[NXNA] Nexon America: What it’s All About
Nexon America might not be as well known to many people in terms of titles, but in the world of free-to-play titles, the publisher is the biggest in the United States.
Featuring a library of titles that cater to different players, both casual and mainstream, the company has continued to evolve with the times and always be on the forefront of this new genre that has been around for much longer worldwide than the past few years it has become popular in the United States.
As most are more familiar with free-to-play titles on social networks, Nexon America offers full-fledged experiences rather than titles that are essentially mini-games. With the more recognizable MMORPG to an action packed FPS, Nexon America’ library has something for everyone and this week GotGame will be looking into each one.
To start, I had a question and answer with Min Kim, Vice President of Marketing for Nexon America, but every day this week, each of Nexon America’s titles will be highlighted.
Check out the interview inside.
GotGame: Nexon America is arguably one of the biggest free-to-play publishers currently in existence, but what prompted Nexon Corp. to pursue this genre beginning in South Korea? The genre itself isn’t that old and the American free-to-play market is still relatively new.
Kim: Nexon was the first company to explore microtransactions and you could say that it was born out of necessity. We made an avatar based quiz game in the late 90s that did very well in the beta. When we commercialized to subscription, we began hemorrhaging users.
We learned that the mass appeal drew a mass audience that would not accept the business model. We quickly switched gears and tried selling items and the rest is history. Our first title North American title, MapleStory, has really been the catalyst to the entire market.
GotGame: My first experience with a free-to-play title was Gunbound, but what makes for a good free-to-play title? Does it surpass any genre or are there specific guidelines on a type of title to develop?
Kim: Like all successful games, they need to be fun, but they must also be social (i.e. a core part of the experience should involve playing with others). If you look at a game like Mabinogi – some players just sit around the campfire sharing music they made in the game. It’s a very social experience for them but not something easily found elsewhere.
The next important thing is how much a player plays and how long a player stays with your service. This is way more complex and unique to each game, but let’s just say greater success is tied to higher play times and longer affinity to the service. So, a simple game that generally gets 5 sessions of 5 minutes from each player is probably not a good candidate to make money on microtransactions.
GotGame: Nexon America has six titles currently in its roster with a seventh in development, is the plan to continually grow the library while concurrently supporting its older titles? Do you think there is a limit to the amount of titles that Nexon can publish before older titles might start suffering?
Kim: Nexon is definitely growing its library – and in some ways it’s vital to do so to keep the company growing. Players are not all alike so it’s important to offer different games, different styles of games and to grow your audience through options. As for older titles “suffering,” we’ve discovered with proper care and respect, our game services can last for a very long time. Some of our games have been in service for over a decade in Korea, and, in North America, MapleStory recorded its highest user figures ever last summer (four years after its launch).
GotGame: The free-to-play market or social gaming as it is more known in the United States is formatted more for social networks, where the microtransactions appear more forced; does Nexon America allow for players to never have to purchase anything?
Kim: I think there aren’t any hard rules set for what will work or won’t work in the market yet. However, after 10 years of almost exclusively dedicating our efforts to microtransactions, we do have a good sense of these things. One of the things we have come to realize is that players are content for other players.
You don’t want to have your players feel squeezed to buy. In fact, most of our players will never spend a dime. Not only do we understand that – we appreciate it. It’s a simple yet hard to digest concept for many new developers to the space. Developers looking to gain a lot of revenue out of each user will have a tough time succeeding.
GotGame: Are there any plans to move into social networks or portable gaming? Using Facebook to control specific aspects of titles or using cell phone networks to play on the go?
Kim: We’re focused on free-to-play client-based gaming for the PC, but are investigating other options like browser-based games to satisfy market demand and drive more value to our players. Whether it’s Facebook, mobile gaming or other options, the door is always open to explore new possibilities.
We recently wrapped up a project called Nexon Initiative, which offered independent game developers the chance to pitch us on their ideas. The best ideas would have the opportunity to receive seed money from Nexon America and ultimately be published by us.
GotGame: What are the long-term plans for the acquisition of NDoors and GameHi? Was it to draw from the users of their respective titles or did Nexon want to use the experience of the development teams at these companies for future titles?
