The Korean gaming industry a $12.9 billion dollar giant, on the cusp of change, where is it headed?
Jared Bruhn and John Doran speak to Alex about the state of the $12.9 billion-dollar Korean gaming industry as well as how they are preparing young Koreans to enter the industry as a career. Jared Bruhn is an Assistant Professor at the George Mason Korea, he teaches courses that cover game design, game history and online and mobile game production. John Doran is an instructor at George Mason Korea. He is a passionate technical game designer, software engineer and author. They begin the conversation discussing what it takes to become a game designer. Yes, a passion for games is required, but what is it that separates a passion player, from an effective designer. This highly competitive world is not a casual career choice. Prospective designers need to get a solid understanding of the demands of skills required in game design.
They then talk about what its like to be a part of such a massive industry with so many titles competing head-to-head. Young designers are often passionate about a particular kind of game that might not be in fashion at the moment, how do they balance a need to be creative and have ownership, while also delivering the public what they want. In building these skills, Mason Korea has developed a Computer Game Design BFA. This program has just begun to be offered at the Mason Korea campus, but it is well established at the main campus in Fairfax Virginia.Students at Mason Korea spend 3-years getting to know the rigors of the career, the kinds of programming skills they’ll need as well as the skills they will need in art, design and writing. The course features a strong group focus, with many group projects that enhance communication and leadership skills as well.
As a way to spot talent, Mason Korea is supporting a progress@play exhibition at Square One in Songdo. It is open to High School students. They are challenged to come up with game ideas & designs around questions such as: how can we have better education? How can we talk about health and wellness? And how can we talk about climate action?
Then John and Jared share their views on metaverse, hype, solutionism, or a valid XR experience, or perhaps a mix of all. Where do NFTs fit into game design in the future, where item stores are already so common.
They wrap up the interview sharing their insights into the future of games and gaming, new game types, new application of gaming development skills, new gaming demographics.
Today’s episode is brought to you by The Four Seasons Seoul, Stylish elegance in the very heart of the city.
The Korean gaming industry a $12.9 billion dollar giant, where is it headed?
Alex Jensen talks with Jared Bruhn and John Doran about the Korean gaming industry a $12.9 billion dollar giant and where they see it headed?
Alex Jensen: You’re listening to Koreabizcast with the KBLA. I’m Alex Jensen and it’s Tuesday, November 23rd. Whether you’re a gamer or not, it’s hard to ignore the success of South Korea’s gaming industry which reached 15.6 trillion won in 2019 to rank 5th globally, and which is set to reach 19.9 trillion won by next year according to statistics, as far as individuals go, you may have also seen that Park Kwon-ho the chairman of developer we made just joined the list of South Korean gaming industry billionaires after his company embraced NFTs within the gaming experience.
Shortly we’ll assess the industry’s trends with two gaming experts from abroad, who are now helping to foster the next generation of game developers here in Korea. This episode is brought to you by the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul, stylish elegance in the very heart of the city.
Alex Jensen: So as promised, let’s continue with this gaming discussion. We have Jared Bruhn, Assistant Professor in computer game design at Mason Korea. Thank you for joining us.
Jared Bruhn: Thank you for having me.
Alex Jensen: And also, John P. Doran game development instructor at the same institution. Thank you.
John P. Doran: Of course. Thank you.
Alex Jensen: Let’s start with the landscape here, generally. The Korea is actually an example of an industry for the gaming world where the challenges the opportunities are so great and constantly evolving that any stats you see are probably quickly either expanding or coming under pressure.
How do you view that landscape though, first of all, perhaps starting with you, Jared?
Jared Bruhn: Yeah, it’s a, it’s very difficult to as you said, it’s, it’s, well, this is a young industry and it’s still kind of figuring out what it is as well as evolving and growing and kind of being on the top of different animations. And I think has as far as the industry is as far as it’s going up and especially if you want to be in the industry, if you are trying to work as that, if that’s your goal, then kind of knowing what’s expected of you can be really difficult.
Breaking into the industry is very difficult and competitive and so, in my classes, I kind of have to strike a balance of encouraging students to kind of be realistic, encouraging students to pursue gaming, but also be realistic that they’re going to have to spend a lot of time and energy into falling in love with the process of making games because you’re going to be doing that a whole lot, if you’re in the game industry, whether you’re breaking into the industry, or whether you’re working for a company, it’s going to, it’s going to be a large part of your life. And so, if you’re just starting out, you need to sort of fall in love with the process. I think there’s some opportunities I want to talk about too. But maybe, John, do you have any thoughts on different challenges of the industry here?
