Much was made of the fact that the Xbox outsold the PlayStation 2 in the hardware stakes for two weeks after its launch in the territory, but obviously after the initial buzz of the launch, the console has completely died in South Korea – a country which is noted as being one of the leading nations in the world for online gaming.
Analysis of what went wrong for Microsoft in Korea falls broadly into two camps. The first, and probably more credible, is the opinion expressed by South Korean retailers – namely that Microsoft has failed to make enough software available for the console, with few first party titles on shelves and practically no third party titles at all.
“Microsoft is totally noncooperative on software circulation,” according to a spokesperson for a major South Korean retail chain quoted in a number of media sources today, “which is why there aren’t enough Xbox games available.”
Other analysts, however, have suggested that the Xbox’ much vaunted unique selling point – namely the Xbox Live online service – may in fact be a key cause for its downfall in South Korea, a territory which already has a massively popular and well-developed online gaming culture.
Much of this culture rotates around internet and gaming cafes (a phenomenon which has not developed in the UK but can be seen as close to home as Dublin, a city which has several internet cafes dedicated to online gaming), and the main games played are PC titles such as Counter-Strike, Starcraft, Age of Empires or locally developed online RPGs like Ragnarok Online.
Xbox Live gaming lacks the social element of online gaming offered by the cafes, not to mention the fact that the RPG, RTS and FPS games played so obsessively by many young Koreans are simply not available on the service – factors which, some suggest, have meant that Korean gamers simply aren’t interested in Xbox Live, which effectively means that they aren’t interested in the console as a whole.
It’s likely that the real reason for the dismal failure of the console in South Korea is a combination of both of these factors. Microsoft will no doubt be carefully examining the situation in the territory and working to make the console more appealing to Korean gamers – but if its lack of success in Japan to date is anything to go by, success in Korea could be a very long way off for the Xbox.