Apple Inc. (AAPL) customers in South Korea who couldn’t download Rovio Mobile Ltd.’s best-selling “Angry Birds” on their iPhones will soon be able to find out why flinging vindictive fowl at green hogs can be addictive.
Korea scrapped rules yesterday requiring developers to have mobile games rated by the government, said Yi Ki Jeong, a manager at the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in Seoul. The rule clashed with internal policies at Apple and Google Inc. (GOOG) enough for the companies to shut their mobile-game stores in the country, keeping Rovio and other developers from offering their products in Korea, Yi said.
The lifting of the law clears the way for software developers for the iPhone and handsets that run on Google’s Android system to offer games in a nation where cable TV channels broadcast live matches of people playing Activision Blizzard Inc. (ATVI)’s “StarCraft.” Sales of mobile games will probably exceed 355 billion won ($333 million) next year, according to the government.
“A new chapter is opening in the Korean smartphone-game market,” said Jang Woo Jin, an analyst at NH Investment & Securities Co. “With the rule out of the way, we can now expect Apple and Google to throw open games in Korea.”
Deprived IPhone Users
Korean mobile-game developers such as Gamevil Inc. (063080) and Com2uS Corp. may also benefit by offering games on Google’s Android Market and Apple’s App Store, said Jang. Gamevil’s third-quarter sales in Korea may rise as much as 17 percent if the companies reopen their game sections on their local stores, he said. The shares have risen 27 percent this year.
The removal of the regulatory hurdle is a “hugely favorable factor” for Gamevil, Kim Young Sik, a spokesman for the company, said. “Millions of iPhone users in Korea haven’t been able to use games until now.”
Com2uS, a Seoul-based maker of iPhone games such as “Third Blade” and “Homerun Battle 3D,” is aiming to triple smartphone-game sales to 25.9 billion won this year, said Choi Baek Yong, the company’s chief financial officer.
“We’re looking at this very positively,” Choi said.
Robin Moroney, a Tokyo-based spokesman for Google, and Steve Park, a Seoul-based spokesman for Apple, declined to comment on the rule change and introduction of new games. Ville Heijari, vice president of franchise development at Rovio, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
South Korea, home to mobile-phone makers Samsung Electronics Co. and LG Electronics Inc. (066570), had 14 million smartphone users as of the end of June, according to estimates from Park Jong Soo, an analyst at Hanwha Securities Co. (003530) in Seoul. Apple controlled about 29 percent of the market for smartphones at the end of last month, according to Park.
Even with the game categories closed, application downloads in May in South Korea exceeded those of countries with bigger populations such as Germany and France, according to researcher Distimo.
Korea isn’t scrapping regulations altogether.
For example, the National Assembly in April passed a bill to prohibit adolescents under 16 years old from playing online games past midnight to curb addiction.
“Previously, the government censored movies for social and ethical reasons to protect Korean values,” Yi said. “That tradition is still alive in games.”
Games for the iPhone stand to benefit more from the change of rules than Android applications, as some titles running on the Google software are already available on application stores run by local mobile-phone carriers, Com2uS’s Choi said.
Angry Birds can be downloaded by Android users in the country using carriers such as SK Telecom Co.
The popularity of online games in South Korea, the world’s second-biggest market for games that allow players from remote places to play together, may bode well for mobile games.
Korea Creative Content Agency forecasts online game sales in the country, which has Internet cafes sprawling across the nation and professional leagues for online-game players, will almost double to 7.1 trillion won by 2012 from 2009.
“Mobile games as an industry have a lot of growth potential,” the culture ministry’s Yi said. “We are now letting Google and Apple open their markets here. We hope Koreans will be able to use their global markets, not having to take an alternative route and download from overseas markets.”
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