John P. Doran: Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of the gaming industry is kind of one that’s fueled by passion. And as you mentioned, right? there’s a lot of people that want to enter it, especially, especially at a triple A or, you know, a professional kind of level. And, you know, but at the same time, a lot of students, you know, they join a game design degree because they’re interested in playing games, like they really like playing games. But the truth is that while most game developers like playing games, making games is actually quite different than that. And so that’s why I think it’s a really good idea to introduce, you know, game development, or trying to make games as soon as possible, whether you can actually see like, kind of the challenges going into it and know what it is that you’re getting into.
Alex Jensen: How do these massive sums of money actually affect people’s attitudes towards gaming? I can imagine the creative process, for example might be stifled somewhat, if you know that, the whole world is consuming a certain type of game but your big passion is another type of game that’s maybe less fashionable at that moment.
Jared Bruhn: I think that’s a fantastic point. I think. I often talk to my students about like the difference between like a triple A game versus an independent game that like is independent of a publisher, and that like, well, when you have these different investors and a whole bunch of money, and you have a genre of games that is working and is making money, then it’s really hard to like want to, you might have your plus ones, you might have your new twist on the same genre, but like to do something completely out of the box is risky, right? But I think the nice thing that are, some of the games that I’m most interested in are these indie games that really, their only chance is to be talked about as the word of mouth. And so, they kind of have to do something really off the wall. And so, these smaller developers that maybe don’t have as many resources and money in production to put into the game, can really get creative and do just crazy things that like may or may not work, but like, oftentimes will just be a great thing to talk about because it’s so different and so weird.
Alex Jensen: And John, and I can imagine as well, money offers a certain level of legitimacy, so that when people say to their parents, I want to be a game developer or perhaps even I want to be a professional gamer, when their loved ones to see just how successful you can be in this world. That’s going to be a bit easier, then, I don’t know, 30 years ago, spending all your time, in a room not really getting anywhere, perhaps unless you are among the unicorns of the gaming world.
John P. Doran: Yes, I, you know, the industry has kind of exploded in the past few years, and there’s been a lot of interest not only as you mentioned in the development, but also in the competitive scene, especially here in Korea. And, you know, I think part of that is just due to how much more gaming is accepted in the much wider realm of things, right? you know, due to the things like mobile games and the use of game technology in many, many different fields. You know, nowadays most, a lot, most everyone, even if they don’t say they’re a gamer, they are playing games. And because the technology because the skill sets of creating games are used in so many different areas, it is a much a, much better choice of a career than maybe what it would have been, you know, even 10 or 20 years ago.
Alex Jensen: And that takes us into the academic side of things, Jared, what does it mean to study game design at university level?
Jared Bruhn: Yeah, game design is very, very broad. So, at Mason Korea, we’re sort of focusing on initially giving you all of the getting your feet wet, and all of those sorts of skills and programming in art and design and writing. And then eventually through the program, we want to create sort of this like T shape of skills of like, eventually, you’re going to start to specialize in something, you’re going to find the niche or the interesting of the thing that you’re most interested in pursuing. And so later on in the program, you’re having more group projects where you’re filling your own role and you’re having more electives. And so, it is this balance of like, to be able to communicate well, and a game design team, you need to have an understanding of all these different facets of game development. But also, we want to make you competitive and one of those fields I think especially and Triple A and large companies, there’s increased demand for a specialized skill set. So, we want you to work well in teams and know have a broad knowledge but also give you that opportunity to focus on kind of one of those facets of game development.
Alex Jensen: John, how have you found the student engagement amazing career so far?
John P. Doran: You know, I am just in my first semester here, so we’ve actually been having, you know, due to the whole remote learning and stuff, it’s been kind of an adjustment period. But so far, the students have been quite attentive to the things that we’ve been doing in class, we’ve been working on several interesting projects and as time has gone on the students have asked more and more questions and we’ve kind of been, you know, kind of been learning each other, or learning from each other even more. So, it’s been a pretty good experience so far.
