[Regarding the Inven Game Conference (IGC) Lecturer] Yeong-chul Ham, the head of the strategic planning department for Pearl Abyss, had at different times been in charge of planning and management for Daum’s News, Agora, and TvPot, and has also been the PM for Nexon’s social game, Nexon Star, the PM for Daum’s Black Desert Online, and the chief director for Daum Games Publishing before he became the head of Pearl Abyss’ strategic planning department.
A trailer for mobile version of Black Desert Online had recently been revealed- BDO fans were captured by the trailer as it displayed amazing in-game plays from the mobile version, which was designed to have graphics as good as the PC version.
We had the chance to hear his lecture on the key to Black Desert Online’s expansion to several various platforms including mobile, console, and steam, as well as its global service.
“Black Desert Online began with a single idea, that gamers will recognize it for its quality no matter the trends.”
Here are the details on Pearl Abyss’ global expansion strategies that were delivered through his lecture: ‘Black Desert Online Expansion Strategy: Main base reinforcement, Global, and Mobile.’
※This article on the lecture was written from the lecturer’s POV.
Pearl Abyss had 80 workers during the BDO opening, and 120 in the early phase of last year, and now it has grown to the point of having nearly 300 workers. It’s been very hectic- things have been on fire for us ever since we started out. In today’s lecture, I will be talking about how Pearl Abyss is managed, and how Black Desert Online is preparing for its global and platform expansions. The four key phrases for today’s lecture will be: Pearl Abyss’ expansion strategy, local strategy reinforcement, global, and mobile.
Right now, Pearl Abyss is about to be listed, and just revealed an awesome trailer for our mobile version. Things are looking good now, but it wasn’t easy to come this far; there was a period when PC games were looked down on by the gaming industry due to the mobile game boom back in 2010, about 2 years after Pearl Abyss was established. Every other gaming company was preparing to make mobile games, and there were moments where I was concerned about how we would manage to make a breakthrough during this dark period. Then we came up with a simple strategy - “Make the best PC online game with the best quality.” We carried on with the process, with the belief that people will recognize us for having the best-made game, no matter what genre is trending.
What has changed after last year’s lecture, “The Struggle of Black Desert Online : Prelude”
I remember giving a lecture at IGC around last October. I lectured on “The Struggle of Black Desert Online: Prelude,” which was at the point where BDO was gaining popularity in North America and Europe. We’ve been directly servicing the game in Taiwan since earlier this year, and are now preparing to expand to South-East Asia, the Middle East, and Turkey, in addition to releasing the mobile version of Black Desert Online. We’ve been servicing in South Korea, Japan, and Russia for free, and released BDO in packages for other regions; we’ve been launching services one by one for each region, with exception to the release in the United States, which was done via the Steam program.
Past the prelude of the struggle...
This is the player reaction we got yesterday for Black Desert Online. Thank you so much for the report. It felt so good to know that many players acknowledge us. We can certainly say that we are well past the “prelude’ part since we’re settling down all over the world like in NA, EU, and Taiwan.
Many people suggest to us that it would be better to just release the game for the world to play via Steam, like PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTELGROUNDS did. If we do, we would be able to come up with many strategies, since we can check the concurrent steam users or the profits right away if we do release it on Steam. However, Black Desert Online is the first game ever for Pearl Abyss, a startup. The number of texts in-game is around 2 million. There are many things we’d have to prepare for the release on Steam. I did think about the cost for the translations, but I couldn’t really get a good estimate. Many people watch Hollywood films, but you’d need to have the subtitles ready, although I’m sure there are people who don’t need to. We didn’t think that the process of translating the descriptions for the items and skills to several different languages, including English, all at once would be possible for a startup. Instead, we chose to do our best to provide quality service in each region.
