The gaming industry is growing at a very fast pace throughout the entire world. Experts believe it will reach over $300 billion by 2025. People discussed for years whether the gaming market would focus on consoles, virtual reality games, PC, or mobile games. The trend has changed and seems to settle as mobile games. So how is the mobile gaming market in South Korea shaping up? This will be a full breakdown of the mobile gaming market in Korea which we will continue to update.

South Korea is very famous for its gaming culture. South Koreans have shown their love and skills in gaming through Starcraft, Overwatch, League of Legends, and many other games. Even in South Korea, the mobile gaming market is growing big. Despite the small population, South Korea ranks 4th in the world in the mobile gaming market.

All the information in this article is based on the August 2020 mobile gaming market data in South Korea. Throughout the article, the word “youths” is indicating mobile game users aged under 30.

Analysis of South Korea’s mobile gaming market

As of August 2020, there are 19.84 million mobile game users in South Korea — an increase of 670 thousand users from 2019. The average amount of money a user spends on games is $16 per month. Compared to 2019, mobile game users increased by 4% and ARPMAU (Average Revenue Per Monthly Active User) increased by 24%. South Korean mobile gaming market is very attractive for many global companies. However, It is very important to understand South Korea’s mobile gaming market and trend in order to successfully break into the market.

Number of Mobile Game Users by Category

mobile games users by category

Puzzle or quiz related mobile games have the most users. Then comes with action, racing, and RPG. Puzzle mobile games have the most users not only in South Korea but throughout the majority of the countries. This is because puzzle games are majorly used for killing times, similar to how people scroll down Facebook or Tiktok. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean puzzle games are better than other games.

People play these puzzle games for killing times, but they don’t go as trendy and popular as other games. Having the most used in a category can simply mean there are many simple, small size games in that category that users can download without deep consideration. It doesn’t necessarily mean the most popular, or loved games. What’s more important is to understand the types of games people spend the most time and money on. In addition, understanding games in terms of popularity (number of users) is also very crucial.

Mobile MMORPG Users Spend The Most Time and Money 

average hours played by mobile game users by category

While RPG mobile games are only fourth in the number of users, people spend the most time playing them. In fact, the average amount of time people spend playing mobile RPG games is more than 3 times the amount of the second category game. South Koreans love MMORPGs, especially Lineage. In fact, data of the top 5 average game usage time consists of only RPG games. These MMORPG games require a lot of time and effort to play compared to other games, which causes users to spend an excessive amount of time playing the game. The more time users spend in the game, the more they get attached to it.

MMORPG Nostalgic situation attracted the target users

RPG games have been also dominating sales for years. The top 3 mobile games in Korea with the most sales are all RPG games: Lineage M, Lineage 2M, and R2M. This is due to the type of users of RPG games. In South Korea, most MMORPG mobile game users are in the 30s and 40s. These people mostly encountered PC MMORPG in their 20s. Other strategic and action games such as Starcraft, Sudden Attack, and KartRider were released, however, MMORPG was still the leading game.

Now that a lot of PC games are converted to mobile games, people in their 30s and 40s are able to easily access these nostalgic RPG games. This is called the MMORPG Nostalgic situation. In addition, people in their 30s and 40s prefer MMORPG games because they cannot perform greatly in strategic simulation or FPS games compared to those aged between 10-20.

So what does this have to do with spending so much money on RPG games?

RPG mobile game users are mostly economically stable. Unlike when they first encountered PC MMORPG, users can now afford to spend money on their hobbies. Mobile RPG game users are called heavy gamers due to the time and effort required for the game. These heavy gamers generally consider their game as a hobby. It is very normal for an economically stable worker to spend money on his or her hobby. Mobile MMORPG games are also an online community. The more you play, the higher level you reach, the more guilds and events you join, and eventually you create a large in-game community with other users.

Current Mobile Gaming Market Trend In South Korea

top 5 popular mobile games

The types of mobile games could really differ depending on what the goal is. If you are looking for mobile games that are profitable, RPG games are definitely the best. If you focus on the number of users and popularity, racing, FPS, and casino games are considered better than RPGs. In terms of popularity, PUBG places 5th with 340,000 users; Country of Wind (바람의나라:) places 4th with 370,000 users, Brawl Stars places 3rd with 450,000 users, and New Matgo (피망 뉴맞고) places 2nd with 460,000 users. The top 1 popular mobile game will be mentioned and discussed later on in this article. None of the top 3 sales RPG mobile games are among the top 5 when it comes to the number of users. Most of these games are FPS, actions, and casino games.

average time spent

The percentage of mobile gaming users by age in South Korea is the following: 6.4% in 10s, 18.8% in the 20s, 25% in 30s, 28.9% in 40s, 15.9% in the 50s, and 5% in 60s or above. More than half of the users in the mobile gaming market are in their 30s and 40s (53.9%). Many of these elderly users prefer older games like MMORPG, New Matgo (Korean traditional casino card game), and puzzles.

Also, mobile game users in their 30s and 40s spend the most time playing mobile games: an average of 37.5 hours and 35 hours per month. In fact, many of the elderly people spend more time on mobile games compared to youths. The elderly users play only a couple of games and these games are very spread out: MMORPG games, puzzle games, and casual games. This is why despite the number of elderly users in the market, there are fewer MMORPG users compared to FPS and action games. Yet, those comparatively smaller number of MMORPG game users spend so much time and money on their games.