Alex Jensen: Really encouraging to hear and we’re gonna see some evidence of the enthusiasm. I understand there’s a big event starting today. I’d like to hear from both of you on that. But perhaps Jared, you can introduce Progress@Play for us.
Jared Bruhn: Yeah, Progress@Play is a digital art competition and exhibition and So I think I’m thinking soon, I’m not sure the timeline but at least if it’s before December 1st of 2021, we’re having this exhibition at SQUARE1 mall in Songdo, you can find more details out at email@example.com. But it’s really exciting. We’re trying to get students high school and college students to think creatively and create art and create games, based off of a challenge of like, how can we have better education? How can we talk about health and wellness? And how can we talk about climate action? So those are the that’s the challenge that we’re providing to students, and we’re exhibiting their work at SQUARE1 until December 1st, and we’re really excited about it.
Alex Jensen: So, these are important social themes being combined with very topical technologies. But how do we draw the link between digital art and games if you’re allowed to submit either all? And how do you judge between them?
John P. Doran: You know, both factors are both types of both types of entries have their own appeal to them, right? And so, you know, computer games utilize, you know, digital art but also there’s this whole talk about the idea of our games are, and, you know, games that are built with the idea of being art. And so, I think that the difference isn’t necessarily too far off from each other. But I will say that we do have, you know, a judging criteria that we’re using to the judge, you know, each of the different pieces of art. But in addition to, you know, the judging, there’s also the viewer’s choice which so people that are actually seeing this over at square one, are also going to have a chance to make their mark in regard to who they feel is doing the best job and try and representing that. Jared, you mentioned you had some stuff to say.
Jared Bruhn: Yeah, no, I think what’s really exciting about having a broad requirement as far as the medium you choose, is that you can utilize the medium in to your advantage. So, I think there are particular advantages for instance, in games where you’re trying to represent a system, games can be really good at that because they are systems, they have inputs and outputs and feedback. And so, they might be able to represent a system of educating on a certain topic with immediate feedback, or a system of mental health issues or something like that. Whereas maybe another media, it lends itself better to a passive media, I’m not an interactive media are not an interactive way. I mean, we’re always interacting with art in our heads. And maybe that’s the more important thing is that the interaction is happening in our heads and not at our fingertips. So, I like that we have a broad range of different types of art that we’re going to exhibit that add the Progress@Play
Alex Jensen: And to either of you, I’m just curious how even defined digital art perhaps it’s getting to the heart of the question of how do we define art itself, but without getting too broad and philosophical? Is it something that almost anyone can do to a certain extent? or does it require extremely high programming skills? for example. What in other words makes a good digital artist, in your view, aside from creativity, perhaps?
John P. Doran: Well, I mean, I’ll say you don’t need any programming knowledge to create, you know, digital art. I mean, there are several different interpretations for digital art whether it just being, you know, a image or a video or a animation, or, like you’ve mentioned, like a game or a simulation. In games in particular we’ve kind of gotten to the point where even those people that don’t know how to program can still create games. There are various tools out there, there are visual programming languages that you know, allow you to, like connect blocks together in order to create things. There’s also, you know, modification tools that people can use to make modifications to their games. Well, those kind of tools are the same thing that developers are oftentimes using to create their games but having us in terms of creating an image, you know, you could use tools like Photoshop which doesn’t require any programming at all, but also, you know, free software’s available like GIMP or Paint.net or, you know, even drawing something using physical media and then you know, taking a picture and bringing it into your computer and maybe adjusting it just a little bit. That’s also a way of kind of considering digital art. So, I think it’s very broad.
Alex Jensen: That does seem to be a strong intersection between all this when we start to talk about NFTs and the metaverse. But before we get into that part of the discussion, I do want to say anyone who’s interested in checking out Progress@Play, you can go to the website which is literally progressatplay.com. But it’s not an @ sign it’s at progressatplay.com. And an award ceremony will take place at SQUARE1 in Songdo on December 4th, the submitted works will be on display from today, which by the time this goes out is November 23rd to December 1st. So, good luck. Anyone who’s getting involved with that sounds interesting, maybe worth going a little bit out of your way to check it out. But again, to either of you and both of you. I’m curious to explore a little bit further. The word of the metaverse and where NFT’s come into play and where games come into play because I see kids playing things like Roblox and they seem to be enjoying it purely as a gaming experience. Yet I also see news reports talking about Roblox as if it’s launching us into a metaverse space. So, can you both address this trend for us?
