C3 Special | Cubed³ Goes to South Korea: Nintendo DS & Wii Report

By Adam Riley 24.09.2007 18

Cubed³'s Adam Riley Goes to South Korea!

Nintendo may have been present in South Korea for many years, with the likes of the ComBoy (NES) and Super ComBoy (SNES) making Mario's name popular amongst the youth back in the day, but it was only in July of last year that company president Satoru Iwata decided it would be wise to invest considerably in the up-and-coming country (in terms of the gaming world) and thus Nintendo of Korea was borne. Sadly, though, nothing seemed to happen after that and there were numerous reports of the office being extremely small and lacking in personnel.

However, everything kicked into gear when it was revealed a fully localised version of the Nintendo DS Lite, which had already taken the rest of the world by storm, would be hitting the land of StarCraft and Lineage in January 2007. In other words Nintendo faced the uphill battle of convincing a country where PC gaming rules the roost by far to love the portable console that the rest of the world has already fallen in love with. Was it a major risk that could blow up in its face? Well, definitely, but if you do not take calculated risks then you are never likely to make any progress…right?

Well, we have read many stories about how the PlayStation Portable sales have become stagnant, the Xbox 360 is mostly overlooked and the PlayStation 3 is well out of the price range of those considering video games instead of PC ones, plus we already know that 270,000 units of the DS Lite were sold between the January launch and the following four months. But from asking my wife to quiz her family (yes, she is South Korean and all her family still lives over there) on how present Nintendo is right now, the response received was that nothing had been seen and her brothers did not even know what a Nintendo DS Lite was. This certainly did not bode well considering how well Nintendo was supposed to have been doing there, yet I remained hopeful that something had simply been lost in translation. So, upon arriving in the country clearly my first question was to specifically stress had they heard of the latest Nintendo handheld system…This time I was told that her younger brother remembered a Nintendo baseball game. Which one, though, he was not sure, and with him being 34 it could have been from quite a while back rather than the recent GameCube edition that feature Mario (especially since the GC barely made a ripple over there thanks to poor distribution and coverage by former external partner Daewon).

In all honesty I started to give up hope, but little did I know, redemption was just around the corner. We were set to meet a group of my wife's friends the following day and she got a call from one of them urgently asking for advice on something. Sure enough it turned out her 12-year-old son had been constantly pestering her about some new 'game machine' that all his friends at school had. I tentatively asked did she mean the DS and a light bulb down the end of the phone line went *ping*. So we decided to meet them at the local E-Mart (basically a multi-storey Asda, which was five minutes walk from where we were staying in the district of Hopyeong-dong, just North-east of Seoul) to see what he wanted, with me asking if he preferred adventures, puzzles or racing (basically the main genres on offer at that time - Mario platformers, Mario Kart, Pokémon Dungeon, nintendogs and some of the Training games). Racing was what all his friends loved, so Mario Kart was the obvious choice so he could play the same game as them. Sure enough, when we met the other families later on (four in total, with a mass of ten children running around), all of them had DS Lites and the majority had Mario Kart, whilst some of the girls had New Super Mario Bros. and Pokémon Link.

At last, a nice indication of the youth getting into playing with the DS, and the ages ranged from as low as six to as high as fifteen that day. Revitalised in my mission to learn more, I decided to ask my six-year-old niece to go on a mission the next day, asking people at her school if they 1.) Knew about DS and 2.) What games they played. Being the thorough girl that she is, she went around and asked everyone in her class. The general consensus was that basically everyone had a DS Lite, with it being the hot playground item right now and nobody bothering with other game systems. The boys all played various Mario games the most, with Super Mario 64 DS and New Super Mario Bros. being the standout choices, whilst the girls plumped for the latter of the two Mario titles because of the fun mini-games found in it. Clearly the lure of Mario is as strong as ever…