Looking at Starcraft: Remastered reminded me of a phrase used among Korean gamers, “Build multiple bases and you’ll lose your main.” The multiple bases in this case would be the global launch, the console, and the mobile version for us. I believe that expanding to multiple platforms and regions is important, but keeping the ‘main base’ intact and running well should be the top priority. Thus we are trying to balance the whole process via one build to keep our ‘main base’ intact. The build applied on the KR server is then applied globally on each server one by one. Bringing Black Desert Online to the top in South Korea comes first, then comes the ‘multi-bases.’ The order for establishing the multi-bases would also be important- release in NA server came prior to everything else since BDO was aimed to be NA-oriented. We are expanding our service to several other regions like Taiwan, South America, and China after we gained a level of global recognition via our release in NA. Whenever the release of the game became successful in one region after another, we got more work to be done, and this is how things became so hectic for us.
Now, what was the key to the successful expansion of BDO? Let’s use Hollywood films as an example; people like to watch Hollywood films not only because famous actors and actresses play in them, but the quality of the films is very good. This is how it is for us- whenever BDO gained popularity and recognition worldwide, we would like to think that the effort we put forward to provide the best quality game while developing BDO is acknowledged as well.
■ Our strategies for reinforcing our ‘main base’
1. Strengthen the company and organization
We know well that there is much concern for our ‘main base’, the PC version of BDO. In order to reinforce the ‘main base,’ both the company and organization need to be consolidated. Once, an article on Pearl Abyss was published on Inven, and the title was, “We offer the best reward for your effort.” Everything about Pearly Abyss was revealed during our preparation for the company to be listed, and we found out that 70 of our workers had over 10% of company shares and stock options, and they weren’t managers. Right now, it is apparent that Pearl Abyss will be listed as \1T; based on this, that would be roughly around a \100B scale, meaning that on average, each worker would be able to buy a building in Gangnam and still have money left over. Of course, it doesn’t mean we’d give our share right away, but it will be possible once they have spent years working with us. I believe that this motivates our workers and helps them to focus on their work in a good environment.
Not only that, Pearl Abyss has strived to remove anything that contributes to negative productivity. There was one time we had to move to a new office due to company growth. With exception to the subsidiary company in Taiwan, we were working in a clustered place where 280 workers were together and there would be times where we’d get in each other’s personal space, like bumping into one another while stretching. To provide a stress-free environment for our workers, we rented more offices and relocated seats. We also provided free meals, coffee, and fruits in the office, and sought to remove anything that hinders productivity. You know how you have to make reports after you go on a business trip? We’d also need them, but we simplified the process.
Recruitment is another crucial part- we’ve been increasing recruitment since March for the first part of the year, and we also increased our funding for internship so that we could have a totally different intern system. We aimed to treat our interns while we took their employment in consideration.
There could be a problem if we were only concerned with the new team and provided support for only them. There could have been people concerned that only a certain team will get a bonus. Even though the BDO mobile team has been gaining a lot of attention, the company does to treat certain teams more favorably than other teams, and treat all teams, including both PC and mobile, equal and fair.
No tomorrow will ever be the same as today. What didn’t happen today could happen tomorrow, and what doesn’t happen tomorrow could happen the day after. It’s the same for games. There could be side effects even if it is updated. Same goes for organizations- problems will continue to happen as long as the organization exists. That is why we try so hard to strengthen our organization as well as the company by simplifying the process and adopting new systems, which is the first step towards reinforcing the ‘main base.’
2. South Korea as the center
This is what I’ve been self-reflecting on quite a lot recently- I was concerned that we were getting more focused on glamorous contents just to get compliments from users as we got more and more confident. The recent ‘Terrmian’ update is an example of this. It obviously is a new content that we did not have in BDO before, but it seemed that we should have focused more on creating content that more living skills could be applied to, or increase its relevance in the game , or even focus on fixing bugs. Everything has an opportunity cost. If we work on ‘Terrmian’, we won’t be able to work on other things. I think it is crucial to catch what the players on KR server want and provide for them accordingly.
Now we have a bi-weekly patch after having 2 years and 8 months of servicing the KR server. Before then, we had a patch applied every week. Furthermore, we even had 2 patches a week for 3 months. This was to fix the problems as soon as possible. Now Black Desert Online is like a great ship. It’s hard to change the direction it is sailing, although we will be holding patches so that every player from all over the world can enjoy the game stably.