John P. Doran: I mean, I can talk in general in regards the dimensions into the metaverse and I mean, I think that you’re, we’re kind of talking about two separate things whether the metaverse as a thing in general versus NFTs and I understand kind of why we kind of put them together in some form. But like you mentioned, the metaverse in some way is kind of already present in several different places. So Roblox, you mentioned, but you know, there’s also programs like VR chat or video games like Second Life. They’ve been around for, you know, years at this point. And you know, the basic idea of a Metaverse, right? is this kind of like virtual worlds that you can do all sorts of things in or internet 3.0, you hear a lot of things in regard to that. And I know like things that happened in the news recently, like Facebook, changing their name to META and that they’re putting a lot of money into making the metaverse actually be a thing that happens. I think it’s definitely a thing to keep your eye on. But at least to me, feel free to step adjourn if you disagree, or whatever. It seems to me like the metaverse is more so trying to find a solution or trying to find a problem for our solution that’s trying to kind of being created. But I will say that the skills used to create the metaverse and, you know, all the things that we’ve talked about before are the skills that you use in game development, you know, most XR, well, the XR extended reality, it’s a way for us to talk about like VR, AR and whatever else comes out in the future. Most of those applications underneath the hoods are using a game engine to power it and in regard to NFTs, I think that there is definitely an interest in people that are in that field to potentially use NFTs within a game play environment. But I think that is still something kind of in its infancy and kind of the challenge is going to be to try to find like, how is integrating NFTs into our game? How is that going to make the game a better experience. And right now, this idea of, you know, being able to purchase an NFT and then potentially be able to use it and a bunch of different games. Right now, that seems like it’s going to be a lot of work for game developers. So, unless they’re receiving some sort of compensation or some sort of incentive for doing it, I’m not sure whether or not developers are going to go down that route or not. But obviously, it is both things are quite big and both things are definitely something to keep an eye on, at least for the future.
Jared Bruhn: Yeah, I think it’s also, like it’s so It’s kind of young and everybody when they hear the word Metaverse or NFT, they have a different understanding of what that means. And so, because there’s an ambiguity there, I think it’s hard. Well, there’s a lot, you’re following the NFTs on Twitter are talking about NFTs. It’s quite a buzz about like, there are strong opinions on either side. That something that it’s like, it’s more built to be like a scam and more are really interested in and the opportunities that it presents but I think it feels very ambiguous. I think in the metaverse, some people think Metaverse means that I am like, is it a virtual world where I’m exploring kind of like, kind of like Second Life? or is it more of a platform for all of my favorite like IPs to like to interact in the same space? So, there’s like different sort of connotations that you might conjure depending on what your understanding of the metaverse is. And I think that also varies from company to company. What’s their maybe take on a metaverse might be? So, it’s definitely exciting to see what will come out of it. I think what I’m most excited about is that when you, when there is a rise of a certain different type of game space, then that maybe trigger some inspiration for unique types of experiences. And that’s what I hope for the most is that we can provide creativity and varied experiences with this sort of new trend and in gaming and social online interactions.
Alex Jensen: The metaverse broadly speaking feels like the latest gold rush after cryptocurrencies, maybe even the trend that started in the tech world with the internet itself. Do you think that it’s actually that though? Do you feel in other words like we should all be exploring ways to make money through the metaverse are finding ways to incorporate the metaverse into our business models or would that be a kind of fool’s errand just to try to jump on a trend?
John P. Doran: I think I personally think that it is very early in regard to how the metaverse is building, you know, I think the news of Facebook changing its name and stuff just happened a few weeks ago at the time of this recording, but they have mentioned that they are going to be putting forth a lot of resources in trying to make this happen. So, am I saying I want to spend all my, all my money now investing in that? Not at all, but do I think that it’s impossible or that it’s not likely to happen? Well, I mean, Facebook has made a lot of moves into this space for several years now. And I think that they are, they are very sure that it’s something that they really want to pursue, you know, they bought Oculus, quite a number of years ago to be able to work on creating these VR headsets and trying to get them into to people’s homes. And I think, like I mentioned before I think that it is quite early in that process. But I think that VR has a larger base than it’s had in the past. But until they have like a killer app, you know, something that that everyone wants or a solution to something that they really want to have. Same with VR, same with the metaverse, if it’s something that you’re going to be doing outside of a headset like this, I think that it’s early. But do I think it’s worth exploring? Definitely.
