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[Herald Interview] Unreal opportunities for Epic Games in Korea

BUSAN -- A rich developer community means Epic Games keeps a close eye on Korea, according to the firm’s local representative.

The country has the highest number of developers in the world who can use the Unreal Engine with proficiency, Epic Games Korea’s representative director Ray Park told The Korea Herald during the G-Star 2019 game expo in Busan last week.

“Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney is often pleasantly excited by the level of games created by Korean developers using Unreal Engine,” he said.

Epic Games Korea’s representative director Ray Park (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)
Epic Games Korea’s representative director Ray Park (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)

Epic Games’ Unreal Engine began as a tool to create first person shoorters with gun-toting protagonists, but its limits have been pushed in creative ways by Korean developers.

"Up to our 3.0 version, the functions provided by Unreal had centered on the gun-shooter genre. But Korean companies such as NCSoft went ahead into a completely different area of massively multiplayer online game using the engine, surprising us,” Park said.

As a result, the Epic Games Korea office launched in 2009 to cater to the local clients’ needs, and the company’s lead programmer and founder Tim Sweeney is willing to meet clients in Korea at relatively short notice, according to Park.

The Unreal Engine was estimated to be in use by roughly 7.5 million developers as of May 2019. Considering the free-to-use aspect of the engine, Epic Games believes the number could be greater.

One of the many ways the company is seeking to connect with users, Epic Games decided to cross over from the business-to-business hall to the business-to-consumer hall at this year’s G-Star, Korea’s biggest annual game convention.

Epic Games Korea booth at G-Star 2019 (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)
Epic Games Korea booth at G-Star 2019 (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)

Epic Games Korea had been a B2B participant at G-Star for eight years. Moving to the consumer-facing side was a leap of faith on Epic Games’ part to meet with more independent developers.

“In order for visitors to enter the B2B area, they must pay more than 20 times entrance fee (compared to the B2C area). This goes against our company philosophy to provide developing tools and tips for free and at affordable costs for everyone,” Park explained.

“It was a concern whether the G-Star visitors would pay us any attention, a game developing engine booth in the middle of game booths promoting new titles,” said Park.

“But the result has been more than encouraging -- we’ve had visitors who would wait in line for over an hour to experience the latest Unreal Engine technologies at the booth,” Park said.

Unreal Engine’s computer graphics technology is used across industries ranging from construction to automakers and broadcasting. The booth saw a mixture of visitors across ages and genders who showed interest in graphics and design. Epic Games Korea had prepared its latest solutions for trial at its booth, including the “Pixel Streaming” and “Twinmotion” solutions.

Visitors try Epic Games’ Unreal Engine at G-Star 2019. (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)
Visitors try Epic Games’ Unreal Engine at G-Star 2019. (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)

Epic Games is either known for the Unreal Engine or for its massively popular Fortnite game. Park said having a game like Fortnite gives Epic Games a source for continuous feedback.

“Fortnite gives us firsthand experience as game developers on what types of tools an engine requires,” Park said.

Fortnite, launched in July 2017, notched an accumulated 250 million global users as of March 2019. In August 2018, the game marked over 78 million active players, and hit a record 8.3 million concurrent Fortnite players worldwide on the occasion of its official Korean launch.

Despite the global success, however, the game has seen a lukewarm reception in Korea after an initially enthusiastic response to its launch here.

Park explained that they have analyzed the reasons Korean users have not taken to the game as deriving from the system where low-level players could be matched with high-level players.

The company made due improvements in the system specifically for Korean players, and ultimately applied them worldwide.

While discussing the Epic Games Store, which is a game servicing platform with lowered charges for developers, Park said he hopes games regulations will be eased in Korea. Epic Games Store charges developers only 12 percent commission on game sales, while market leader Steam takes 30 percent.

The store has been a long-dream of Tim Sweeney’s, who sees himself first a developer and a businessman second, has seen the existing platforms’ charges as detrimental to the developers’ ecosystem.

“When servicing foreign games into Korea through Epic Games Store, we are met with surprised responses from foreign developers at the additional programming they have to go through to meet the tough regulations of Korea,” said Park.

“A pop-up warning that must appear for every player once every few hours, the game shutdown after midnight and such, make the foreign developers wow at the myriad regulations the Korean game industry has had to abide in its path to the current global status,” Park said.

The online retail outlet works both ways. Epic Games Korea is also seeking to pave ways for Korean original games to make headways to the global market through Epic Games Store, according to Park.

By Lim Jeong-yeo (