We are also aware of the balance problem. Many were saying that the Dark Knight, a class so hot in the early year, was OP. It was difficult to change it rather hastily as anyone from either side could have complaints about it.
3. Expanding R&D Investment
Unreal Engine 4, Unity Engine. Game development has become quite convenient to do. Even so, we think that the reason BDO used its own engine shows even more when we are about to expand to various platforms. Frankly, we are at a point where we need people who can sufficiently use the tool, rather than people who can develop the engine. It was hard to find workers, but we were able to find people who can run the engine. We are also preparing an engine specially for the mobile version of BDO.
We also adopted developed technology via the partnership with Silicon Studio from Japan, which had lighting effect technology. We also took over Nettention and improved our server and DB management. We are also remastering audio, although we will be talking about this in detail later.
Development includes not just programming, it includes everything. It is important to check how the players feel about what we make. We plan to understand the needs of the players and invest based on the experience we gained from servicing in Taiwan.
We are not overlooking the PC version as we develop the console and mobile version of BDO. We are taking what we learn from the development to the PC version. If the experience we gained from developing the console version connects to the PC version, the quality and performance of the PC version will improve even further. Also, you’ll get the impression that the mobile version is better than the PC version even if we are implementing the PC graphics into the mobile version. The light source effects that the PC version doesn’t have are applied on the mobile version. Likewise, we will be able to make improvement by applying the light source effects on the PC version as well.
4. Remastering audio and new content
There were comments saying that the music in Black Desert Online made the listeners sleepy. Our music director, Croove, was motivated by this and is in the process of producing new music for the game. He is in the Czech Republic right now, and this is what he sent me when I asked for a picture and the music. We will be updating the game music in general, but still plan to keep BDO’s unique vibe. You know what I mean.
Our new worker for the department in charge of landscape development, Noren, is from Sweden. This was what he answered when I asked him how it feels like to work at Pearl Abyss. I’d like to point out that I did not give him any guidelines on what an ideal answer is. If you can’t believe me, feel free to interview him at Inven.
He said, “I enjoy seeing what I make be applied to the game quickly,” and it left a very deep impression. What developers work on is usually applied to the game much later, or even scrapped. As someone who knows this, he says that he enjoys seeing his work be applied to the game right away.
Here, let me show you his work, ‘Dreegan’. It’s the next map after Karmasylvia, which we haven’t been able to open after it was announced 2 years ago. We are still working on it. As I mentioned before, it is important to focus on the PC version as much as possible, because it is important to reinforce the ‘main base.’
■ The next step into the world
Black Desert Online has kept 10th place in the Korean PC Bang game ranking.
What I feel a bit sorry about is that the amount of PC Bang players for BDO doesn’t make up a large amount of total players, since BDO requires high specs. If the number of concurrent players is 10,000 for a game, about 2~3000 players are playing from PC Bangs; however, it’s only 5% for BDO in this case.
What took us by surprise was Taiwan- we could check the stats directly since we are servicing Taiwan ourselves.
We visited Taiwan several times since October when we began our service. Everything was processed very fast from the CBT held in December to the actual launch on January 25th. We got 5th place in the game ranking by the most popular Thai webzine at then. Also, we gained experience on how to service what we made by ourselves. Back then, we heard many times that it is hard for a game to stay relevant for more than 6 months in Taiwan. The percentage of success was even lower for a package game. But things turned out fine after all that effort. Oh, right, we were able to communicate via the Google Translation app even though we couldn’t speak Chinese. Many thanks to Google Translate.
We did a recheck that was a bit different from what we had for other servers on the content roadmap as we began our service in Taiwan. We changed the order of the release for characters, and took quick actions.
As a result, the outcome was twice as great as we had first projected it to be.
There were many incidents during our 2-month stay in Taiwan. We participated in the Taipei Game Show. We were surprised that we had many visitors and had good marketing done even though we signed up for a booth right on the day before the sign-ups were closed. Since we got such good results in Taiwan, where everyone said package games cannot succeed,It tempted us to try the same thing in South Korea. We were also able to have a Tamer model. It’d be very nice to have her here in South Korea during the event.
