South Korean boy band BTS poses in the press room with their awards during the 2019 Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 1, 2019, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (AFP/Bridget Bennett)
K-pop sensation BTS has racked up a string of firsts over an astonishing six-year run. Now the seven-member group star in their very own smartphone game, marrying two of South Korea’s hottest exports.
Netmarble Corp., the country’s biggest mobile-app publisher, has unveiled a game featuring global K-Pop phenom BTS, the latest attempt to wed the country’s tech and entertainment industries to drive economic growth.
“BTS World” contains previously undisclosed videos and photos of the boy band. The game takes players to their pre-debut days to recruit and train the singers. Users can pay to quicken the process of guiding the seven young men to stardom. Created by local developer Takeone Company Corp. and published by Netmarble, the game also features video and text chats with BTS members based on pre-written scripts.
It’s the first major mobile title to focus exclusively on a K-Pop group, a testament to the rapidly growing clout of two of Korea’s most promising exports -- games and K-Pop -- as Hyundai cars struggle to regain momentum and Samsung semiconductors undergo an industry downturn.
BTS or Bangtan Sonyeondan, which translates as Bulletproof Boy Scouts, has amassed millions of fans around the world thanks in large part to social media. The band’s Love Yourself campaign, which calls on people to take better care of themselves and encourages them to speak out on social issues, has resonated in particular with young fans.
“Managing BTS myself would make me feel closer to the members,” said Paik Ji-min, a 29-year-old South Korean fan who flew to London to attend a BTS concert and said she would be willing to spend about 50,000 won (around $43) playing the game. “Just the thought of it makes me smile ear to ear.”
Netmarble already plans a sequel to BTS World, seeking to maximize profit from what has arguably become the biggest K-Pop success after singer Psy. BTS has 20 million followers on Twitter and has made television appearances on Saturday Night Live and Ellen DeGeneres’s talk show. This year, the band sold out London’s 90,000-seat Wembley Stadium in just 90 minutes.
The company’s founder, Bang Jun-hyuk, teamed up with relative Bang Si-hyuk of Big Hit Entertainment, the agency behind BTS, to develop the game. The entrepreneur is betting the recipe will re-energize growth at Netmarble, which trades about 20% lower than when it listed in 2017.
“Even though it’s based on story-telling, as you progress you can discover a lot of missions and gaming elements,” Seungwon Lee, Netmarble’s chief global officer, told Bloomberg Television. “It’s sufficient incentive to keep motivating users to play.”
BTS creator Bang Si-hyuk, who is also known as Hitman, told Bloomberg in 2017 that the company was diversifying into intellectual property-protected content that could possibly multiply its revenue. Big Hit is now worth an estimated $2 billion, according to the Hyundai Research Institute. The company is drawing on the popularity of the band to collaborate with Line Corp. for character merchandise and Mattel Inc. for dolls. The K-pop industry is worth about $5 billion, according to the government-affiliated Korea Creative Content Agency.
Netmarble, whose titles include Lineage 2 Revolution and Marvel Future Fight, ranked 5th among publishers of Google Play and Apple iOS apps last year in terms of revenue, according to analytics firm App Annie. Founded in 2000, the Seoul-based company has drawn backing from Chinese giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. and South Korean conglomerate CJ Group.
Vey-Sern Ling, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst, said it may be relatively easy to generate money from players because they’re already fans who display a strong willingness to pay for BTS content. But the lifespan of the game could be limited. “Once the content is consumed there should be very little reason to play on, just like how you wouldn’t watch the same movie multiple times,” Ling said.
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