It was at this point that I thought it unfair for my nieces to miss out on all this Nintendo goodness, both my wife's younger brother's two girls (we were staying with them for the duration of the holiday - one is three, the other, as already mentioned, six) and my other two nieces on her older brother's side (six and seven). Therefore, I bought two DS Lites for them. Clearly I am not made of money, and the DS Lite hardware is barely any cheaper over there than it is here in the UK, so I got one for each set of girls and hoped they would share responsibly. The younger set preferred the Noble Pink version, whilst the older ones got the Ice Blue. Neither liked the recently released Gloss Silver or Metallic Rose editions and even the shop clerk said the silver one looked rather boring. As for games, I suggested getting New Super Mario Bros. for the young ones and Super Mario 64 DS for the older pair since nintendogs gets rather limited too quickly, Mario Kart was too boy-ish for them, they thought WarioWare was too confusing, Big Brain Academy looked boring and they were too young for English Training. The younger brother was amazed to see Tetris for the system and was sorely tempted to pick it up…As for me, I was more surprised it only cost 20,000 Won, which roughly equates to an ultra cheap £10, a far cry from the £34.99 we were charged when it first launched in the UK! The games in general were definitely cheaper than over here, with New Super Mario Bros. being just £20, WarioWare: Touched! £17.50 and Brain Training £15. I wonder if the Koreans know how good they have got it in comparison to us?

Whilst at E-mart, I took the opportunity to question the woman behind the counter about purchasing trends and she stated that nintendogs, Super Mario 64 DS and New Super Mario Bros. are all extremely popular selling games right now, but so are the likes of early releases Quick Shot and English Training, plus relatively new release Big Brain Academy (came out at the beginning of August) as parents are keen to improve their children's knowledge, perception and language skills. However, the store clerk also pointed out that many families return shortly afterwards for an actual proper game since the children get bored of the 'educational' titles quite quickly and want to play fun action games with their friends. As for Brain Training, at that particular store it had not been as popular since adults were only buying the system and games for their children rather than for themselves. However, one store is clearly not indicative of a whole country and considering the amount of coverage both Brain Training and English Training received back in January as the launch duo, it would be crazy to believe they have been anything other than a resounding success.

That particular day was 13th September, the day when, much to my surprise, Nintendo released Kirby: Mouse Attack (not Power Paintbrush), or Byul ei Kirby Dophand il dang eu seup gyuk to give it its Korean translated name, accompanied by promotions in stores like E-mart and TV advertisements (shown at various times of day, from a 9:30pm slot on the launch day to an early 11:00am showing on Saturday morning children's TV). Speaking of TV presence, a renewed campaign has just started that shows off the earlier DS releases and plugs the new Gloss Silver and Metallic Rose DS Lites, whilst recent release Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team on DS (sans Red GBA edition it seems) is also being pushed in-store and via regular TV adverts.

Heading over to my wife's Aunt's house a few days later, her children, in their mid-to-late twenties, have all heard of the DS and many of their friends use the system, but are unsure of whether to buy English Training or not since they are not aware of its background and if it is actually based on any proven course. After telling them it is based around the TOEIC standard they appeared much more interested. Perhaps this is something Nintendo should have factored into their advertising campaign rather than the cute advert with a woman in a fast food joint…Now here is the big thing; the same people had also heard about Wii due to a recent TV documentary covering the new Nintendo system. They were not sure when it was being released, though, and the only game they had heard about was Wii Sports, with Boxing and Tennis specifically shown, but I was quite pleased to hear something about Wii recognition. It also seemed that they thought the sports games were separate and were quite shocked when told all five come in the same package. But at least it appears the word is already beginning to spread about the home console that is ubiquitous elsewhere and famed for its motion controls. In fact, since Nintendo has not yet announced a firm Wii release date for South Korea, it is no wonder they did not know! Last week Nintendo of Korea merely stated it is "aiming to introduce the Wii console to the Korean market soon". How soon is 'soon', though?

Anyway, for the time being it is all about the DS, with large adverts for the system itself adorning the walls of subway stations such as the large one at Gwanghwamun Station, on the way to the Gyeongbok Palace (do you blame me doing a bit of sight-seeing whilst there?!) and some of the large pillars within the COEX Centre in Samsung-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul being dedicated to adverts for nintendogs, Super Mario 64, WarioWare: Touched!, New Super Mario Bros. and Tetris DS. In other words, Nintendo has not only been peppering the TV with adverts at varying times on numerous channels, but is ensuring its other forms of promotional material are in clear sight of as many everyday people as possible and it helps that recognised Korean personalities are being used to promote the games.

