Top 10 Korean Gaming Companies to Watch For – Best of 2020

Who are the top Korean gaming companies in 2020? South Koreans love gaming. Over 50% of South Koreans play games on their smartphones. They have businesses just for people to play computer games (PC Bang). They have esports on TV daily. South Korea was the birthplace of e-sports thanks to Starcraft. The top South Korean gamers participate in games like Overwatch, FIFA Online, League of Legends, and more.

Koreans also love mobile games. Currently, mobile gaming is more common in Korea than console gaming or PC gaming. Furthermore, Korea has over 35 million smartphone users. Therefore there is a high demand for all forms of gaming. Especially role-playing games were 90% of all mobile gaming revenue came from this genre. All this would lead you to believe that the South Korean gaming industry is stronger than ever. However, this is not the case.

Korea has an incredible gaming infrastructure, culture, and high penetration. Hopefully despite government regulations more Korean gaming companies will succeed and take advantage of the opportunity in the Korean gaming market.

The rankings were comprised by the Seoulz staff and are based on 4 factors:

  • Funding 
  • Market Opportunity 
  • The innovation of service or product
  • Growth Potential/Scalability 

Here is our list of the top 10 Korean gaming companies of 2020

1.Nexon Korea

Korean Gaming Company Nexon

Billionaire founder Jungju Kim planned to sell a 98.64% stake in NXC, which is the holding company that owns 48% of Nexon. However, that bid failed, and instead the company planned to re-examine their ongoing projects and stop works on games that are not performing. Nexon, founded in 1994, is now the biggest gaming company in South Korea. The deal could have been a $16 billion deal, the biggest deal for any gaming company. The bidders were Tencent, Kakao, Bain Capital, and MBK Partners. The favorite to win the bid was Tencent because it owns the exclusive China license for Dungeon Fighter (DNF). Neople, a subsidiary of Nexon Korea is the developer of Dungeon Fighter Online which is now Nexon’s top game and is especially popular in China. Nexon Korea named Lee Jung-hun their new CEO in 2018. 

“It’s an honor to be named as the new CEO of Nexon Korea. Nexon’s biggest strength is its years of experience and expertise in the gaming business. I will work to maximize Nexon’s unique strengths to raise the firm’s competitiveness in the global market,” said Lee Jung-hun, CEO of Nexon Korea. 

Nexon is Korea’s largest game developer and publisher. They recently brought on board Hur Min, the founder of WeMakePrice, as an outside adviser. They also invested $30 million into Wonder Holdings for an 11.1% stake in the company. The company has a current market capitalization of over $16 billion.  

Nexon Korea Gives Staff Pay Raise 

To start off 2020, Nexon Korea worked with their union for a 6.8% pay raise for all their employees. This was the first time in the history of Korea that a gaming company has made its wage increase public. The union was formed in late 2018. In late 2019, they held a protest with over 600 employees who were worried about losing their jobs. The successful negotiation between Nexon Korea and their union is a huge first step for unionization for all gaming companies in Korea.

2.  GRAVITY

Korean Gaming Company GravityKorean gaming company GRAVITY is the leader in the gaming industry in Korea.  GRAVITY is the only Korean gaming company that is listed on NASDAQ. They became known for their MMORPG Ragnarok Online as well as their IPTV service game that uses Pororo characters. GRAVITY is becoming a global company in the online game business by strengthening its development, technology, and exploring potential overseas markets. The company has established global branches and joint ventures in the US, Europe, and Russia. 

GRAVITY is also successful in the mobile game industry. They have developed various mobile games such as Tower of Accession, Ragnarok Ash Vacuum, etc. Their newest mobile game is Ragnarok M: Eternal Love. In 2019, Gravity had a very successful year bringing in a profit of $41.5 million. This was an increase of 45.5% from 2018. In 2020, Gravity will focus on its development studio in Thailand called Gravity Game Tech. Their focus for 2020 will be on the highly anticipated MMORPG game Ragnarok Origin which should launch in late 2020. 

3.  Netmarble

Netmarble Korean Gaming

Netmarble has had a lot of success overseas. In addition, some of their successful releases include Lineage 2, Marvel Future Fight, and Cooke Jam, just to name a few. Netmarble averages annual sales of just under $2 billion. Their 2019 lineup included games such as Seven Knights 2, The King of Fighters All-Star, and A3: Still Alive. Many K-pop fans loved BTS World which was released in 2019.

Investments by Netmarble

Netmarble has also invested in NCSoft Corp. and Big Hit Entertainment. Both companies have done well during the COVID-19 crisis. The value of NC Soft shares owned by Netmarbel stands at around $1.5 billion. In addition, Netmarble is the second-largest shareholder of Big Hit Entertainment with 450,000 shares (Around 25% equity stake). 

