Gravity founder looks to tackle new challengesKim Jung-ryool, the 52-year-old founder of Korean online game maker Gravity Co., said yesterday he has sold his company. He sold his 52.4 percent stake, or 3.64 million shares, for 400 billion won ($385 million) to Japanese fund company EZER and TechnoGroove Inc., two affiliates of Softbank Group, an Internet service provider. The deal represents a tremendous success for Mr. Kim, who started Gravity five years ago with an investment of just 500 million won. “Based on the remarkable speed at which the Internet was becoming available at the time,” he said, “I thought online gaming could prove to be really lucrative.” Gravity, which was listed on the U.S. Nasdaq in February, is best known for the online game Ragnarok, based on a comic book by Lee Myung-jin. The game is available in 37 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East and has more than 34 million registered users worldwide. Mr. Kim said the company’s aggressive approach in reaching out to foreign markets was the key to its success, but its recent struggles on the Nasdaq market ultimately forced him to say farewell to his creation. “I felt as though I had reached my personal limit in trying to develop Gravity,” he said. “By becoming part of Softbank, which has a wide distribution network for games, Gravity should inch one step closer to being a global company.” Softbank is led by Korean-Japanese businessman Son Jung-eui, while his brother Son Tae-jang manages TechnoGroove and GungHo Online Entertainment Inc., another Softbank affiliate that holds the Japanese copyright to Ragnarok. Softbank is not the first foreign company to establish a relationship with Gravity. In July, the Korean game producer signed a distribution deal with Shanda Interactive Entertainment Network, China’s leading online game operator. The deal allowed the Korean firm to enter China, one of the world’s largest game markets with more than 42 million online gamers, which was a huge boost to Gravity, 70 percent of whose 58.2 billion won in sales last year came from overseas. Now that another chapter in his 30-year career in the games industry has closed, Mr. Kim is looking forward to a fresh start. “With the money from the sale, I am considering investing in games for cell phones or personal digital assistants,” he said, adding he expects mobile phone games to overtake online games in the near future. Considering the clairvoyant choice of investment he made in 2000, it is a safe bet Mr. Kim, who cut his teeth in the business by selling Nintendo cartridges, will find more success in the game industry. by Chang Chung-hoon
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