celebs, companies


K-pop stars have already been appearing in forms as diverse as KakaoTalk stickers and holograms, so it’s no surprise that they’re now showing up in mobile games as either characters or spokespeople.

Several game companies have been collaborating with A-list singers and turning them into cute characters that reflect their unique personalities. The idols’ voices can also often be heard during the games, offering another boost of realism.

“Since the mobile game industry is gradually becoming bigger, it is natural [for game companies to cast big stars in their games],” said Hwang Jin-mi, a cultural critic for Cine21, a film-focused weekly magazine.

Some of the most popular games featuring Hallyu acts as either characters or spokespeople include Exorun, God of Highschool and Sword and Magic.


This newly launched mobile game will be a perfect choice for both fans of Exo, one of the nation’s top male acts, as well as gamers who loved the smash-hit Cookie Run from 2013.

Co-developed by Putto Entertainment and SM Mobile Communications, Exorun is simple: pilot one of Exo’s nine members on a run, absorbing different items while avoiding obstacles.

In addition to the actual gameplay, Exorun includes other features that will appeal to the act’s fans. The members have cute facial expressions, winking and making heart-shaped eyes, and fans keen to customize can dress up their favorite singer in different hats, shoes and clothes that are available for purchase.

Despite its similarity to other running games like WindRunner, Exorun was downloaded 100,000 times on the day of its release in July.

“[So far the] success of the game can be attributed to the casting [of Exo] because the age group of the mobile game players and that of the K-pop act’s fans usually overlap,” Hwang said.

She added that starring in a mobile game is a win-win for both the game company and the idols.

“First of all, it is a great source of income for the K-pop act. Secondly, it allows the group to stay in the public eye [without doing a TV show or commercial].”

Hwang also said that starring in mobile games allows an act to stay in constant contact with their fans because people carry their smartphones everywhere.

Although the EXO name inspired many to download the game, some users were still dissatisfied with its quality.

“Fans would have liked it more if the game characters speak out some words such as “welcome” when entering the game [using the singers’ live recorded voices],” wrote a blogger that goes by the name slfdh167 last week

“Also, Exorun lacks creativity. I don’t understand how the game was able to receive the 500 million won ($439,000) investment.”

God of Highschool

In order to celebrate its first anniversary in May, God of Highschool, a mobile game based on a webtoon of the same name, collaborated with the K-pop girl group Apink.

Between May 20-31, players could buy characters featuring the group’s six members. The characters could then be used to brawl with enemies, and would become stronger as players progressed.

However, only a lucky few were able to actually play one of the female singers.

Characters in the game each cost 1,000 won (89 cents), and they’re given out at random. As a result, those who wanted a member of Apink had to continuously purchase characters until they received their favorite.

Even though some complained about having spent a fortune to get the singer they wanted, others said the money was well worth it considering how extensively the group was featured.

Every member recorded herself speaking different phrases and singing a few verses of their songs for their character to say. Both the remarks and the tone of voice matched well with each singer’s personality.

Son Na-eun, for example, has been perceived to have a delicate, girlish demeanor, and this was reflected in her character, who says things like “Please don’t stare at me,” or “How about this?” before launching an attack on her enemies.

Jeong Eun-ji, on the other hand, is known for her boldness, and her character goes into battle saying things like “Do you want to die?” or “I might as well just kick you.”

The characters also occasionally sing bits of Apink hits like “Mr. Chu” and “NoNoNo.”

The developer of the game, YD Online, said Apink was a deliberate choice.

“We decided to collaborate with an idol group because we expected that creating K-pop stars into the mobile game characters would raise game players’ willingness to make purchases,” said Jeon Chan-hong, who works in the company’s communications department.

“And since our main target is people in their teens and 20s, we searched for a K-pop group that they would like,” he said, adding that the game’s players are 70 percent male.

The collaboration was successful, and led to a hike in the game company’s sales.

“During the collaboration period, the game’s sales increased by 50 percent,” Jeon said. “Also, the number of game players rose by 45 percent during the same period.

“If we have an opportunity, we would definitely like to set up another similar event.”

Sword and Magic

This game was highly anticipated before it launched on June 7, and few were surprised when it passed 1 million downloads in its first 11 days.

One of the biggest reasons for its popularity was the use of K-pop singer Taeyeon from Girls’ Generation as its spokeswoman. The girl group is one of the most popular acts in the nation.

Although the singer doesn’t appear in the game as a character, she has managed to boost its popularity through her promotions.

Some of her contributions have included a remake of the song “Atlantis Princess” by BoA that plays in the game’s advertisements, as well as her solo track “Secret” that’s used for the loading screen. Some players who reached level 50 in the game were also randomly chosen to receive tickets to the singer’s solo concerts.

Taeyeon’s close ties with the game led many of her fans to download it, which was exactly what the game’s publisher Longtu Korea was aiming for.

“We decided to use Taeyeon as the model because of her image, singing skill and international fame,” said a person affiliated with the publisher.

“Taeyeon is a well-recognized star in numerous countries including China and Taiwan, where the game is also available.”

The source also added that her ethereal image was a good match for the fantasy war game.

Although no specific plan has been made, Longtu Korea is currently negotiating with SM Entertainment, which represents Taeyeon, to create a game character out of the star.

In addition to the three mobile games mentioned above, several others have also featured K-pop stars. These include 100shots 100hits and Stone Age, both of which feature girl group I.O.I. Another female act, GFriend, also starred in Com2us Pro Baseball for Manager LIVE in March.

It’s more common for games to use female acts than male acts, and while this is largely because mobile gamers are disproportionately male, it’s also because women who do play will be more drawn to female stars, says Lee Taek-gwang, a professor of American studies at Kyung-hee University and a cultural critic.

“Women will be more inclined to play a game that features female stars as either spokeswomen or characters because we live in a patriarchal society in which pretty, nice and kind women are favored - which these celebrities represent. As a result, women want to emulate that image through downloading the game.”

BY JIN MIN-JI [jin.minji@joongang.co.kr]

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