As for the actual games line-up, to some it may look rather sparse, but recently the Korean localised list of games has been greatly expanding, with MySims coming out just now, alongside SimCity DS, Cooking Mama, DS Chueok ui Donghwa Touch RO Puzzle (which looks like a reworked version of Zoo Keeper), Picross DS (came out about four days ago and the game's official Korean page can be seen here), Samgukji DS (historic turn-based strategy from Koei, otherwise known as 'Romance of the Three Kingdoms' in the West) and even Hoshigami Remix all hitting stores across the country in the past few weeks. So owners are finally getting a real taste of Third Party goodness as well as just Nintendo First Party games. But that does not mean Nintendo is slacking, as it has Ouendan / Elite Beat Agents coming on 11th October and Yoshi's Island DS launching on 8th November, plus Metroid Prime Hunters and Online Mah-jong in the near future. There are even games appearing from small Korean developers, such as a Sudoku title from SKonec. But a big question has to be how long before Maple Story developer Wizet gets the DS version of its hit MMORPG completed and Nexon pushes it out into the retail scene, plus whether or not NCSoft chooses to put some of its considerable development weight behind the petite handheld. With Nintendo supporting small Korean developers and having its dedicated branch in Seoul, surely any hostility towards the Japanese firm should be put to one side now in favour of good business practices and strong profit margins instead. Satoru Iwata was clearly right to do what Hiroshi Yamauchi thought was a waste of time - invest in Korea.

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Krazy Korean Kapers Adam Smilie Really interesting insight into a different gaming culture. I've always wanted to go to the Far East, such interesting culture!

Trying to think of a witty signature after 'Hacker-gate'...

You can see the Ice Blue and Noble Pink DS Lites on the images of my (extended) family, plus the old silver DS and my white DS Lite as well.

I'm definitely going back next year if I get time and I'll try and arrange something with Nintendo of Korea if possible.

Nintendo, if you're reading this, hope you realise the effort C3 is putting into promoting your systems even abroad! Smilie Smilie

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses

Interesting read. I've never ever played a game with my parents...except for that one time playing Dance Dance Revolution with my mom.

Top read, most definitely one of the more unique features! Excellent work Mr. Raz-a-ma-taz.

Cubed3 Admin/Founder & Designer

Really good article Raz. The DS seems to be an enormous success there and the Wii seems likely to follow in it's boots, suprising due to the lackluster line-up.

I would also love to got to the Far-East, Japana and S.Korea especially.

Mike Gee of iZINE said, "...The Verve, as he [Richard Ashcroft] promised, had become the greatest band in the world. Most of the critics agreed with him. Most paid due homage. The Verve were no longer the question mark or the clich. They were the statement and the definition."

Great write up Adam, really interesting to read. And how generous of you to buy some DSes!

tiamat1990 said:
Interesting read. Ive never ever played a game with my parents...except for that one time playing Dance Dance Revolution with my mom.

Really? I used to play Street Fighter II against my mum on the old SNES. But wait, there is more! The old bag actually pwnd me several times.. :/ Smilie

~Getting on C3's massive tits since 2K5.~

Thanks guys. It was so pleasing to see first-hand how much Nintendo is infiltrating a country that has never really embraced console gaming. Wii is likely to be just as big thanks to the hype surrounding it and the DS.

Nintendo just needs to form some alliances with more Korean developers and it'll be sorted.

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses

Great read Adam! Some stars for you.

Very interesting to hear about how Nintendo is handling the territory. Hopefully the Wii can replicate. Nice of you to splurge on DSes for your nieces too. Smilie

Very kind of you Smilie I think two DS Lites and two games came to around

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses

Great stuff Raz, was an excellent read. Good insight to how Nintendo fares in other cultures.