Jared Bruhn: Yeah. And I think you hit on a lot of things that I were I was thinking as well. And it’s, it’s hard to, it’s very early and it’s hard to tell this is more of a fad or if this is the next big thing. And like we’ve seen, for instance, Pokemon GO was this huge thing and then we’ve seen lots of companies try to replicate that but never quite to the extent that Pokemon GO was able to. We have seen some successful games but none that hit the success that Pokemon GO has in that sort of AR sort of environment. And it Yeah, it’s, I personally, I’ve I’m interested in seeing I don’t feel like I’m equipped to say whether or not you should start incorporating this. It’s too early for me to tell at least.
Alex Jensen: You know, one of the coolest AR type experiences I’ve had with games recently was the Nintendo Switch just that the Mario Kart where you can remote control a car and your living room or anything becomes a circuit. And for me that’s infinitely more entertaining than Pokemon GO. But for whatever reason, I don’t hear many people talking about it. And it does make you wonder how far AR can go for now, perhaps we can finish with both of you just telling us where you think the most likely gaming direction is, in terms of the most popular most lucrative games in the next, I don’t know, 3 to 5 foreseeable future years.
John P. Doran: You know, I’m I, what I’m what I’m immediately thinking of in terms of, like games in general, I think that a lot of triple A games, like, like we mentioned before, is our kind of risk adverse, you mentioned that there are, you know, tons of money and tons of stuff in the industry. But the people that hold the money are usually, you know, they want to grow more money. And so, they’re less likely to kind or they’re risk averse. So, a lot of games tend to be similar to games that came out before because they can kind of justify the kind of stuff that they’re doing. But I kind of want to mention that there’s a ton of gaming, adjacent careers and technology that’s kind of being growing over time. Now, you know, there are the skills from game development are more and more being used in things like training, like whether it being in the medical field, like having someone trying to do surgery without actually putting anyone in danger. Training for you know, I know, Walmart just has done training for like Black Friday content to try to prepare their people or their employees for things like that. Self-driving cars that technology is, you know, from game development, like you they’re hiring game developers do things like that. These are all powered by the skills that you get through game development. I mean, talking to, you know, about film and television, you know, ILM used Unreal Engine to build virtual sets for things like the Mandalorian. And you know, Disney World, they just released the Millennium Falcon Smuggler’s Run game, which is just a simulator using Unity. So, if I were to think about the future and where, you know, where games are going, they’re going everywhere. Hopefully that helps kind of answer your thoughts there or your question there.
Alex Jensen: Indeed. And how about you, Jared?
Jared Bruhn: Yeah, I think what I would hope to see is something like, we do see this trend of like, let’s sort of copy the successful genre but every once in a while, a game like PUBG, PlayerUnknown’s Battleground, is kind of like, starts the new trend of like, we’re going to have this survivor, Battle Royale type of game. And so, I that’s kind of what I think that’s the ebb and flow of things is it tends to be sort of like, we’re going to follow this one trend, and then like something new should come out and like, kind of shake things up. And so that would be my hope in the next three to five years is that we see another shake up. I think the shake ups are exciting. And then they provide new opportunities for different types of games. I think, I also want to see especially Korea, I think, what accepts more diverse different types of games and different applications for games. I don’t know if that is what I expect. But that’s what I hope, I would love to see more acceptance of a games with wider demographics. I think we’re not hitting our older, elder generation they’re still sort of this misunderstanding of what games maybe are, and what they can do and that’s my hope. I want to see people understanding games and all of the possibilities of what games can be.
Alex Jensen: Really interesting thoughts from both of you. And I want to say thank you so much for joining Koreabizcast today.
Jared Bruhn: Thank you so much for this opportunity. I appreciate it.
John P. Doran: Yeah, it was great. Thanks so much.
Alex Jensen: And if all that tech talk has got you inspired or tomorrow, we’ll hear all about decentralized finance and the wisdom or otherwise of cryptocurrency investments. Look forward to having you with us again then. And let me once more say thank you to our sponsor for today. The Four Seasons Hotel Seoul, still serving those great cocktails you can hear more about if you check out our episodes from last week.