South Korea has one of the most advanced mobile infrastructures in the world. Users tend to have 4G LTE service enabled on their phones, and 4G is available in around 70% of the country. Free wi-fi is commonly available in the big cities too, so music and video streaming play a big part in people’s lives.
Korea is ranked near the top in terms of app revenue, and the average number of apps installed here per year is among the highest.
As a mature mobile market, there’s no shortage of opportunities for app developers either – with role-playing (RPG) and strategy games being the most popular. With so much competition about though, you’ll need to find ways to cut through the noise and ensure your app gets noticed.
Translating your app into Korean is a must, especially with local developers dominating the market. It’s also worth looking for ways your app or marketing can tap into the popularity of K-POP and Korean dramas.
Let’s take a closer look at 7 key factors that can help your app be successful in Korea.
Popular game and app categories
The most-installed games are action and RPG, with RPG and strategy winning out in terms of revenue. In recent years, a number of very successful ex-PC RPG app games have been released by local developers, although global developers have also achieved significant growth in multiple genres such as strategy, action, puzzles and sports.
Games customer support
Gamers expect great customer support to help answer their queries or fix any issues they have. Whether you choose to offer support via a call centre, community management (Facebook, Naver Cafe, etc), you’ll definitely need to factor this in.
Korean gamers expect frequent updates – known as LiveOps – to keep their games fresh and engaging. Typically, these are biweekly, monthly, or quarterly. The content of LiveOps might include running in-game events or adding different content such as a new character or episode. Whatever you decide, it’s important to run your LiveOps on a regular basis, and promote them through existing social channels.
Shopping and finance are the most popular apps in Korea, along with pre-installed productivity apps. Dating apps also perform well, but this sector is crowded with local players, and the big global brands are actually now shifting their strategy to promote social discovery rather than dating. Health and fitness apps are also growing fast, albeit from a small base – and with no local player, this could be a good opportunity for a global developer. Lastly, foreign language education – especially English – is a big market in Korea, and continues to grow.
When pricing your app, use the Korean won (₩) – not the $, £ or even the KRW which is uncommon for Koreans (although still understandable). We also recommend making your price look uncluttered. For example, avoid decimal points by using ₩1120 instead of ₩1120.00. Also, ¥100 can be ₩1,000, and $1 could be either ₩1,000 or ₩1,100.
Subscriptions vs monthly payments
Consumer awareness and trust of subscriptions is relatively low, and monthly payments are the preferred payment option. Many consumers are wary of the ‘automatic payment’ nature of subscriptions, so be sure to make it clear within your subscription screen or terms, that users can cancel any time. On the whole though, subscriptions are on the rise in Korea, so it’s definitely an approach to consider for your app.
The language and tone used in your app should be consistent and feel appropriate to each situation. Proper use of honorific language is also important in Korea.
When directly translating words, be aware that their literal equivalent may mean something else entirely. For example, see below where ‘Special Chest’ was translated into ‘특별한(Special) 가슴(Breast)’. In Korea, chest has several different meanings such as ‘가슴(Breast)' ‘상자(Box)', or ‘보물(Treasure)'. As such, we would highly recommend asking a localization specialist or native speaker to help you.
Font, layout, and user interface
Generally, one Korean character uses the equivalent space of two English characters, but this can vary. You’ll need to apply the proper use of coding too. For example, UTF-8, is necessary to display fonts correctly.
Some developers change the length of each line by adjusting the font size, but this can make the words tricky to read or the user interface appear unfinished. Always run a visual check on your translations too.
Dodum and Nanum fonts are recommended for general use because they have the best readability. Using the wrong font can also result in missing or broken text.
Localization and culturalization
Cultural trends in Korea change fast, so it’s important you’re always up to speed on how best to approach your target users. There are also a lot of different tones and nuances to be aware of here, so you’ll need to make sure you get this right. We recommend working with a native speaker or a specialist in localization and culturalization.
Social media is very popular in Korea, so consider offering users social login options to register for your service. The 4 most popular login options in Korea are: Kakao, NAVER, Google, and Facebook. Avoid offering platforms that Korean users won’t be familiar with, such as WeChat or WhatsApp.
Example: These apps prioritize the most popular login options for Korean users: Kakao, NAVER, Google, and Facebook.
Be cautious around certain topics, such as disputed lands and politically sensitive histories – which would be best avoided.
Google Play: With Google Play, you can invite users to pre-register and gain early access to your app. The user interface in Korea’s Google Play store is also slightly different, and has more slots for banners where you can promote your app. By creating locally relevant deals, you’ll also have the chance to appear in the ‘Deals & Promo’ section.
Online: Korea is a highly sophisticated market for online advertising. YouTube is huge here, and Facebook, Instagram and local platforms Band and KakaoStory are also popular among Koreans.
Offline: Print advertising in Korea has largely followed the downward global trend – but TV remains strong. You could even think about running targeted live events in different parts of Seoul, and there are many offline specialist agencies who can help you with this.