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Cheers mOojc and zcollvee. Have any of the readers here ever been to South Korea or any other East Asian country, for that matter?

EDIT: Also nice to see Kotaku picking up on this article! You should read some of the comments in that story for more anecdotal evidence of the DS's popularity, especially during the Korean holiday of Chusok, which happened just a week after I left. Here's the link.

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses

Koreans were always more into PC games... they love their Blizzard games.

It'll be interesting to see how Maple Story on the DS does...

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses

Well, I am currently working in South Korea and have been keeping an eye on Wii for Christmas. Nintendo DS is readily available and has quite a following especially from the younger generation. In general, my students who are elementary-school aged know about the product and get excited if we talk about it in class. My older students don't react in quite the same way and it seems that they prefer their PC based games as they are the ones who most often frequent PC bangs (internet cafes) during their free time in order to play online with other gamers. That is, when they get free time as most students spend enormous amounts of time at school and in hagwons (or learning academies) learning much more material than you or I can even imagine. Older people in their 20s and 30s work way too many hours and prefer going to lorebangs (karaoke bars) instead of gaming. Several of my coworkers and even my husband couldn't understand why I would be interested in buying a Nintendo Wii - (my husband is Korean). Though they didn't know about the Wii, they did know enough to relate the Nintendo name with gaming so that is a positive sign. Also, most people my age, are also parents and if their children are young they would be very familiar with Nintendo Wii as their kids would want to buy the product and get animated when talking about it (alot like my younger students do).
Nintendo Wii kind of entered the market quietly and a quick search on South Korea's leading search engine (www.naver.com) yielded several links to Nintendo Wii. The price that seems associated with the Nintendo Wii console is 260,900 Won (roughly about $260 US) without the games. The product is readily available on gmarket and auction websites. Yes, online shopping is alive and well in the Land of the Morning Calm. A quick trip to the local E-Mart and Homeplus revealed that they didn't have any on stock. This is both pre-Christmas and post-Christmas. They did however, have MS X-Box 360, PS3 (for 343,000 W) and several PS2s at 183,000 W). Anyhow, it is exciting to see how Nintendo will unfold here. Apparently, Nintendo is unhappy with piracy being what it is here in South Korea and has pleaded with officials to have a better handle on piracy and to punish websites offering pirated Nintendo games threatening to hold back their products from South Korean consumers. Personally I don't believe such threats would work here in a country which is so technologically advanced. Nintendo needs the South Korean market more than South Korea needs Nintendo. With about 50 million people here, a good relationship with the people would prove quite rewarding for Nintendo. It will be interesting to see how Nintendo sales will unfold during the coming year.

Thanks for that response, Frances, very informative. Sadly Nintendo delayed the release of the Wii over in South Korea due to the massive demand for the console on a worldwide basis. Therefore, it will be launching later this year and at Christmas 2008 for the Chinese market as well.

The fact that people had heard of Wii when I was over there with my wife (she's S. Korean) back in September was a positive sign and now from what you've just told us it is clear the message is spreading even further. I believe the Wii, whilst never likely to usurp the PC, will certainly beat the Xbox 360 and PS3 in terms of popularity.

What worries me about the DS is how the piracy issue is ridiculously widespread, with most children in S. Korea owning the DS Flash cards and having lots of illegal downloaded games. It seems far more of a problem than here in the West from what I keep hearing!

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses

Hi there.

I just discovered something interesting. While the word is out for Nintendo Wii and advertisements are up in some places the product is not yet sold in stores. It can be purchased on line which actually to do so, means the console is coming from Japan. It's supposed to come out soon - some shops say the end of January and another shop said in March. But they don't advise buying it from on-line because since the console is coming from Japan then it's not covered by the warranty and insurance. That means shipping it back to Japan if need be which means paying for shipping and then the fees for them to fix it and apparently Japan is quite pricey when it comes to repairs. It's tricky!!!

Yeah pirated things is a problem here because they are readily availble for download on many websites. Some Koreans are not too fussed by Nintendo as they reckon they could make a similar model here though at the moment there doesn't seem to be any "fakes" or spinoffs around like there are in China.

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