Small Enterprise speaks to Barış Özistek, the President of Netmarble EMEA about how Netmarble has become one of the top mobile gaming companies offering Arabised and localized games in the MENA region.
Tell us about Netmarble. What does it do? When was the company launched?
Established in South Korea in 2000, Netmarble is the fastest growing mobile game developing company as well as one of the best mobile developers and publishers in the world. Netmarble is currently one of the leaders in the Korean gaming market and the number one gaming company that managed to enter the global market.
Netmarble is constantly growing and increasing its revenue as a company. More than half of the revenue comes from global markets meanwhile the company’s performance in global markets is steadily escalating. With the momentum gained with the launch of our game Lineage 2: Harb albakaa, which was released in 54 Western countries following Asia and Japan in the past year, Netmarble left behind a record-breaking year with its biggest annual revenue yet. Netmarble’s 2017 revenue exceeded $2 billion.
Much like our previous partnerships with “Jam City” and “Kabam”, in April, we have purchased a 25.71 percent stake in the Korean company Big Hit Entertainment and developed business synergies between the two companies, which are both very active in global gaming and music markets. In addition, we plan to make further mergers and acquisitions in the global market, via the funds obtained through a public listing in the future.
How is the game industry progressing both worldwide and in MENA region?
The gaming market has exceeded $110 billion worldwide. Mobile gaming industry makes up half of this amount. We can say there is a similar situation in MENA as well. The mobile gaming industry has taken over more than 50 percent of the market. The time spent in the game by players in the region is above the world average. If we were to look at the per person expenditures, the GCC region shows similar characteristics to the markets with high per person expenditures on games such as America, Japan and Korea.
Entertainment habits of the region seem to be in parallel with mobile games. We observe that men and women of all ages have fun with mobile games, especially when the games are in Arabic. Recently, we also observed that the games that are not only in Arabic but also highlights the Arab culture, which consists of the region’s favourite characters and places and are enriched with cultural localizations receive much more attention.
If we were looking at the economic size of the MENA mobile game market, it seems to be over $1.5 billion. Personally, by the end of 2020, I expect this amount to reach $3 billion.
Which of your games are most played in MENA region?
Lineage 2: Harb albakaa comes first as Netmarble’s most played games. Lineage 2: Harb albakaa has more than 32 million players worldwide. The game accumulated over $924 million in global revenue within the 11 months since its first launch.
The second most played games from our stable is Travelling Millionaire. This is one of the games with the highest income which has a large number of players in the MENA region as well. Players in the region have been playing Travelling Millionaire for a very long time. Therefore, we are always working on keeping the game fresh and producing more content to be able to fulfil our players’ expectations.
As Netmarble, what kind of investments are you making for Arabic players?
Although translating the whole game into the regional language is a huge step, we don’t think it is enough. By making cultural localization in the games whenever possible, we localize the characters in the game along with all visual designs and sometimes even the design of the whole game according to the expectations of Arab players.
If we were to give an example from our games, we have attracted the attention of the players by adding local characters to our Traveling Millionaire game and showed them that we care and value our players. Nasser, with his hawk and ethnic outfit, is one of the players’ favourite characters. Selahaddin Eyyubi, who is a historical figure, is a strong character with his special warhorse and sword for the players who want to conquer Travelling Millionaire. Moreover, Assi gets a lot of attention from the players as the most fun character of the game who dances Lebanon’s traditional dance Dabke very well.
Likewise, as a result of our continuous effort, Lineage 2: Harb albakaa has been completely translated into Arabic for our Arab players. With that, new costumes, mounts like camels, lions and horses in the region have quickly taken their places among the favourites of our players since day one.
Apart from localizing the game, we are also taking local actions in terms of communication with our players. For example, social media, especially YouTube, is the region’s most popular entertainment channel. Therefore, we asked the popular streamers in the region to play and review our game during the promotion phase of our game. As the result, we have received exceedingly positive feedback both from them and the players.
How was the year 2018 for Netmarble?
I think I can say 2018 was a year that Netmarble focused completely on the MENA region. Two of our very special games have entered the region fully localized this year. The unrivalled Iron Throne game is the first among these games with its high-end graphics quality, different features from the best strategy games and unique MMORPG characteristics. Of course, Arabic language support and region-specific cultural localizations make the game completely different for the region.
We are also very happy and proud to present the world’s most popular mobile MMORPG Lineage 2: Harb albakaa to our players in the region in a fully localized state. In June, we have brought together our players with the Arabic version of Lineage 2: Harb albakaa, which attracted great attention from the GCC region in its first launch in Western regions.
What do you think about incorporating new technologies into your games in the future? Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, and so on?
Artificial intelligence plays an important role in games since the perception of reality in games has increased and players have started demanding more challenging as well as more competitive scenarios. The rise of artificial intelligence was inevitable as technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality gained huge popularity in the game world, especially in recent years.
We’ve been developing an artificial intelligence search engine called “Columbus” which customizes the user experience utilizing big data analysis and artificial intelligence together. I can tell that you’ll be able to see the features of the “Columbus” in our games in the near future.
The artificial intelligence games will be able to respond to different users in different ways to create customized content. Netmarble is considering employing more people in artificial intelligence and is planning to invest in this technology more.