Thursday, August 24, 2017

Korea's new push in semiconductors

As reported by the Korea IT News and other industry sources, South Korea is planning to begin a national semiconductor R&D project that  will require funding on the order of  $2.2 billion (2.5 trillion KRW), with a goal of gaining the upper hand in next-generation semiconductor industries and maintaining Korea's position as a leading producer of semiconductors.  The Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT, formerly Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning MSIP)  and Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) are currently planning for the R&D project, which will have a duration of 10 years.
The rationale for this new program includes the observation that semiconductors are currently this nation's largest export. The Korea IT News article notes that “Because semiconductor is a number one export item of South Korea, it is a major industry that supports South Korea’s economy.” said a representative for a government research institute that is participating in this planning. “South Korean Government is making such decision because it believes that it needs decisive investments into R&D in order to separate its gap from its competitors such as China.”
The project will be carried out from the second half of 2018.  Furthermore, the report explains that the project is large divided into AI (Artificial Intelligence), IoT (Internet of Things), and equipment and materials related to production of next-generation semiconductors and will cover development of fundamental technologies and commercialized technologies. While fundamental technologies will be managed by the Ministry of Science and ICT(MSIT), commercialized technologies will be managed by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE).
As many prior posts in this blog have noted, semiconductors are a central technology for the digital era and Korea's success in this industry stems from crucial policy decisions made in 1980-81.

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."