They also own a 5.6% stake in Kakao Games and a 3.9% stake in Kakao Bank. Kakao Games, Kakao Bank, and Bit Hit Entertainment will be doing an IPO at some point in the not too distant future. In addition, to companies, Netmarble has been investing in R&D in regard to data infrastructures and AI technology. 

“The past two decades were all about rolling out landline and wireless internet network infrastructure, and the big question was how we could use that infrastructure to our convenience. But the next two decades will be about how we use data flooding from the infrastructure with the help of AI,” said the Chairman of Netmarble, Bang Jun-hyuk. 

New CEO at Netmarble 

2020 started off on a big note with the announcement of a new CEO at Netmarble. Seungwon Lee became Netmarble’s new co-CEO in February. Mr. Lee has been with the company since 2007. His focus for 2020 will be on Netmarble’s global operations. This is critical as Netmarble has started to work with globally recognized brands such as Disney (Star Wars) and Dragon Ball as they look to expand their reach around the globe. 

4.  NCSoft

Korean Gaming Company NCSoft

NCSoft is the Korean gaming company behind the hit game Lineage 2 and Guild Wars 2. The company had a terrible 2018. Sales held steady but their 4th quarter saw a loss in profits. Most of their profits are coming from the mobile gaming sector. However, the good news for NCSOFT is that their main games Lineage and Guild Wars continue to hold strong in 2020. In fact, NCSoft has posted a record quarterly revenue of $600 million during the first quarter of 2020.

Their most successful game was Lineage 2M which debuted in late 2019. Lineage M was able to do 1.3 billion won in sales on the day of its launch. Lineage 2M beat that number. NCSoft has already been taking preorders for the new mobile multiplayer online role-playing game. Their estimated operating profits in 2020 are expected to surpass $850 million with sales over $2 trillion. In addition, NCSOFT’s Lineage M’s and Lineage 2M’s strong revenue is expected to continue for all of 2020.

“We are bringing the biggest change to Lineage that has built NCSoft for the past 20 years,” said CEO of NCSoft, Kim Taek-jin.  

5.  Smilegate

Smilegate Korean Gaming Company

Smilegate RPG is the subsidiary of South Korean gaming company Smilegate. They are looking to do their IPO sometime in 2020. In 2019 they will come up with the companies valuation. Their top game is their PC game Lost Ark. Lost Ark is a multiplayer online role-playing game that was launched in 2018. The game was in development for 7 years with a budget of a little over $88 million. It is currently the 5th most played game in PC bangs in Korea. Lost Ark won 6 awards including the Grand Prize at the 2019 Korea game Awards. 

“When everyone had their eyes on mobile games, we believed in the potential of online PC games and developed Lost Ark. Rather than rest on our laurels, we will continue to expand our base by entering more overseas markets and hosting esports competitions,” said CEO of Smilegate RPG, Chi Wongil.

They are also known for their online hit, Crossfire which is the world’s top online FPS game with over a billion players on PC and mobile. It is considered the biggest free-to-play first-person shooter game in the world. Think of it as the Call of Duty of the East. Crossfire alone has generated over $10 billion in revenue for Smilegate. It is also launching a beta test of CrossFireX, a new version of the game for the Xbox One that Smilegate is working on with Remedy Entertainment

Smilegate Launches Service Platform STOVE

Smilegate recently launched its new mobile service platform called STOVE.  STOVE provides benefits to both developers and gamers. Developers will be able to focus on developing games throughout each phase of development while reducing infrastructure costs for service. Therefore, gamers will get to experience fun from an open platform regardless of the game, location, or device. STOVE connects gamers with the ‘Gamer Network’ and a built-in gamer interface tool with which players interact, invite, cooperate, or compete with each other in real-time.

6.  Pearl Abyss

Pearl Abyss Korean Gaming

Pearl Abyss, founded in 2010, is best known for its open-world MMORPG Black Desert Online. The game alone has generated over $1 billion in gross sales in four years. The game has over 10 million users from 150 countries. Furthermore, it is played in 12 different languages. Their release of Black Desert Mobile was also a big hit and the company is growing by double every year. They recently bought Iceland-based CCP Eve Online for $425 million. Their expansion into the US will now be easier due to this acquisition. No changes will come to the game which is great news for CCP fans.

“Our current plan is to have CCP continue operating independently from Pearl Abyss, but our aim is to open lines of communication between the two teams that will have us learning from each other. At some point in the future, our hope is to more closely align the teams to capitalize on each other’s strengths and successfully collaborate to take our games to new players around the world,” said CEO of Pearl Abyss, Robin Jung.

2019 was Pearl Abyss’s best ever performing year in terms of sales. They saw over 250% increase in profits from the previous year. Of those sales, 74% came from outside of Korea. The Singapore government (Sovereign Wealth Fund GIC) purchased over a million shares (11%) of Pearl Abyss in 2020. 

