Hands-On Mobile talks Heroes Lore and Korean mobile games
You'd be forgiven for thinking South Korean mobile technology is light years ahead of ours. After all, while we're still squinting at grainy streaming TV over 3G, South Korea has already rolled out proper digital mobile television broadcasts.

Yet when it comes to mobile gaming, it seems that South Korea and the West are closer than you'd think. At least, that's the implication of this week's news that Hands-On Mobile is launching a 'Best of Korea' initiative, to bring some of its most popular games there over here.

We grabbed Hands-On's James Kaye for a chat to talk about the comparison between Europe and South Korean games, as well as to find out more info on the company's plans for bringing its Heroes Lore RPGs and Sushi Mania casual game West.

What are the big differences between Korea and the West, for mobile gaming?

James Kaye: The main thing is that Koreans have the luxury of much larger download sizes. The average Java file size is around 700KB, whereas over here operators often impose a download-size limit of 250KB.

So graphically, Korean games tend to be very rich, because they have more space to work with, even though the handsets aren't actually as powerful as the ones over here – their CPU speed isn't as quick.

That's a big difference, as well as the fact that the games are a lot quirkier, which is shown in something like Sushi Mania. Also, people are mad about PCs over there, and they all play RPGs, which are huge.

Lastly, a really interesting thing about Korea is that 3D has completely failed there. There's no interest. The games are typically very beautiful because of the larger file-sizes, but they're 2D.

You're releasing Heroes Lore here in Europe, which has been hugely popular in Korea. What's it about?

Effectively it's a big RPG, very much in the style of Zelda-type games on the Game Boy Advance. So you have your character, which you have to level up, and there's a rich environment with loads of creatures, spells and weapons. It's sold massively, and even spawned its own manga comic series.

It's a one-player game, right?

Yes, but the sequel, Heroes Lore 2 [see screens above], is connected, and it's exploded in Korea – it got more than 100,000 downloads in its first week of release, and was the most-searched term on the Korean equivalent of Google.

Actuallly, I'd call it semi-connected, as it's not about solid connected periods of time, like playing an EverQuest or World Of Warcraft where you walk around the game world and are always connected. It's more about dipping in and out to use the connectivity.

So it has Guilds, where you join a Guild and can take part in the community, as well as engaging in Guild v Guild combat where you fight two-on-two battles online, and get experience points. Then there's Player v Player, where you have just one-on-one combat online and win honour points. Between those two features, the game is generating 450,000 network battles a day.

And then the third connected element is item-trading, where you can create your own magic items, and then go on the website or through the game itself and trade them with other people.

People are making real money from this too: one guy made $650 in a week from just selling items.

How much do people pay to play it and access these features?

It costs the equivalent of $3 to download Heroes Lore 2. Players get seven network battles a day free, but pay around ten cents for an extra ten network battles. There's a data charge per battle, too, but it's moving towards a single monthly subscription payment that includes all data charges and unlimited battles.

By January, when I was last over there, the game had been downloaded by 650,000 people, of whom 400,000 had connected, which is really impressive.

So could Heroes Lore 2 work over here, with all this connectivity?

The business model for subscriptions exists now – we'll be using it for World Poker Tour 2 for example. So we could run something like Heroes Lore 2 over here, and since you're jumping on and off the network, you're not throwing tons of data around, so that should be fine too. The greater challenge is the file-size limit.

But yes, the unique selling point of a game like this is its connectivity. I firmly believe that because the phone is a connected device, that's where the games will have to be to be compelling, rather than focusing on things like 3D.

With something like Sushi Mania, is it the quirkiness and sheer difference to Western games that you think will attract people here?

I think so. We'll be trading off the fact that it's got a very Eastern flavour. There's a few games in the pipeline, as we're assessing all the time which games might come over.

One really good one is a platform game called Jugu Jugu Jungle – don't laugh – which is a monkey-swinging game, and another game called V-Man, which again is a platform game, but this one's set inside a giant robot, and your character gets different helmets to give him different powers.

The artwork is beautiful in both cases, but there's no guarantee they'll come over here. But they show the sort of games we're looking at.
Stuart Dredge 5/6/2007
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