Q&A: NCsoft

GameSpot talks to CEO Taekjin Kim about the popular online role-playing game Lineage: The Bloodpledge, NCsoft's entry into the US market, offline violence, and Richard Garriott.

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GameSpot recently had a chance to talk with Taekjin Kim, CEO of Korea-based NCsoft, the company that created the popular online role-playing game Lineage: The Bloodpledge. In the interview, Kim discussed the company's entry into the US market; its agreement with Richard Garriott, the creator of the Ultima game series; and the recent reports of offline violence caused by the intense popularity of Lineage in Korea.

GameSpot: What does NCsoft stand for and where do its main business interests lie? What kind of game is Lineage?

Taekjin Kim: NCsoft is mainly involved in multientertainment businesses and has especially focused on the development of games that are in the massively multiplayer space of online games. Lineage, after two years of development and 10 months of pilot service testing, became the first commercialized domestic online game in September 1998. It is currently being deployed in four countries as a fee-based service, and it has recorded an impressive 200,000 simultaneous users--a first for its industry globally.

GS: Lineage has been viewed as one of the most successful online games in Korea and showed a great deal of success in marketing to other countries, such as Taiwan. Why do you think it has been so successful?

TK: Lineage has been able to successfully appeal to the generation of Internet subculture users by being the first online game to ever offer superb full-scale 3D-rendered graphics and by providing a host of chatting modes. Also, the strategic/collaborative battles enabled by the use of the world's largest large-scale database management technologies have provided an effective means of delivering surrogate satisfaction for modern humankind.

GS: How does Lineage differentiate itself from all the other online games such as Ultima Online and EverQuest?

TK: Lineage provides distinctive features in terms of offering elements that compose a social community. Group play and constant real-time communication among players has resulted in creating tightly bound social groups that have evolved into actual communities in reality, and thus became more than just a game to the participants. The simple interface and game rules have brought upon the widespread adoption of the RPG games, which were mostly driven by hard-core mania gamers.

GS: Lineage's entry into the US market has sparked much attention from the outside press. This was true especially after the announcement at the E3 exhibit that Richard Garriott would be joining NCsoft. Have any changes occurred after his arrival? And what kind of projects is he involved with?

TK: After the height of Lineage's success, the addition of Garriott's team will be the very catalyst for NCsoft in becoming a world-class leader in the online gaming arena. Previously known only as a small game developer in the backyards of Asia, NCsoft has become the main focal point of interest after the arrival of Garriott's team, which has also had a positive impact on the successful launch of Lineage in the US markets. As was previously discussed at the E3 exhibit, Garriott and the other newcomers will be working for NCsoft's wholly owned US subsidiary NC Austin, and they will be devoting their time and efforts to secure Lineage's continued success and develop the next generation of online games (project code name "Tabula Rasa").

GS: After the report on offline violence of gamers playing Lineage in the June 4 issue of Time, many, including the outside press, have expressed their concerns on this issue. What are your thoughts on this report? If these findings are true, what do you think the current status of these so-called off-line PKs is?

TK: The intrinsic nature of the game is not as violent compared with other domestic and foreign games. Apart from the past mainstream of PC-based and other online games, the gaming environment provided by the advent of Lineage, where tens of thousands gamers suddenly became simultaneously involved in real-time conflicts under the special circumstances in Korea at a time when PC game rooms were gaining popularity, [these incidents] were thought to have been isolated instances that occurred during this transitional period while in search of a more mature gaming culture.

GS: Are there any ways of alleviating such concerns for the US gamers in terms of offering customized services for US operations?

TK: In the near future, we are planning on modifying some aspects of Lineage in order to incorporate more culturally suitable content for the gamers in the US, and if any unforeseen problems should happen to arise, we will address these issues after careful consideration as they become more apparent.

GS: Can you tell us about NC Austin and what it does?

TK: NC Austin is a wholly owned subsidiary of NCsoft incorporated in the US, and it consists of preexisting members from NC Interactive lead by VP ChaeKyung Song and approximately 20 newly brought-in members from Destination Games. As mentioned earlier, NC Austin is dedicated to developing the next-generation Internet games.

GS: How is Lineage currently being deployed in the US? Please give us more details on the services currently being implemented, everything from payment systems to server management.

TK: Apart from here in Korea and Taiwan, Lineage is being serviced in the US on an individual membership basis with a monthly fixed subscription fee, where users are initially given a five-day free membership trial period and then can later become a regular member by paying a fixed charge of $15 per month, which can be processed via all major credit cards, E-checks, and money orders. We are currently operating two servers in the US.

GS: What strategies does NCsoft have to penetrate the US online game markets?

TK: A fall relaunch of our promotional efforts is currently planned. Reflecting upon the success of Lineage in our domestic markets, we hope to accomplish similar results in the US.

GS: Thank you for your time.

For more information about Lineage: The Bloodpledge, take a look at our previous coverage of the game.

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