Mobile game users in their 30s and 40s shouldn’t be the only target

number of games used by age

We cannot only focus on older age groups because they spend more money on games. The average number of games an individual mobile game user plays is the highest for those in their 10s and 20s. Although youths spend less money and spend less amount of time, they are active in many games. Younger mobile game users tend to prefer game genres like FPS, strategical, and actions. Simple and very interactive games are also very popular; examples would be KartRider Rush+ and Among Us. While most adults stick to their specific type of games, especially something like MMORPG (Lineage), youths continue to expand and change the games they play based on the trend. These trends usually start from streamers or videos and posts from social media.

While there are different preferences and trends based on age, the current mobile gaming market in South Korea is very dominant in the RPG category. Financially supported mobile game users take up a big portion of the market and targeting those users is very essential. However, games are very trendy and change quickly over time especially due to the effects of social media and streamers on youths. The mobile gaming market in South Korea may have already started to change.

Case Study: KartRider’s Strategy to Dominate The Mobile Gaming Market

KartRider

Currently, the most popular mobile game has a lot to do with the trend and strategy in the mobile gaming market. KartRider Rush+ places 1st with 1,060,000 users. This racing game is undoubtedly the most popular mobile game in South Korea. Everybody knows what KartRider is and it was very famous since its release. However, it started to decline over time among PC games. Nexon realized the main problem of the game. As time passed, people humiliated those who enjoyed played KartRider. KartRider was considered old fashioned children game. Although there are many KartRider users, those who play the game more than 3 times a day was less than 10% of the existing total users.

How did KartRider become the top in the mobile gaming market?

Nexon knew KartRider is the most famous and well-known casual game, so they decided to fix their weaknesses to get back into the gaming market. The average playtime on PC was 30 minutes, and some were even less than 10 minutes. They converted sales events into free events and advertised their changes on websites and PC bangs. They were aware that most users play KartRider for a very short amount of time, and KartRider was the second-choice time killing game. But this also meant it was very suitable for a mobile game.

With additional help from KartRider gaming streamers, the game recovered its reputation. Youths and adults were both very aware of KartRider and once it was released as a mobile game, the mobile game users exponentially increased. KartRider is one of those old nostalgic games, but unlike Lineage, youths are also familiar with the game (Lineage was released in 1998; KartRider was released in 2004).

Entering South Korea’s Mobile Gaming Market

south korea mobile games

MMORPG mobile games are the best option to join South Korea’s mobile gaming market. Major users of these games — gamers in their 30s and 40s — are economically stable, and spend the most time playing compared to other age groups. This means MMORPG mobile games are more likely to be profitable and have long-term users. However, this doesn’t mean all MMORPG mobile games will be successful. Among many RPG games, users prefer to play games that are easy to start. Although Fortnite is not a mobile game, it is a great example that shows South Korea’s preference for games.

South Koreans love difficult games, but not games that are difficult to begin

Fortnite is a successful game throughout the world, however, it failed in South Korea. The main reason was the difficult entry barrier. Fortnite’s controls and gameplays are considered difficult and take practice to learn. Difficult games are actually loved by competitive Korean game users, but the difficulty in starting the game is not. Furthermore, most of the time in the game is spent building and practicing controls, rather than hunting or fighting. The type of game plays in Fortnite is very boring and less preferred to Korean users.

When playing other games (Battleground, League of Legends, etc) users may be bad at first, but they get better as they play. South Korean users commented on how playing Fornite is to practice controls and most importantly boring. The matchup system made it even worse. Beginners would get matched up with non-beginners. Regardless of the genre, mobile games are attractive to Koreans if the overall system and controls are easy to understand and play. There is a difference between being a difficult game, and being a difficult game to begin.

Future Trend of South Korea’s Mobile Gaming Market

While MMORPG games currently dominate the South Korean mobile gaming market in sales, this could change in the close future. Youths prefer mobile games such as racing, action, and FPS, while adults prefer MMORPG. In the past, games like Lineage, Starcraft, or KartRider dominated the gaming market. Nowadays, games such as League of Legends, Overwatch, and Battleground are dominating. The mobile gaming market may follow the same trend as generation changes. Generation after generation, the mobile gaming market will be primarily filled up with current youths. Due to this reason, experts claim that FPS, strategical simulation and action mobile games will rise, while MMORPG mobile games fall.

Current youths will become the major players in the mobile gaming market in the future. Considering the future market, mobile games with easy controls and specific games with competitive battling and actions are good choices. There is a lot of discussion about the future of South Korea’s mobile gaming market. Some say high-quality MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Area) or Battle Royale (mostly FPS / TPS) games will appear as technology develops. These games would take over current top-ranking mobile games (RPG). However, anything new or old could suddenly become a trend. It is important to be aware that the mobile gaming market in South Korea could change very quickly.

Would nostalgic games appear again?

Nostalgic gaming situations, like the case of Lineage and KartRider mobile games, may happen again. South Korea has its own search engine called Naver. Naver used to have inner-linked pages called Junior Naver and HanGame. These pages had all sorts of games that every Korean loved to play. However, these websites changed and deleted these games. Junior Naver still exists within Naver, but it got rid of previous games and transformed into children’s education websites with songs, videos, children’s games, etc. HanGame separated from Naver and operates by itself as a gaming website with mostly traditional Korean casino games. However, it deleted many popular games from the past. These games are very well-suited for mobile games. Many game lovers hope these games to be re-released as mobile games in the future.