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Interview: NCsoft president and CEO TJ Kim [Part Two]

This is the second and concluding part of our exclusive interview with NCsoft boss Tack Jin Kim. For the first part of the interview, in which the celebrated entrepreneur discusses the creation of the company, its views on overseas expansion and its plans for console development, click here. Are you concerned about the possibility of larger companies - such as the US media empires - looking to the online gaming space, and using their larger marketing budgets to elbow out established firms like NCsoft?

Tack Jin Kim: I don't think that [marketing is that powerful], and that's why I love the entertainment business. For example, there are many movies which are not very successful even though they have had a lot of investment in their marketing; but on the other hand, there are some movies which are very successful even though you spend far less money on marketing.

That's what the entertainment business is all about. A company which makes great games can be very successful in the end, no matter how much they spend on the marketing.

If you can't control the success of a product with marketing, that means it's a high risk business for everyone involved, doesn't it?

That's why NCsoft is focusing on developing an entire portfolio, not just one product. The portfolio strategy is very important for an online game company to survive in this situation.

As you know, the distance between the development company and players, the consumers, is very close in the online market. Therefore, big money for marketing is not important - that big money plays its role when there is a long distance between the development company and its players. Here, that gap is very narrow so there is no room for money to play a role. That's my belief.

The company which can make the greatest games will be the winner in the end; but even to that there is a condition, which is very important to online game companies, and that's the know-how to create a player community. If you compare online gaming and console gaming, there's a big difference, and that difference is the user community.

When you compare them, the technology used in online games and console games is almost the same; the user experience during gameplay is also almost the same. So the big difference is that players can enjoy the game together; it's the know-how to get your users communicating in the game, in an online world. Gaining that know-how is very difficult,

Several of your competitors are focused on a single game - like Vivendi Universal and World of Warcraft. Why is that strategy - a single, hugely popular product - a worse strategy than having a broad portfolio?

NCsoft also wants to have massive games like that; games which are successful on a worldwide basis. However, the history of the online gaming market is not short - it's over eight, maybe ten years old now - and many gamers want to enter different worlds, not just fantasy worlds.

That's why we're making different worlds for gamers; that's our big effort for now. From next year, and within two or three years, gaming players around the world will be able to play in several different styles of world within this space.

NCsoft has created a number of different game universes - are you thinking of making movies or other franchise products to increase the popularity of those universes?

That's my dream! My sons, two weeks ago I watched them playing Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-Earth. They're mad about Lord of the Rings; they've seen the movies, read the whole book about twelve times, and enjoyed the games also. They even collect figures!

I want to be able to give my sons the whole set, a whole range of satisfaction like that. That's why NCsoft's dream is to expand our gaming experiences to other mediums, like movies. People want to enjoy content in different mediums, and I think gaming and movies are wonderful mediums to enjoy content.

You've pioneered MMOGs without monthly fees with Guild Wars; what do you think of in-game advertising as an alternative way to drive revenues from these titles?

I saw an article titled "Gamevertising" recently, and yes, we are very interested in that. Certainly, making online games costs big money, and it's a big stress to a development company. I believe that the role of online gaming companies is to grow the online gaming industry, and we should make the barrier to entry of online games lower and lower.

That's why we made a new business model for Guild Wars, so that more people can enjoy online gaming - and we keep trying to make the barriers lower and lower, and to finally remove all the barriers for people who want to enjoy online games. However, on the development side, we need money to make great games - and "gamevertising" is one of the ways to satisfy both sides.

Why do you think the South Korean industry has traditionally not been recognised as a major force in videogames, despite being almost as large in revenue terms as the Japanese industry - and do you think that will change in the coming years?

I think that is going to change in the coming years, yes. When I started developing online games, I visited European countries - about five or six years ago. I visited Germany, England, and several other European countries. But at the time, I found it difficult to make a connection to Korea over the Internet - the Internet situation was not good in Europe at that time.

I believe that the Internet environment is very rapidly changing in Europe, so the gaming worlds which are made by Korean companies can get into the European market in future.

So you don't see any further difficulties with developing your business in Europe due to lack of infrastructure?

Well, that's a primary concern... But, we make games, and games are a cultural product. Understanding other cultures is not easy to do. It's hard to get a clear understanding of each country, and that's why we've set up studios in each country.

You spoke of a next generation for Lineage - when are you looking at launching that? Will Lineage I disappear at that time?

No, it will continue.

So you'll be running all three games side by side?

Right. When NCsoft launched Lineage II, everybody worried about Lineage I - but after the launch of Lineage II, the Lineage I business grew more. Like that, Lineage III is an independent game from Lineage II and Lineage I, but having the same philosophy and same world story.

It'll be launched in around three years time. The company's goal is to make Lineage III within two and a half years, but every developer is always late, so I think three years is a safer estimate!

Finally, Do you play games yourself, and which are your favourites?

Every day, I try to play games. This year, my favourite game has definitely been Guild Wars - I love that game. Even though, as you know, the business of Guild Wars is not good in Korea, still I love playing it!

Last week, I really enjoyed the PSP version of Burnout, which was published by Electronic Arts. I love that game.

Tack Jin Kim is the president and CEO of NCsoft, which he founded in 1997. Interview by Rob Fahey.

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Rob Fahey: Rob Fahey is a former editor of who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.