Another thing we felt a bit bad about was that because everything was happening so fast, we couldn’t have the character customization event, which is another appealing part of BDO. We couldn’t hold a pre-marketing event in which players get to create their characters first. Oh, and a side note- I really wish I could have done some sight-seeing since our office was just 5 minutes away from where we stayed.
We launched BDO in South America in June. BDO was published by a U.S company we have partnered with. Many said that package games won’t sell much when we were opening our server in South America, but we had no problems with the sales. Of course, we don’t have many cash items in-game in comparison, but we are hoping that our profit compared to the concurrent players will be as high as that of Russia. Although we had complaints from our players on the server based in Miami, we are glad that we didn’t have any direct problems.
What I found surprising in Thailand was that all the companies welcomed us. I realized that the internet network in Thailand has vastly improved in the past 2 years, thus there were no problems with the computer specs. They told me, “‘Black Desert Online’ with 50 GB? No problem!” Not only that, I was touched by how Black Desert Online got 4~50,000 likes on our facebook.
We’re also looking forward to success in Indonesia, Turkey, and the Middle East as well.
■ ‘Multiple base,’ Black Desert Online Mobile
▲Trailer for Black Desert Online
On August 16th, the trailer for Black Desert Online Mobile was released. Have you seen it? Some people gave us positive comments saying that "Is that the actual gameplay footage?", "nice quality", and "it's nice to see the actual gameplay before it's official release when many companies don't do that," while other people were worried about how much memory the game is going to take and if their phones would survive after playing such a heavy game.
Why are we developing BDO Mobile? Because everyone else is doing it?
BDO is a game famous for dynamic action and ultra-quality graphics. It requires a high end PC. It will be hard to enjoy the game without a good PC. Mobile phones these days are capable of playing heavy games. We started the development of BDO Mobile to make a mobile game better than a PC game, and to allow people to enjoy BDO with a mobile device. We first thought about having the mobile version take place 50 years in the past, when the Glish village was not destroyed. But our goal was to make those who cannot play BDO with a PC enjoy BDO. We decided that the mobile version should have the same content as the PC version.
A lot of people are wondering if BDO Mobile can be synced with the PC version. To give you a simple answer, it's difficult to do. Gameplay on mobile devices is limited. The development of BDO Mobile is coming to an end, but the countries that will be able to play BDO Mobile have not been determined yet.
What is going on? - A short story on development
Our designer Cho has been working as the PD for BDO Mobile since last summer. We had to decide which engine we were going to use for BDO Mobile, and finally decided to develop our own. We used the engine we used for the PC version after tuning it up. We first thought about making BDO Mobile an MO game, but switched to MMO. That's why the game's introduction was delayed.
We asked the devs a few months ago about how big the game will be and they answered 5G to 7G. I was like, yes, then I will have to tell people to delete their other games so that they can play BDO. We're still working on reducing the size of the game. We can assure you that it's not going to be 5G. Details will be revealed at the showcase next month.
To give you some information in advance, there will be the Warrior, Ranger, and Witch. The game is going to have the characters that are relatively easy to recognize.
Fishing was also revealed. The glare effect at the corner will be added to the PC version with the remastered version. It was added to the mobile version first. Let me tell you again, your phone will be safe!
Personal Land will be part of the content for the Mobile version. You will hire some workers to manufacture stuff and do various jobs for you.
We won't have anything like "5 Star characters", "Super Rare characters", or "Increased level caps", even if it prevents us from being the game with highest gross income. BDO is like a first child to us. We want it to grow up and be successful after 10 or 20 years. My son is a junior high student right now, and I want to see him playing BDO after he goes to college. Same goes for the mobile version.
Of course we want to make money, but making money should not be our main goal. If it were, then BDO would not shine anymore. We want to enhance the original BDO, the PC version, and expand to other platforms.
We are also preparing for the XBOX version. We're working on the UI right now. We want to develop a simple UI for the console version, and adapt it to the PC version. We will always try to improve and be successful in every adaptation of BDO.
Thank you everyone and our players for staying with us.