Gaming in Korea has enjoyed around 15 years of great success. Among Korea’s top performing gaming ‘startups’ of the last 15 to 20 years are several that have achieve well over billion dollar valuations. These include NCSoft ($1.2Bn), Nexon ($3.7Bn), Com2US ($1.3Bn), and Devsisters ($755M) which just went public this month. Smilegate, another domestic star, is still private and its estimated valuation is creeping towards $4Bn.
Where other areas of software innovation in Korea are developing at a more conservative pace, Korean gaming companies continue to impress. They continue to develop under the leadership of long-term gaming professionals and often prove successful, both in raising investment, and with gamers across the globe.
Today two fresh faces in the Korean gaming industry have emerged, raising investment capital to complete their first titles and bolster Korea’s gaming credentials.
BlackBeard Inc. is a new gaming startup that was founded by highly seasoned gaming professionals from some of the top gaming studios. They announced today that they have raised $600k to complete development and release of their first title, Distopia.
Their Founder and CEO, KeonWoo Kang previously worked at NCSoft, one of Korea’s top game developers. He was one of the key people developing the core gaming systems for both Blade and Soul titles, which achieved high acclaim in gaming circles and went on to become highly profitable.
Co-Founder, Kevin Baik also has a high-level gaming heritage, having worked for Activision Blizzard prior to joining BlackBeard. He served as the first concept artist for the wildly popular Call of Duty.
While the heritage of the team is in PC games, BlackBeard will be a mobile-first game developer. CEO Kang explained that they aim to use their experience developing for PC, to bring the same quality of gaming experience to the mobile environment.
BlackBeaard will focus on SF Action RPG titles. They have been developing their first title, Distopia, which they plan to release next year. It is based in a fictional 2120 world, at a time when humans are in a desperate battle against marauding alien forces.
Distopia’s core system development is almost finished and many of the additional systems and game content will be completed by the end of this year.
Jimmy Rim, CEO of K Cube Ventures said: “The team at BlackBeard come from a very strong gaming background. These days there are a lot of RPG games, but BlackBeard due to their depth of experience and grand vision, they are creating something new and unique. I also have great faith in their ability to develop higher quality games than the competition.”
NOVN has also today announced investment from The Ventures, an accelerator and early stage investment firm that incorporated this year.
According to a spokesperson for The Ventures, “NOVN are developing a very innovative new concept in mobile gaming called ‘timeline dungeon’.” While on the surface is might look similar to an RPG style game, the way players interact with the game and other gamers is unique.
Used in a similar way to Twitter’s timeline, there is an in-game chat that controls game dialogue and the game’s time line. “The storyline is very important in this game,” stated one of the founders in an interview. “And our timeline feature is very different to what you’ve seen before, in that the game’s timeline is written there.”
Also somewhat unique to Korean game developers, NOVN are targeting North America. “Americans care about a good storyline in a game as well as advanced means of connecting to other users,” according to a company representative. In addition, this game is very targeted towards mobile devices, where communication between users and devices is constant and smooth,” he went on.
Like the founders of BlackBeard, the team at NOVN are all seasoned gaming and technical experts, heralding from some of Korea’s top tech brands . CEO Yong-Goh Choi previously worked for both Nexon and Devsisters. Their CCO, Donghyun Kim, came from Daum, and CTO Young-Uk Oh previously worked for Neople and Vanilla Breeze. According to an industry source, it is unusual for a team of this caliber to work together on a new venture, and this bodes well for the future success of the company.
NOVN also want to realize a new concept in mobile gaming. They have identified that these days most games are built on similar structures, and that formulas used in the making of contemporary games has taken some of the individuality out of the experience for users.
They believe that in many cases the graphics and visual merits of a game is what draws users in, but that reliance on visual features is not sustainable. In contrast, NOVN have focused on building interesting in-game scenarios, characterization, in-game features, and player Interactivity. They believe that this will make users focus on the core makeup of the game and will increase long-term engagement.