Recently I was asked to give a presentation about the Korean avatars market, trying to understand the craze and predict other mobile markets’ behavior. Knowing it might interest some of you, I’ll be publishing the content of the presentation at this blog. Due to the length, I’ve been posting it in a few parts every Thursday. If you missed the opening, here’s the link to the first part and second part
Consumption of all kinds of online content has extremely grown in Korea ever since broadband internet service became popular. I’ll also add here a little piece of valuable info I got last week (Thanks Melanie) to get the idea of “heavy connectivity” that was discussed last week: on average, Korean Internet users spend 12.2 hours online per week and participate in 3-4 community websites!
South Korean users were the first to adopt avatars as their web representation. Respectively, the demand for avatars has grown with the fast adoption of online social interactions in a bodiless, ageless and sexless sphere. This amorphous presence has evoked the need to establish a visual presence by nominating a visual representant.
Most of the avatar providers are portal companies which entered the avatar market to upgrade their web offerings. This companies recognized that avatars can increase revenues by promoting more frequent and longer visits and by serving as a bridge to additional services. Only later down the road service providers realized that avatars are a consumer goods which should have a business model of their own. The avatar service evolved to a pay service which increased the quality of the offerings.
What makes the avatar phenomenon so interesting for many, is the fact that so many users are willing to pay to dress their avatar with clothing and accessories. Understanding that the avatar has a major role in self-representation in the social world over the web, service providers offer only a basic avatar. Many times the basic avatar doesn’t wear more than pajamas or a fig leaf. Service providers understood that users want to have an avatar that resembles them as much as possible, so they offered premium content for extra charge.
NEOWIZ operates one of the most popular avatar sites - SayClub. SayClub has over 20 million subscribers which are equivalent to nearly 50% the population of Korea! Neowiz launched the first avatar service in 2000 and has occupied one of the leading positions among Korean internet companies offering avatars and games ever since. According to the company’s reports, Q1 2006 avatar revenues reached $2.4 M!
NEOWIZ was the first provider to employ an “avatars distributed for free, clothes and accessories sold for small amounts” business model. According to this model, users can buy designer avatar clothing and other premium content, with licensing fees being paid to actual consumer brand. This has led to the reality where Korean avatar owners spend more money on clothing for their avatar than they do for themselves. In a society where most of interactions happen over the web – this makes sense.
MSN Korea launched its MSN messenger in 2003 which includes “dynamic avatars”. Dynamic avatar changes according to the typed emoticons or certain words like ‘happy’, ‘angry’, etc’ in the chat window. Dynamic avatars require server capacity which is equal to the online games; which makes it harder for small portals to provide similar services. MSN Korea offers users a “multi avatar feature” which enables the user to employ up to 4 avatars. The displayed avatar depends on the chat partner. To initiate the service, users need to pay cyber money.
The last major avatar provider, which got a lot of coverage after its entrance to the U.S. market, is Cyworld. Cyworld is a social networking leader in Asia with localized sites in China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, owned by a subsidiary of SK Telecom, the country's largest wireless provider. The Cyworld service is a combination of minihompies, online communities, music downloads, picture sharing, messenger and eBay. Cyworld’s users have avatars that visit (by linking) each other's "minihompy" [= a miniature homepage that looks like a 3D room which contains user’s blog, photos, and virtual items for sale]. Cyworld users also buy and sell music, ringtones, and clothes for their avatar. They can also buy skins to furnish their virtual minihompy. The service is free yet a big part of the content is available only for a fee, paid in virtual currency. Cyworld has astonishing penetration rates with 90% of the 20-year-old Koreans.
Daum, another major avatar provider is one of Korea's largest portals. Currently it has more than 35 million subscribers.
Next week - I’ll be talking about the next big thing... avatars entering into the mobile arena! So don’t forget to tune in on Thursday.