Sunday, December 23, 2012

Nintendon't in South Korea


Nintendo is the most famous name in gaming and one of the most famous companies world-wide, but here in Korea, even it finds it hard to break through to mass success.

This is probably because like all other console manufacturers, they just don't move a Korean audience.  Koreans are PC gamers.  PC Bongs (Rooms) dot every city and it costs barely anything for teenage boys to go to one and spend a couple hours between class, away from mom and dad's watchful eyes, playing League of Legends with their friends.  In this way, games in Korea are not only things to do, but places to go.  They aren't just a pass time, like television.  They are an event, like arcades and movie theaters.  Games are even broadcast on TV and professional gaming is a legitimate form of competition, especially when it comes to titles like League of Legions, Starcraft, and Sudden Attack.

There's not a lot of room for console developers to move in such a PC-centric environment.  But that doesn't seem to stop a company like Nintendo from trying.  On a recent trip to the COEX Mall in Seoul, I couldn't help but notice all the effort Nintendo had put into a 3DS campaign.  Big signs advertising the 3DS and Nintendogs lined the walls and a station was set up for people to watch and play 3DS games, just in time for Christmas.  And that marketing was trying to catch everyone, adults and children alike.

However, the 3DS is still a hard sell in a country that's not only dominated by PCs but smartphones.  Every kid is walking around with a portable game system that they can easily justify to their parents, and their favorite game at the moment is free physics platformer called Bounce Ball for the Android.  A couple days ago, I had a student walk into my class with both a 3DS and his phone and he spent his break playing Bounce Ball, entirely ignoring the handheld designed specifically to playing big, sweeping action games.

I find myself almost rooting for Nintendo.  "Yeah!" I think, "Introduce kids to the adventures of Mario and Link!  Show them what classically good games are!"  I think that forgetting I haven't bought a Nintendo console or game in years.  I think that forgetting how stagnant the Nintendo production cycle has become and how New Super Mario Bros. titles are becoming as annual as Call of Duty and Madden, and just as interesting.  I think that forgetting Nintendo is not an underdog.

Like Korea has been for a while, the United States is certainly moving away from the console and handheld gaming systems and farther into the realm of PCs, tablets, and smartphones.  Maybe the Koreans have it completely right when it comes to gaming.  Maybe consoles and handhelds are relics.  Most of those independent and experimental, artsy-fartsy games that I love are found on PC and smartphone.  So why should I be rooting for a giant cooperation to conquer yet another nation?  Perhaps I'd rather keep my local PC Bong in business.

Originally posted early today on my other blog: Museum of Bad Ideas.

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