Garden Games with Humanature

Business in Vancouver’s Andrew Petrozzi has a great profile of gaming industry wunderkid Alex Garden and his newest venture in this week’s paper. Garden heads up Nexon Corp.’s first western development studio in Vancouver called Humanature.

Nexon Publishing North America, a division of South Korean online casual gaming giant Nexon Corp., opened Humanature Studios in November 2006. Humanature has rapidly expanded to over 60 employees and continues to hire to accommodate anticipated demand in 2008. Electronic Arts veteran Steve Rechtschaffner joined Humanature as CCO in 2006.

Garden founded Relic Entertainment in 1997 when he was 22. Relic was subsequently acquired by THQ Inc. in 2005 and Garden joined THQ as their director of product development but left one year later. He had previously been involved with Nexon as an adviser, and when the company looked at expanding into North America, Garden jumped at the opportunity.

For those of you that don’t subscribe to Business in Vancouver, the complete article is available after the jump.

Garden growing online games giant

  • South Korea’s Nexon Corp. builds its first off-shore development studio in Vancouver
  • by Andrew Petrozzi, Business in Vancouver

 

The planet’s top casual online video game company has quietly established its first western development studio in Vancouver and placed local industry wunderkind Alex Garden at its helm.

Nexon Publishing North America, a division of South Korean online casual gaming giant Nexon Corp., opened Humanature Studios in November 2006. It was Nexon’s first development studio outside of South Korea.

Nexon has offices in China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United States. Its only other development studio is in Seoul. Humanature has rapidly expanded to about 60 employees and continues to hire as it’s in the midst of doubling its 18,000-square-foot studio space to accommodate anticipated demand in 2008. Electronic Arts veteran Steve Rechtschaffner joined Humanature as CCO in 2006.

Garden – who was last seen spearheading his parking technology venture, iVALET Systems Inc. – founded Relic Entertainment in 1997 when he was 22. Relic was subsequently acquired by THQ Inc. (NASDAQ:THQI) in 2005.

Garden joined THQ as director of product development, but left in 2006. He had previously been involved with Nexon as an adviser, and when the company looked at expanding into North America, it offered Garden a leadership role. Garden said Nexon’s track record for taking chances and its global lead in the online video gaming market convinced him to accept.

“You bet on the player who has the courage to be first. That’s why I’m here. “Nexon is the company that’s going to be more responsible than any other in defining the future of interactive entertainment online.”

Nexon Corp.’s casual online games, including MapleStory and KartRider, are extremely popular in Asia, and that popularity is growing worldwide. Although Garden declines to disclose exact figures, he reveals that MapleStory since launching 18 months ago has well over 100 million users worldwide, and “a substantial number of millions” of North American players.

Nexon offers its online MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role-playing games) free (another early innovation), but players can improve and customize their gaming experience by purchasing additional items for their characters. Nexon’s games generate an ongoing online revenue stream, and their development costs remain far lower than conventional releases because content can be continuously updated.

Garden now sees no future for the traditional packaged CD/DVD model of distributing games in an age of increasing broadband penetration, faster network access and the dearth of effective anti-piracy regulation in most Asian markets. “A large part of our audience pays nothing. A small part of the audience who really enjoy the game pays quite a bit,” said Garden.

“Over the last 10 years or so we have refined that model considerably and introduced a wide variety of ways for people to improve their experience. “But at its core, if you enjoy the experience, and you want to make it better, you can make it better $0.25 at a time.” DFC Intelligence is a California-based strategic market research and consulting firm focused on interactive entertainment and the emerging video game, online game, interactive entertainment and portable game markets. It, too, questioned the future of the traditional packaged goods distribution model as part of its market analysis of 2007.

DFC’s January 30 report pointed out that “through online connections there is the ability to go back to the old arcade model where consumers spend billions of dollars a few cents at a time. This is the micro-transactional model that is just starting to emerge. “The game industry has been dependent on an expensive retail distribution model that encourages most products to sell in the $20 to $60 range.

“This leaves no flexibility to capture the consumer that is willing to spend a few dollars on some quick discretionary entertainment. “For several years, the casual game industry focused on a $20 digital distribution model, but this was too much like the current retail distribution model. “The ability to sell products online for less than $10 will open entirely new opportunities for the game industry in coming years.”

Development budgets for traditional core packaged goods have become prohibitively expensive and online distribution has become an attractive option as data reveals consumers are increasingly shifting away from traditional linear media delivered through television to other forms of entertainment. “What Nexon does is provide casual entertainment options to a very broad audience,” said Garden. “In many ways, we compete more with NBC than we do with EA.”