Smilegate at 20: Growing past Crossfire, reaching beyond games

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“From the Western perspective, in the past few years, Smilegate has been slowly coming into into the Western market with the mission to turn out to be recognized as a serious participant,” Smilegate VP of enterprise growth Harold Kim tells us in a current conversation across the company’s 20th anniversary. “But we’re nonetheless baby-stepping. I suppose the notion in the US just isn’t there yet, however we’re slowly being recognized.”

For much of its lifespan, Smilegate has been synonymous with Crossfire, the phenomenally successful 15-year-old free-to-play first-person shooter with multiple billion registered users, a concurrent user record of 8 million, and minimal recognition amongst Western customers.

“It’s been a bumpy experience,” Kim says when tracing the roots of Crossfire’s success. “When we first launched the sport again in 2007 for the Korean market, we did not do very nicely.”

As Kim explains, the Korean market already had a couple of comparable free-to-play first-person shooters at the time, so Crossfire had difficulty building the crucial mass of a participant base that may help gas the free-to-play recreation’s success.

Crossfire screenshot
The authentic Crossfire first found success in China

“We needed to look for markets that didn’t have these pre-established communities within the style,” Kim says. “The largest one was China and we determined to go all-in on China on the time.”

Smilegate partnered with Tencent and launched Crossfire in China later the same 12 months, where it took off.

Despite the game’s overwhelming success, it has solely gained modest traction in its residence country.

“Crossfire in Korea hasn’t been an enormous recreation,” Kim admits. “But it’s our bread and butter and we have to do it. We put a lot of funding into it, lots of advertising. And that is making Korea an essential marketplace for us, however the precise revenue numbers or community measurement in Korea is not that big.”

“[The US and the West] need good visuals, they need up-to-date features. And lots of these things had been lacking, by Western requirements”

Unfortunately for Smilegate, its efforts to make Crossfire click in the West weren’t a lot different when it comes to success. While Kim believes the game itself was stable, he famous that it was constructed on expertise that may have been current in 2002, and likely felt dated to American customers when they obtained their first take a look at it a few years later.

“In the US and Western markets, [a game] really needs greater than fun,” Kim says. “They want good visuals, they need up-to-date features. And lots of those issues have been missing, by Western requirements.”

Beyond that, he thinks Smilegate had trouble getting the franchise’s backstory throughout in the Western localization.

“There are some very interesting developments we’ve touched in the Crossfire universe in the story,” Kim says. “There’s no right aspect. There’s no bad individuals or good people, some interesting philosophy the game has, but we’ve never been capable of express that in a meaningful way. And especially when we have a glance at the Western market, they need to understand the universe, the characters, they want to perceive what the story is. And we’ve not been capable of provide that.”

Crossfire X promotional image
This year’s Crossfire X gave the sport a contemporary facelift

The firm has began to take steps toward addressing each of these issues with titles like this 12 months’s Xbox revamp Crossfire X and the real-time strategy spin-off Crossfire Legion, however Kim says those are child steps in comparability with what the corporate is planning for the lengthy run.

For roughly a decade after Crossfire’s launch, the story around Smilegate was that it had a huge hit that it could not make work within the West.

Then came the global launch of the cell turn-based RPG Epic Seven in 2018. The recreation not solely turned Smilegate’s second big IP, it also turned its first big title in the West, with greater than half of its revenues from from the United States. (Kim said Korea and Japan have also been big markets for the title.)

That similar year, Smilegate launched Lost Ark in Korea and seen that it had unexpectedly popped on Twitch, with Kim saying the unlocalized version of the sport cracked the top ten hottest games listing on Twitch in the US.

“We noticed large potential there,” Kim says, noting it led to Smilegate partnering with Twitch mother or father company Amazon to deliver Lost Ark to Western markets.

“Amazon not only has Twitch and [Amazon Web Services], they wished to come back massive into the gaming house, and we immediately shared the identical vision,” he provides. “They needed a big title, and we had a big title. They were investing closely into the market. They had the knowledge and understanding of how to [reach] influencers and do the advertising. I assume we got here to an excellent outcome with the collaboration.”

Lost Ark screenshot
Smilegate is hoping partnerships like Lost Ark help it grow in Western markets

Earlier this yr Lost Ark launched on Steam and had 1.3 million concurrent users on its second day of release. The recreation has greater than 20 million users worldwide in complete, and has given Smilegate three main IP to build off of sooner or later.

“A lot of mistakes are made when whoever the IP owner is wants the IP to be the middle of each aspect in the transmedia area”

Now that it has grown its gaming business this far beyond Crossfire, Kim says the goal for the next 20 years of the company is to become a frontrunner in the leisure area more broadly, including TV and movie. It’s a refrain we have heard a lot from game corporations, almost as a lot as we’ve seen transmedia efforts fall on their faces.

But Smilegate has already had some success on this front, Kim notes, with a Crossfire TV collection in China collectively accumulating more than 3 billion views.

“A lot of errors are made when whoever the IP owner is wants the IP to be the center of every side in the transmedia house,” Kim says. “Sometimes it would not should be the center. For instance, our Crossfire [TV series] was a love story in esports that occurred to have Crossfire in the background.

“You have to have a good story and a great experience. That has to come back first, and then you might have a greater chance of succeeding in the larger scheme.”

Kim knows it’s a tall order to realize ambitions like Smilegate’s.

“I do not suppose Smilegate can do that alone,” he says. “There’s so much talent in the Western territories we would like to partner with and share that goal together.”

He points to the corporate’s cope with That’s No Moon for a narrative-driven action-adventure game and an open-world AAA title developed in its Barcelona studio as examples of its want to look beyond its conventional talent base to discover new alternatives. He adds that company continues to look for extra such partnerships, whether they involve extensions of Smilegate’s present IP or original titles.

Despite the lengthy street and plenty of struggles to breakout beyond the one-dimensional success of Crossfire, Kim says Smilegate never thought-about scaling again its ambitions and easily maximizing the shooter franchise’s success in markets where it was already massive.

“That was by no means an intent from Smilegate side,” Kim says. “We do worth our Crossfire IP very importantly, but we’re very eager to develop new IPs. The objective for Smilegate is to make these IPs into a protracted, sustainable – not just a business mannequin, however IPs that can be passed alongside by way of generations and be loved by followers not simply as a sport the place they spend money. That is the objective to us.”

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