Thursday, August 17, 2017

Starcraft Remastered: An Update

Blizzard Entertainments pre-launch release of Starcraft Remastered, the topic of my prior post,  has generated some controversy in Korea, with PC Room owners complaining to the Fair Trade Commission about the pricing.  According to a report in The Korea Times, Starcraft is regaining popularity with this new release.  (click on the graphic for a full-size version) The article notes that "The 19-year-old computer online strategy game "StarCraft" is recovering its popularity with the exclusive pre-launch of its upgraded version in Korea, according to industry sources, Tuesday. According to its developer and distributor Blizzard Entertainment, about 28,000 copies of a special "StarCraft: Remastered" package have been sold so far. The special package has been exclusively released in Korea."  The article quotes a source in Blizzard Entertainment as saying that "We have also released the game through all our partnered PC rooms since July 30, which numbers some 10,000 nationwide."  Note that this statement MAY NOT indicate that 10,000 PC rooms have accepted Blizzard's terms and are offering the remastered game.
 However, this comment prompted me to update the bar chart published in my previous post with data from the annual Korea Game Industry White Papers published by the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA). (Click on the chart for a larger version)  This graphic depicts the "rise and fall" of PC Rooms in Korea between their introduction in 1998 and the end of 2015.  The fall or decline in PC Rooms was clearly affected by the arrival, beginning in 2010 (technically the end of 2009) of smartphones and the accompanying growth of mobile games, but there are other factors as well.  Overall the relationships among PC Rooms, MMOGs, the diffusion of broadband access and Korean culture, is a fascinating story.  I'm happy to share this much of it with you.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The significance of Starcraft Remastered in Korea

About a week ago, Blizzard Entertrainment pre-launched Starcraft Remastered in Korea with an event in Busan and also making it available in PC Rooms (Internet cafes) nationwide about two weeks before its international launch.  The pre-launch received widespread coverage in the tech media and mainstream press (see this article in The Korea Herald)

The release of a re-mastered version was inevitable, given the continuing popularity of the game and the significant technical advances in audio and graphics since its original release.  It was also highly appropriate given the interesting and significant role of this massive multiplayer online game in Korea's digital network revolution.  However, most of the media coverage to date, both technical and mainstream, has missed or glossed over the real historical significance of the game, which can be thought of in the following terms.
South Korea led the world in digitizing its networks, completing a fully-digital public switched telephone network by 1987 in what knowledgeable experts here call the "telecommunications revolution of the 1980s."  Consequently, in the early 1990s the country was a leader in the introduction of CDMA mobile service and broadband.  A company called Thrunet began offering broadband service via cable modem in 1998.
The introduction of broadband coincided with the release of Starcraft by Blizzard Entertainment and contributed to both the growth of Internet Cafes (PC Bangs) in South Korea and the popularity of Starcraft among middle and high school students, as shown in the graphic (click for a full size view of the slide) I use in my classes and lectures.  Consequently, when Hanaro Telecom entered the market for broadband service, it aimed advertising for its ADSL service at parents, telling them that with Hanaro's service their children could play Starcraft at home, rather than coming home late from the PC Bang.  The campaign was so successful that the waiting list for Hanaro service reached 500,000 and stayed at that level for a long time.
There is more to this story but to summarize, consider the following.
  • Digital broadband networks made massive multiplayer online games (MMOG) possible.
  • In reciprocal fashion, the popularity of Starcraft contributed to the rapid spread of household broadband access in Korea.
  • MMOGs, beginning with Starcraft were invented in Korea.  The nation had broadband and PC rooms (Internet cafes) years before other countries and its culture contributed to shaping the emergence of MMOGs and e-sports.
  • Korea continues to play a major role, disproportionate to its population, in the evolution of online and mobile games, and e-sports more generally.
The role of Korean culture in shaping the success of Starcraft was described by Robert Breidenbecker, Vice President of Blizzard Entertainment, in a report published by The Korea Times as follows.
"The greater-than-expected success of the original "StarCraft" here made him believe the first mission in developing "StarCraft: Remastered" was to understand Korea.  It was about being at PC rooms and how people engage with the game, like going out together for some barbeque together, having a couple of bottles of soju and playing a match of StarCraft. That was something that the people at our office had never experienced. It was the core of the market."