New Games to Watch for in 2020

Pearl Abyss gave fans a sneak preview of some of the upcoming games for 2020 at G-Star 2019. These games include the action battle royale game Shadow Arena, Project K, Project V, and Project CD. In addition, Pearl Abyss will host events using the Black Desert IP in 2020. 

7.  Krafton Game Union

Korean Gaming Company KraftonKrafton Game Union the parent for Bluehole, is a Korean gaming company that houses different units of game developers and studios that create their own game titles. PUBG Corporation the most successful subsidiary of Krafton are the creators of Playersunknown’s Battleground which is one of the most popular multiplayer games in Korea. It generated $1.5 billion in revenue in 2019. Its other subsidiaries include Delusion Studio, En Masse Entertainment, Bluehole Squall, and Red Sahara. 

They recently debut Mini Life which combines the best of MMO with Social networking games (SNG). It is vastly different from Battleground because it is a completely non-violent game. The most innovative feature of Mini Life is that players will be able to engage with others from around the world. Players can use an AR camera to take photos with their avatars and even group photos with friends. This unique feature connects a player’s real-world with their virtual one.

Ascent: Infinite Realm coming in 2020?

Krafton Game Union changed its CEO and will most likely do an IPO in 2020. Therefore it is expected that their next big game called Ascent: Infinite Realm could be released in 2020. 

8.  Gamevil Com2us

Gamevil and Com2us Korean Gaming

Gamevil, founded in 2000, went public in 2009 on Kosdaq. They merged with Com2us and in 2013 was renamed Gamevil Com2us. However, in Korea, the two companies are separately operated. Gamevil has over 500 million mobile downloads. Com2us is known mainly for its hit game Summoners War. The game generated over $1 Billion in revenue since 2014. The success of their latest game Talion will be their main focus for 2020. Talion already entered the US and UK in 2019. However, the game has not yet launched in Korea.

9.  DoubleU Games

Korean Gaming Company DoubleU GamesKorean game developer DoubleU Games is the top Korean game company dedicated to social casino games. They develop and distribute software for both online and mobile-based games. Their most famous game is DoubleU Casino which is now available in over 120 countries. Other popular games include Take5, DoubleDown Casino, and Ellen Slots. Their target market is users of Facebook and mobile phones. They generated over $420 million in sales in 2018 and surpassed $500 million in 2019. Their current market cap sits at around $1 billion. 

“We are excited and confident about DoubleU Game’s future as a global leader in social casino,” said CEO of DoubleU Games, Ga-Ram Kim.

10.  NEOWIZ

Korean Gaming Neowiz

Neowiz, founded in 2007, is the operator of a popular Korean games portal called Pmang. They offer many games through this portal and have acquired many gaming developers. They have a partnership with EA to enter the Japanese gaming market. Neowiz is the subsidiary of Neowiz Holdings. Some of their top games include Tapsonic World Champion, Muse Maker, Jump Arena, and Larva Match just to name a few. Their top game is their large-scale MMORPG game Bless. They continue to expand on its Bless IP with the PlayStation 4 version of Bless Unleashed which is scheduled for release for the end of 2020. They already launched Bless on Xbox. It is possible Bless will be converted into a PC version through online gaming platform Steam. 

Partnership with Taiwanese game publisher 

NEOWIZ is in partnership with Taiwanese game publisher Cayenne Entertainment Technology Co. for the distribution of the mobile baseball game Slugger. This partnership has given Neowiz an entry into not only Taiwan but also Macao and Hong Kong. 

HONORABLE MENTION

Webzen

Korean Gaming Webzen

Webzen is a Korean gaming company that focuses on PC and mobile gaming. They are best known for their MU series. Webzen has over 600 employees that help operate its global games portal Webzen.com. In 2020 they will focus on MU Origin 2, QubeTown, and other mobile games for the global market. MU Origin 2 has gained a massive following in China. In addition, Webzen has offices in Dublin, Los Angeles, and Japan.

“We are working on expanding our IP business, diversifying our portfolio and moving onto other game platforms. We are also in contact with developers from different countries as well as Korea to expand our game development to that of single-A tier games,” said CEO of Webzen, Tony Kim.

WeMade Entertainment

We Made Entertainment

WeMade Entertainment is a Korean gaming company. They are responsible for the hit game FishingStrike, which was developed by their affiliate company WeMade Plus. They recently got the IP rights to Legend of Mir 2 pushed it along with Icarus M in 2019 with great success. Their focus for 2020 will be to focus on IP protection, attaining new licenses, and new games. 

EyeDentity Entertainment

Eyedentity Entertainment

Eyedentity Entertainment is the makers of the popular action MMORPG game Dragon Nest. They have their esports business brand called World Esports Games & Leagues. Furthermore, they plan to host four different types of esports events throughout the year. These leagues will strengthen the connection between the Chinese and Korean gaming communities.