Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Interview: South Korea, Indie Gaming, and Video Game Curfews for Children

Allow me to put on my geek hat for a minute, you guys.

One of the geek blogs I follow has a really interesting interview with a three-man South Korean indie game developer, "Turtle Cream," about their new release, Sugar Cube: Bittersweet Factory. It sounds like a fun little platformer that maybe I'll get for The Boy/myself at a later date, but what's interesting even to non-geek readers is this news about Korea's laws about kids and computer games (and, for gamers, thoughts about Korea's indie gaming community). Quoting from the article (NB S.P. is Park Sun, the designer and marketer for Turtle Cream):

Unwinnable: Recently you said that you won’t release your games in Korea or even in the Korean language because of some of your government’s policies. Can you explain the situation for us?

S.P.: The zeal for children’s education in Korea is very high. Many people already know (even Obama knows). Korean parents don’t like anything that interrupts children’s study. Games are the same. Children play games when they must study and that’s what parents don’t like. Grown-ups make the government’s policy. They are parents, or they want to win elections to make parents happy.

Right now, the shutdown policy has started. Children and low-teens can’t play after 12:00 PM midnight. Any kind of game including indie freeware must be rated by the GRB [Game Rating Board]. And now they try to charge big fees from big game developers. And more and more. Too many of them.

Unwinnable: Why do you think these policies go too far?

S.P.: I’m living in South Korea, NOT North Korea. It’s nonsense. In a democratic country, the government prohibits game playing after midnight? It seems to invade human rights.

As I think, it’s all about point of view. Many newspapers and media tend to claim games are [part of the] axis of evil. Games are hazards; games hurt society, so they want to prohibit games like cigarettes and alcohol. Even some members of congress and the big newspapers said that games are another kind of drug.

I’d like to ask you, who are reading this interview: are games really a social evil? Is it bad to seek fun? Everything must be productive?

Unwinnable: Some people say the government is just trying to protect kids from game addiction. What are your thoughts on that?

S.P.: Of course, I don’t protect people who only play games all day – not working at all. If something is a social issue, it must be improved. But prohibition by law is different. Is it a good solution? To minimize the side effect of games, it doesn’t have to be prohibition by law. It could be better to have some filter, rather than policy such as a shield.

Unwinnable: How worried are you about your financial situation if you’re refusing to release Sugar Cube and other future games in your native country?

S.P.: The Korean gaming scene is all dedicated to online gaming. Sometimes users talk about indie gaming in the community, but the indie game market is almost nothing in Korea. Even if we release our game in the Korean language, only a few gamers will enjoy.

As we told you before, our game must be rated by the GRB if we’d like to release our game in Korea. Can we earn enough funds to be rated in Korea? And what about the shutdown? Even our game must have the system to do the shutdown, let younger players stop playing after midnight.

It’s sad that we can’t release our game in Korea, while we are making games in Korea. However it’s not a financial disaster. Anyway, we hope foreign gamers enjoy and play our games more. We are Earthlings, not only Korean.

Unwinnable: Was it difficult to start an indie game studio in Korea?

S.P.: Two big difficulties.

First, there is no market to sell indie games in Korea.

The second is, there are no friends to communicate with.

As you already know, the Korean gaming market is all dedicated to PC online games. I told you already so let’s skip.

The market doesn’t exist, so developers don’t exist. Recently some smartphone games gained good money and fame, so some smaller teams are united. However they are somewhat different from us indies. We are at Galapagos in many ways.

Unwinnable: Many Koreans feel a lot of pressure to study as hard as possible and find work at a Korean conglomerate or chaebol. Did you feel this kind of pressure too? What pushed you to go indie?

S.P.: That’s it. That’s major, so Korean society doesn’t like gaming. Just study hard; just get a job in a big company. So they hate anything that disturbs studying.

Did every worker at a major company have a dream to be a worker in big company? Maybe not. In recent Korean society, we can’t have dreams. It’s like a BIG COMPANY which produces SIMILAR COOKIES. It’s suffocating. But we don’t like to be cookies. We’d like to be Sugar Cubes, even if we are less-tasted than cookies.

Right now, we are small. However we will improve. We can prove life with a dream is possible. With our improvements, Koreans could consider games as better things.

Minecraft is really popular with my students right now. I mentioned before that two of my more advanced students even did their bi-monthly presentation on it. It'll be interesting to see if the growing/sustained interest in Minecraft will inspire more indie programmers like Turtle Cream, because my kids have a very good sense of where Minecraft came from and its humble origins. (Though, they did have a kitten when I told them Notch is Swedish.) Maybe there's not a market or an audience for the small indie guys now, but once my students are old enough to have purchasing power, I think that could change.

Also, to me it sounds like Park is very narrow in his criticism of these new fade-out laws. The Korean government also passed a curfew law for hagwons a few years ago; obviously a midnight curfew for games isn't only about "taking away fun for more studying" but also "get the heck home and get some rest." Or at least I hope it is? I think the issues with the GRB are much more worthy of fuss-making.

1 comment:

  1. Minecraft also comes out today on Xbox live. I'm not sure what to make of that -- seems like something you'd only want to play/mod on a PC.