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Game companies break out of shells to seek future growth

Nexon, NCSoft, WeMade make strides into AI, payment gateway, cryptocurrency

Theodore, played by actor Joaquin Phoenix, sets up the AI “Samantha” for his desktop computer in the movie “Her.” (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Theodore, played by actor Joaquin Phoenix, sets up the AI “Samantha” for his desktop computer in the movie “Her.” (Warner Bros. Pictures)


South Korean game companies are making bold strides into the financial sector through partnerships with a group that needs innovation more than anyone else: legacy banks.

Game companies, though quick to adopt latest technologies such as artificial intelligence, lack a testing ground to train and advance their innovations beyond the virtual spaces inside games.

Legacy banks, on the other hand, has tons of quality data and a massive client base, but fall short of digital tools to digest and fully utilize them.

To compensate for their shortcomings, both parties have recently joined forces, and they couldn’t have found a better match.


Private banker to be voiced by NCSoft’s AI


Recently, gaming company NCSoft, brokerage firm KB Securities and asset manager December & Company announced a joint project to launch an AI private banker. For that, NCSoft and KB Securities will each invest 30 billion won ($27.3 million) in October.

The trilateral deal would combine December’s robo-adviser platform Fint and AI engine ISSAC, KB Securities’ massive client base and know-how as an established brokerage, and a linguistic Al being developed by NCSoft, modeled after Samantha, a powerful AI software voiced by actress Scarlett Johansson in the movie “Her.”

Through the partnership, NCSoft will get access to the large, complex data of financial consumers to feed, train and advance the AI.

“KB Securities has a private banking database, such as investment reports provided exclusively to high-net-worth individuals. With machine learning, NCSoft will feed those high-quality written by experts and analysts to the linguistic AI,” an NCSoft official said.

In April last year, NCSoft announced a joint project with Yonhap News Agency for an AI program that produces weather articles. If the partnership with Yonhap was a warm-up, the one with KB is the real deal.

“Writing weather articles with AI is extremely difficult, but the number of factors AI has to process is limited. However, investment reports for private banking clients have to be customized, meaning that the number of factors AI has to process is unlimited,” the official said.

The AI means private banking will have no boundaries. Currently, tailored banking services and investment consulting is offered only to wealthy clients due to limited personnel resources. For each report generated by the AI, NCSoft would get certain amounts of fees.

The envisioned AI private banker could attract young investors in their 20s and 30s, with low fees and low starting balance requirements.

The goal is to garner 10 million users and assets under management of 10 trillion won, the companies said.


Nexon’s payment foray?


Nexon is seeking to apply technologies, acquired through years of developing and running cutting-edge games to broader business fields.

Last month, the Korean game maker signed a memorandum of understanding with Shinhan Bank to establish a new business that combines game AI and finance. Although details are still sketchy, the tie-up is likely for a “mobile payment service” to target the booming e-commerce industry amid the non-face-to-face shopping trends.

“Nexon processes 100 terabytes of game data every day to analyze the behavioral patterns of users of different ages. This allows us to flag cheating activities and offer game items customized to users’ preferences,” a company official said. Nexon services more than 60 games in some 190 countries

Also, Nexon says it has achieved meaningful results in bolstering security, though this has been within games.

To address frequent identity-theft crimes inside games, Nexon has launched series of security measures since September -- independently developed security solution Platform Shield, 24-hour monitoring system and AI-based data analysis.

After deploying such measures, the number of theft cases fell 93 percent and the amount of damages was reduced 96 percent.

Representatives of Nexon and Shinhan are to meet this month to discuss their partnership.


WeMade eyes breakthrough with cryptocurrency


While NCSoft and Nexon are knocking doors on the financial sector with their AI, WeMade, a local game company best known for The Legend of Mir series, is tapping the relatively unchartered territory of cryptocurrency.

In October, WeMade listed its own cryptocurrency Wemix Token on Korea’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange, Bithumb.

“Wemix Token, which can be used and obtained inside Wemix games, can be traded, swapped and transferred between users,” a WeMade official said.

As Wemix Token will replace the virtual currency used in its games, Wemix Token’s value will ultimately depend on how well WeMade’s games perform.

Though WeMade is preparing a global launch for Wemix games -- BirdTornado, ChuanQi H5, Cryptornado and Aqua -- they are unlikely to be released in Korea.

“WeMade will not service cryptocurrency games in Korea for the time being because they might be deemed illegal here,” WeMade CEO Jang Hyun-kook said.

As to why WeMade introduced cryptocurrency games, Jang laid out an ambitious vision.

“Even as we speak, many jobs are being replaced by AI. In the future, for those who are out of jobs, the government will have to provide basic income, daily necessities and entertainment at the same time. I think this can be done by games, just like the movie Ready Player One, where people find work and meaning of life inside games.

By Kim Byung-wook (kbw@heraldcorp.com)
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