Find success for apps and games in South Korea
6 Tips to localize your apps and games to achieve success in the #3 ranking Google Play market
(This article is based on material that was first published on the Think with Google website as part of their Market Finder series.)
South Korea has one of the world’s most advanced mobile infrastructures. According to International Telecommunication Union, South Korea is global #1 in terms of percentage of households with internet access, and #1 for internet bandwidth per internet user, and #4 in terms of smartphone penetration. Free Wi-Fi access is common in big cities, in the subway, and at restaurants and cafes, so music and video streaming play a big part in people’s lives. Users often have 4G LTE service enabled on their phones, and 4G is available in around 70% of the country.
On Google Play, South Korea is ranked near the top in terms of app revenue and the average number of apps installed per year.
As a mature mobile market, there’s no shortage of opportunities for app and game developers. However, there is a lot of competition, so you’ll need to find ways to cut through the noise and ensure your app or game gets noticed. Koreans have an average of 52 apps installed on their phones and of the time spent on their smartphone most is spent in their apps. According to AppAnnie data, average minutes spent in apps per user per day is over 200, which is the highest globally.
Translating your app into Korean is a must. Although most Koreans — particularly those from younger age groups — can read, write, and speak in English, 96% of Chrome browser users use Korean as their browser language. Also, you should fully localize your apps to compete with local developers, who dominate the market. It’s also worth looking for ways to tap into the popularity of K-pop and Korean dramas.
Devices are typically high-end with ample storage and memory, especially among the 20–40 age group. The Galaxy series is particularly popular followed by LG devices, so consider catering for both a 19:9 and 19.5:9 ratio. In terms of the screen sizes, you may need to consider supporting screens over 5.5 inch: in 2019, more than half of the phones sold in Korea featured 6 inch screens.
Let’s take a closer look at 6 key factors that can help your app or game find success in Korea.
1. Consider popular game and app categories
The first step in achieving success in any market is having a product that appeals to consumers.
The most-installed games are role-playing (RPG), strategy, and action games, with RPG and strategy winning out in terms of revenue. In recent years, a number of very successful ex-PC RPG games have been released by local developers, although global developers have also achieved significant growth in genres such as strategy, action, puzzles, and sports.
Games customer support
Gamers expect great customer support to help answer their queries or fix any issues they have. Naver Cafe is a great option for delivering customer support in Korea, however you could also consider using a call center or community such as Facebook.
Korean gamers expect frequent updates — known as LiveOps — to keep games fresh and engaging. Typically, updates are biweekly, monthly, or quarterly. The content of LiveOps might include running in-game events or adding content such as a new character or episode. Whatever you add, it’s important to run your LiveOps on a regular basis, and promote them through social channels.
Shopping and finance are the most popular apps in Korea. People also make a lot of use of pre-installed productivity apps. Dating apps perform well too, but this sector is crowded with local players, and the big global brands are now shifting their strategy to promote social interaction and discovery rather than dating. Health and fitness apps are also growing fast, albeit from a small base — and with no big local player, this could be a good opportunity for a global developer. Lastly, foreign language education — especially for English — is a big market in South Korea and continues to grow.
2. Localize your pricing
When pricing your app, use the Korean won (₩ or 원)–not foreign currencies such as $ or £. Note that the acronym KRW is not used commonly in South Korea for (although Korean users will find it understandable). It’s important to make the presentation of your price uncluttered: don’t use decimal points or first or second digits, and use commas correctly. For example, use ₩ 1,100 or 1,100 원 instead of ₩ 1120.00. Consider converting a price of ¥100 or $1 to ₩ 1,000.
Consumer awareness and trust of subscriptions is relatively low: many consumers are wary of the automatic payment nature of subscriptions, so make it clear within your subscription screen or terms that users can cancel any time. However, you can still take subscriptions into consideration as they are on the rise in South Korea. Where subscriptions are offered, monthly is the preferred payment frequency.
3. Adapt your language and tone
The language and tone used in your app or game should be consistent and feel appropriate to each situation. Proper use of honorific language is also important in South Korea.
When translating words, be aware that their literal equivalent may mean something else entirely. For example, see below where ‘Special Chest’ was translated into ‘특별한(Special) 가슴(Human chest)’. In South Korea, chest has several different meanings such as ‘가슴(Human chest)’, ‘상자(Box)’, or ‘보물(Treasure)’. Obtaining the assistance of a localization specialist or native speaker is therefore strongly recommended.
4. Take into consideration font, layout, and user interface
Generally, one Korean character uses the equivalent space of two English characters, but this can vary. Make sure you use the right encoding type, such as UTF-8 or similar, to display Korean fonts and special characters such as (₩) correctly.
Where translated text doesn’t fit well in the UI don’t try to make text fit by adjusting the font size, this can make the words difficult to read or the user interface to appear unfinished. Always run a visual check on your translations too.
Dodum and Nanum fonts are recommended for general use because they have the best readability. But, whatever font you use make sure it provides full support for Korean characters, otherwise the result could be missing or broken text.
5. Adapt to the nuances of localization and culturalization
Cultural trends in South Korea change fast, so it’s important you’re always up to speed on how best to approach your target users. As there are a lot of different tones and nuances to be aware of, we recommend working with a native speaker or a specialist to select the best tone for your app or game.
Social media is very popular in South Korea. It is widely used as a login option and therefore worth considering to reduce onboarding time and register people for your service quickly and efficiently. The 4 most popular login options in South Korea are Google, Naver, Kakao, and Facebook. Avoid offering platforms that Korean users won’t be familiar with, such as WeChat or WhatsApp.
Example: These apps prioritize the most popular login options for Korean users: Kakao, NAVER, Google, and Facebook.
Topics, such as disputed lands and politically sensitive histories, are best avoided.
6. Adapt your user acquisition strategy to the local market
Google Play: The Google Play store user interface for South Korea is different from the one used in Western markets: it has bigger highlighted rows at the top and has more slots for banners where apps and games selected by Google Play are featured. By creating locally relevant deals, you’ll increase the likelihood that you might get selected to appear in the ‘Deals & Promo’ section.
One of the best ways to acquire users in advance of your new app launch is to use the Google Play features for inviting users to pre-register and gain early access to your app or game.
Online: South Korea is a sophisticated market for online advertising. YouTube is hugely popular, with Facebook, Instagram, and local platforms Band and KakaoStory also popular. Digital advertising spend is higher than TV, and YouTube is the most powerful channel among all digital channels in terms of the coverage.
Offline: Print advertising in South Korea has largely followed the global trend downward, but TV remains strong. You could even think about running targeted live events around Seoul, and there are many offline specialist agencies who can help you with this.
Adapting your game or app to this competitive market that is dominated by local developers provides necessary authenticity in order to harness the vast opportunities South Korea offers.
Korean users have high app expectations for great customer support, frequent updates, listings in the local currency, commitment free purchases, appropriate language and tone, and overall relevance to South Korean cultural trends. When your games and apps are able to make content locally relevant to users’ expectations, people feel a stronger connection and interest in your apps, helping to drive engagement and revenue.
For some interesting facts and figures about the South Korean market, check out the World Bank website.
What do you think?
Do you have thoughts on launching apps or games in South Korea? Let us know in the comments below or tweet using #AskPlayDev and we’ll reply from @GooglePlayDev, where we regularly share news and tips on how to be successful on Google Play.