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Game developers showcase innovative titles at E3

NCsoft, Webzen raise stakes in the cutthroat online and video gaming market

LOS ANGELES - For those who do not care about the gaming business, Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, may not be a big thing. But it's one of the most important trade shows for those who do care.

For Korean gamers and game developers, the 2006 E3 represents something more than a mere industry event: it's a key launch pad for a host of local developers led by NCsoft and Webzen.

The two online game powerhouses, in particular, have set up huge booths here at the Los Angeles Convention Center, promoting their latest and future titles that they hope will lead to a bigger share of the global gaming industry.

Given the heated media reaction and throngs of visitors who immersed themselves in new video consoles playing online and PC game titles available in the expansive convention center; the number of enthusiasts in Korea and elsewhere seems likely to shoot up because the $68 billion industry is growing at breakneck speed.

E3, which kicked off its three-day run on Wednesday, revolves around a three-way competition. In the cutthroat video console gaming sector, Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft unveiled new plans and products for their next-generation machines.

Sony, for instance, set the launch schedule of PlayStation 3 for November this year and introduced its new controller. Depending on the size of the hard drive, consumers will get the console game device armed with Blu-ray and other advanced solutions for $499 or $599.

Nintendo also aims to release its own next-generation console named Wii in the fourth quarter of this year, together with 27 playable games including "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess."

Microsoft, the world's biggest software maker and a strong contender in the video console game market, demonstrated how it cares about the sector. Chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates made a surprise appearance here, claiming that Xbox 360 would have an installed base of 10 million units by year-end. He also unveiled Live Anywhere, a new platform that is expected to connect gamers through the company's various platforms including online network and mobile handsets.

In addition to the news-packed video console and software sector, there is an equally excitement-filled segment at E3: online gaming. And Korean developers and publishers demonstrated their global competitiveness here, attracting huge crowds through their innovative new titles.

The Korean gaming industry at large is expected to grow to 2.2 trillion won this year, up from 1.7 trillion won last year. The portion of online gaming is estimated at around 70 percent, speaking volumes about why Korean game developers rely on online game titles for their global expansion strategy.

The three-way competition is also pertinent for the Korean online gaming market. NCsoft, known for the medieval role-playing game "Lineage," leads the pack, while Blizzard Entertainment, a unit of Vivendi Games, has a huge following with its global hit game "World of Warcraft" and Webzen also has a solid domestic user base with an array of titles.

Richard Garriott, executive producer of NCsoft who is widely respected for his innovative game design ability, promoted the Korean firm's forthcoming title, "Tabula Rasa" at E3.

What drew strong attention from visitors was "Aion," a massive multiplayer online role-playing game that NCsoft expects will bolster its status as a global online game developer in the coming years.

"We hope 'Aion' will emerge as a mega-brand that can be comparable to 'Lineage' and that's why we incorporated new features like true interactivity between players and the game environment," said Jang Joo-hyung, director of Studio 5 Producing Team at NCsoft.

Kim Nam-ju, president and CEO of Webzen, said the company has solidified its position as an international game developer by unveiling its much-touted title "Huxley," a massively multiplayer online first-person shooter game for both PC and Xbox 360 platform.

"Huxley" has an urban setting in which players can enjoy adventure, game events and narrative elements together, while allowing the interconnection between PC users and Xbox 360 gamers - a move to achieve a platform that bridges the two different platforms.

Meanwhile, Alan Bowman, general manager of the entertainment and devices division at Microsoft, noted that more Korean developers like Webzen and Phantagram are joining the next-generation console game market by releasing high-quality titles.

"We are incredibly excited about the international launch of Nighty-Nine Nights by Korea's Phantagram," he said, adding that Microsoft will continue to invest heavily in Korea to broaden brand awareness for Xbox 360.

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