Friday, July 28, 2017

North Korea elite use Gmail, Facebook and iTunes

A report by the threat intelligence company, Recorded Future, is attracting considerable attention in the mainstream media today, and appropriately so.  (Read The Washington Post story here).  Recorded Future is a startup company founded in 2009 with offices in Massachusetts, Virginia, Sweden and the UK.  It delivers threat intelligence powered by machine learning.  The company's patented technology automatically collects and analyzes intelligence from technical, open, and dark web sources. (click on graphic to see a full size version).
In June and July of this year, Recorded Future published a two-part study of cyber and internet usage patterns in North Korea.  The first report, entitled "North Korea is Not Crazy,"  examines North Korean cyber activity in the context of that nation's military strategy, national goals and security perceptions.  The second report, entitled "North Korea's Ruling Elite are not Isolated," explores the internet activity of the country's ruling elite.  The study is based on analysis of activity traceable to IP addresses that are known or suspected to be used mainly by North Korea's elites.  Such analysis makes it difficult to completely eliminate the possibility that internet usage by foreign diplomats or journalists might be included in the results.  Nevertheless, the findings are persuasive and represent the first such public study based on empirical data.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Korea's bizarre reliance on Microsoft's Active-X

Yesterday I attempted to book a KTX ticket from Incheon to Busan online and was surprised to see that Korail, among other public organizations, continues to require the download and installation of a Microsoft Active-X control in order to complete the transaction.   At that point, I gave up my attempt to book the ticket, not wanting to expose my PC to the security risk that use of Active-X entails.
The problem of Active-X has been apparent for many years, as illustrated by these prior posts.   Three years ago, then- President Park Geun-hye assembled a large group of business leaders at the Blue House and implored them to stop using Active-X.   Today it is truly amazing that this issue continues to hamper Korea's online commerce.   It is a subject of media attention again, now that the new administration of President Moon Jae-In has promised to rid the country of its reliance on Active X.  See, for example, this article in The Investor.
Part of the problem is the continued widespread use of Microsoft's old Internet Explorer browser in Korea.   As shown in the first graphic (click for a full size version) the Chrome browser overtook Explorer in early 2012 on a worldwide basis.  In sharp contrast, according to Statcounter, usage of Chrome only overtook Internet Explorer in Korea as of early 2016, a full four years later. (click on the second graphic for a full size version)  In fact, Japan and Korea are the only major economies where a large portion of the population continues to use Internet Explorer.  Microsoft's new Edge browser does not support Active X because it is a security risk and the company has warned consumers of the dangers of Active X for years.  
At this point, "bizarre" is not too strong a word to describe South Korea's entrenched reliance on Active X.  It is damaging to the economy and a major security risk.  It may relate in part to this nation's heavy concentration on hardware manufacturing and export rather than software and services.    However, the rest of the world has long since moved away from Active-X and it is long past time that South Korea does as well, before this situation becomes even more of an embarrassment.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Gangnam style no longer most-watched YouTube video

The international media have noted that Psy's Gangnam Style is no longer the most watched video on YouTube as measured by cumulative views.  (Click on the graphic to see a full size version.)   As reported by the BBC,"The surreal video became so popular that it "broke" YouTube's play counter, exceeding the maximum possible number of views (2,147,483,647), and forcing the company to rewrite its code." Gangnam Style has now been overtaken by another music video - Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth's See You Again, a heart-wrenching ballad that has now been streamed 2,895,373,709 times; beating Psy's current count of 2,894,426,475 views.
Another measure of the global impact of Gangnam Style provides important context for comparisons with See You Again.   The accompanying graphic (click for a full size version) shows the worldwide volume of searches for Gangnam Style and See You Again, respectively.  Narrowing the Google Trends analysis to "You Tube searches" produces a similar graph.   Not only did Gangnam Style break the YouTube play counter.   It also produced a higher level of global interest, as indicated by web searches, than the newer See You Again.