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Korea’s Smartphone Game Market Opens Up

A rule change makes it easier for Apple and Google to sell games

Air Penguin, a game in which players guide an animated penguin across an icy landscape, jumped to near the top of the iPhone gaming charts last spring. Yet until now the game hasn’t been available to iPhone owners in the home country of its creator, Seoul-based Gamevil. That’s because South Korea has long required game makers to submit their products to the government for review of their suitability for various age groups based on factors such as violence and sexual content. Apple and Android backer Google, concerned that producers wouldn’t adhere to the rules, decided to shutter their mobile-game stores in the country, so few Koreans had access to popular titles such as Angry Birds, Tiny Wings, and Cut the Rope.

On July 6, South Korea scrapped those rules, which could lead to a big boost for game producers. Interest in gaming is so high in the country that there are professional leagues for online game players, and local cable TV channels offer live broadcasts of the virtual tournaments. The country of 49 million has 14 million smartphone users, according to Seoul brokerage Hanwha Securities. The government expects sales of mobile games to exceed 355 billion won ($333 million) next year, up 36 percent from 2009—and that doesn’t take into account the rule change. “A new chapter is opening in the Korean smartphone game market,” says Jang Woo Jin, an analyst at NH Investment & Securities.