Kim: Acquisitions such NDoors and GameHi can never be narrowed down to one small reason and both companies provide different areas of growth for Nexon as a global corporation. Both are great companies with some terrific games and people to add to the Nexon family.
GotGame: Why do free-to-play titles interest players worldwide and how does a free-to-play title supported by microtransactions become successful not just in users, but monetization?
Kim: There are two core reasons why people play free-to-play games. The first reason is that the games are fun. Our philosophy in monetization is that we drive people to a great entertainment experience. When they find value in that experience, they will pay to enhance that experience. This means that we need to deliver value to them for a long time.
It’s a completely different approach to the big package goods titles that offer big movie-like releases and short play time. For example, our average MapleStory player can log in over 40 hours a month. When you’re logging in those kinds of hours, it makes sense to buy a hairstyle in MapleStory or a new gun in Combat Arms to enhance your experience. It’s not necessary, but it’s fun.
The second reason is that they like playing with other people, particularly their friends. Our philosophy is that the games must truly be social from a business model perspective. For the mass audience, there are very hard limits to being social when your friends need to buy a $60 game and/or pay a $15 subscription to join you.
GotGame: Are there any genres that Nexon is interested in exploring beyond the MMORPG, Puzzle, and FPS titles that are already released?
Kim: I think the better question is if there’s a genre Nexon isn’t interested in exploring! Nexon America is very open to working with external developers and wouldn’t turn down a game based on genre alone.
GotGame: Will Nexon America ever develop and publish a full-fledged title whether it is retail or DLC, bypassing the free-to-play model that it currently uses? Or would current Nexon America titles work on PlayStation Network or Xbox Live Arcade?
Kim: Never is a dangerous word, but Nexon America is really committed to growing the free-to-play market at this time. Nexon would be open to working with the console companies and is confident several of its titles would be huge hits on the services.
However, there’s still a lot of ground to cover with the console companies in terms of offering persistent, free-to-play games on their services. They are currently designed to allow developers to deliver products, not services.
GotGame: Since Nexon America is the biggest free-to-play publisher in the United States, what are the long term plans for the company? Is it to continue to just release new titles for Nexon’s library or will the company change the free-to-play market entirely?
Kim: Nexon pioneered the model and really did it again in North America with MapleStory. Our recent visit to E3 featured three games, Dungeon Fighter Online, Vindictus and Dragon Nest. We believe these three action MMO titles really represent the future of free gaming.
All three require users to be an active participant in fights. There’s not timed attacks or clicking and waiting for something to happen. And all three offer unique art work to appeal to a wide variety of gamers. We think these games will change the perception of free-to-play in North America by console and hardcore games.
Frankly, free-to-play is still on the ground floor and has a lot of room for growth. MapleStory and KartRider have been played by over 25% of the South Korean population and we are nowhere near that here… yet!
GotGame: How have goldminers or players searching for exploits affected the titles?
Kim: Unfortunately, gold farmers and hackers plague every successful online game. If your game isn’t hacked or raided, it’s almost an insult. I just wish these guys would insult us more =) We work very hard to keep our players and the gaming experience safe from these dark influences, but we also rely heavily on our players to not take part in supporting these behaviors. If we didn’t have these problems, we could focus more dollars and energies to deliver more content.
Unfortunately, it remains a daily battle that often keeps us up at night banging on our keyboards. Many of our players are understanding of this and we work hard to spare our players from the troubles of hackers and farmers.
GotGame: Since most of the titles and updates are released in South Korea first, how does Nexon America adjust the updates for Western audiences?
Kim: It’s not just a matter of changing Korean text to English. We want to offer players a gaming experience which matches culturally too. In MapleStory, Nexon America added a Vegas-style wedding service, where players are brought together in matrimony by an Elvis Impersonator, Pelvis Bebop.
We just had a Fourth of July event with fireworks in Mabinogi. Combat Arms offers players items during Thanksgiving like turkey leg melee weapons and helmets shaped like turkeys! As you can see – there’s a level of creativity required to help make the game more than just a translation. It’s a full-fledged process and we’re constantly improving it in each game.
I would like to thank Min Kim for answering these questions about Nexon America. Be sure to come back each day this week for more on Nexon America’s lineup of titles concluding Friday with a Q&A on their Source Engine developed title, Vindictus.
Go to Nexon America’s site to see more information about all their titles.