The Asian Beat #2: 5 Winning Moves for Mobile Games Advertisers in South Korea

Welcome to our second episode in our Asian Beat series!

South Korea is a mammoth opportunity for mobile game publishers. As we mentioned in the first episode of Asian Beat, South Korea’s domestic mobile gaming market reached $754 million in 2012.  Smartphone penetration stood at 73 percent (of the total population of 50 million South Koreans) last August, which is significantly higher than the US (56.4 percent), and second only to the not so far ahead United Arab Emirates (73.8 percent). With 61 percent of said smartphone users playing mobile games, and the total South Korean game market being worth $9.16 billion as of October last year (Japan’s figure stood at just over half of that at $4.6 billion), this can only mean good things for mobile games advertisers in terms of new user acquisition, as well as high retention rates and revenue –if campaigns are run effectively, with consideration paid to our best practices as set out below.

Publishing and advertising in South Korea is a different ball game when compared to Western markets and other Asian markets; localization, high user demands, branding, CPI prices and your publishing platforms should all be taken into account.

1. Localize Your Advertising as well as your Game

In the same way that you’ll need to make edits to your game to tailor it to the South Korean market, it’s important to make sure your ad creatives are optimized for Korean users too. Good starting points are translating the written language into Korean and switching up the content of your ads. While factual, more demonstrative content works best in the West, South Korean gamers are more drawn in by attractive people or characters and attention-grabbing ads. Think visually appealing, striking and to the point.

By way of example, compare the following two Candy Crush/Sugar Crush TV commercials. The first, a western advertisement, demonstrates clearly what the game does and describes its appealing features (“easy”, “deliciously tasty”, “free to play”). The second, a South Korean advertisement, is a much more humorous and dramatic sequence which shows, not tells, gamers why they should play (i.e. it’s more fun than work, it’s addictive).

2. Take User Behavior into Account: It’s Fast-Paced, Reward-Focused and Centralized

With cultural differences come user behavior differences. Korean gamers expect exciting games filled with rewards to keep them hooked and motivate them to continue playing. They also demand freshly updated, glitch-free games, and, when there are issues, for ticket responses for core/RPG games to be rapid, in Korean and available through multiple channels such as social media and in-game private messages.

Gaming habits are centralized towards big publishers, and it’s difficult for mid- and small-sized publishers to compete with them and earn a slice of the revenue. Running smart campaigns which focus on gaining high quality, high LTV users is your best bet to maximize your success.

Interstitials or pop-ups offering prizes, such as free weapons or extra lives, for completing levels and other in-game events are employed commonly in South Korea as user retention and engagement boosters. While these sorts of measures may annoy Western users, Korean users enjoy free rewards in return for their time and effort, and the top grossing games in South Korea are all actively hooking players with in-game community events such as giving out freebies as a bonus for daily logins.

The following screenshots are of example pop-ups which alert players that they can win 10 million KRW or a MacBook Air for completing various in-game events such as level completion:


3. Include Offline, Non-Performance (Branding) Advertising Campaigns in Your Marketing Mix

In South Korea, billboards in subway stations and train carriages are awash with advertising for mobile games. If ad budgets are high, this could be an effective way to build hype around your game. Since so many people use public transport, and are active on their smartphones at the same time, there is a very large captive audience potential.

TV advertising for mobile games performs well in South Korea just like in the West, the results of which can be seen in patterns in user activity and install spikes during TV ad campaigns. Supercell, for example, is spending a large portion of their budget on offline advertisement, such as on TV and in subway stations in South Korea. These campaigns boosted them from #50 to #1 in the Top Charts within three weeks, and their simultaneous user acquisition campaign on mobile experienced significantly higher conversion rates (+280 percent, compared to the period before the offline campaigns). Despite the huge investment necessary to launch offline ads, these campaigns should still be ROI positive if the game remains in the top ranks; AppLift’s standard rule of thumb is that it can earn $200-500k a day while sitting at the top. However, as a best practice, support your offline advertising with online advertising. According to a study by MediaMath published this month, combining TV and Twitter campaigns can increase ROI by, on average, 50 percent, when compared with TV-only campaigns.

Themed emoji sets created for instant messaging services are gimmicky but very common. It’s easy to see how the creation of emojis would be effective as a branding and promotional exercise, as the main player Kakao has over 100 million users and also acts as a major game publishing platform.

emoji set

4. Publish on Android Over Apple; Opt for Kakao if it Makes Sense for Your Game

Android takes a strong lead in South Korea in terms of market share with 90 percent of smartphone users owning an Android device. The Google Play Store therefore has much more potential to be profitable for mobile game publishers when securing users and revenue in Korea than the iOS App Store. Data from our Seoul office shows that both iOS and Google Play have good conversion rates relative to overall traffic in S. Korea (comparable to the US/EU figures). However in South Korea, the Android/iOS split is 90/10, in stark contrast to the USA and European markets. As a result, media partners are not really paying attention to iOS, since it generally doesn’t monetize as well as Android. When it comes to non-incentivized traffic, our Seoul office data indicates that, on Android, post-click conversions (installs and app opens) take place three times more often than on iOS. We would therefore recommend against publishing solely on iOS; opt for both, or just Android.

Below is a game invite sent between friends on leading messaging app Kakao. Publishing on Kakao’s games platform can mean huge numbers of organic downloads, as users discover games, play and invite their friends to join them.

Games that lend themselves to social features, such as Candy Crush Saga, stand to benefit most from Kakao’s 100 million user reach. There are some games, however, such as strategy game Clash of Clans, which don’t have such obvious social potential. In cases like these, it might be more beneficial to publish your game solely in the app stores, to avoid the big revenue share that must be paid to Kakao. It all depends on your type of game and revenue model. It’s worth knowing, though, that 90 percent of mobile games in South Korea are published with Kakao, and of the Top 20 Grossing apps in the Google Play Store, 14 (70 percent) are Kakao-integrated.


5. Combine Non-incentivized Traffic with Social Media Buzz

On Android, incentivized installs have a CPI of around $0.20 to $0.50, which is cheaper than the EU and US due to high competition in the South Korean market. However, you still might then only see a few organic installs from users who are actually interested in downloading your app, because of the large amount of competition in the app stores when it comes to reaching the Top Charts. AppLift are seeing that non-incentivized installs on Android, on the other hand, are costing between $2.50 and $3 in South Korea which is comparable to EU and US prices. These are naturally much more likely to lead to engaged, high LTV users who have a true interest in your game, meaning more revenue from post-download conversions like in-game purchases. For maximized user engagement, opt to optimize your non-incentivized CPI/CPC/CPM campaigns and combine them with unpaid social media marketing activities and offering active users rewards in return for inviting their friends to play.

If you’re publishing and advertising a game in South Korea, what will you do to make sure you succeed?

The next Asian Beat will be an overview of the mobile games market in Japan. Subscribe for our newsletter by entering your email address in the bar down below to get our mobile marketing insights and news sent directly to your inbox!

Applift is a leading mobile ad tech company that empowers businesses by creating the next-generation platform for advertisers to reach and convert their audiences on mobile.