South Korea’s largest mobile game company saw the light of day and was then later saved, by a man many compared to Steve Jobs in his native country. What is it that the two men have in common? Both left the company they had created to come back later to save it from demise. Bang Jun-Hyuk did not go to a prestigious university, not even a community one. The man is a high school dropout who grew up poor but managed to create one of the most adored success stories in South Korea.
Netmarble was founded in 2000 by Bang who, with only eight employees and $88,000 pooled, decided to take advantage of the government’s focus on information technology after the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. In the beginning, the company distributed casual games on PC for women and kids/teenagers. Three years later, it adopted a new business model: from now on, Netmarble was to be in charge of marketing, distribution, publicity, and more for games developed by other companies. A huge success that attracted CJ Group, one of the most prominent conglomerates in the country, and ended up with a merger. In 2006, Bang got sick and had to leave the company, but was quickly begged to come back in 2011 as the company was clearly on its way to crashing into a wall. Upon his return, Bang focused solely on mobile gaming and the rest is history.
Netmarble key stats
The South Korean juggernaut got to become what it is today thanks to its forward-thinking founder. Bang quickly saw the potential in video games and has successfully been able to adapt to new trends in the industry. The fact that Netmarble could not manage, whether in publishing or development, is proof enough of his savoir-faire. The company has a worldwide presence and ties with big western names such as Disney.
1. Netmarble’s market capitalization has been estimated at around $6.91 billion (as of April 2022).
(Source: Companies Market Cap)
It actually lost in value since the company’s market cap was worth $8.77 billion in 2020. It decreased to $8.35 billion in 2021. Its highest value was $13.02 billion in 2017.
In FY2021, Netmarble earned a total revenue of ₩2,506 billion ($2,047,795,492.12) with 4Q21 being a particularly profitable semester with ₩751 billion ($613,684,922.02) in revenue. A slight increase of 0,8% compared to FY2020 (₩2,485 billion or $2,030,635,194.70) and a major boost compared to FY2019 (₩2,179 billion or $1,780,585,146.58).
The best semester in 2020 was Q2 since it raked in ₩686 billion ($560,569,715.72) while Q3 was the highest-grossing semester in 2019 with ₩620 billion ($506,637,352.40) in revenue.
In 2021, Korea represented 27% of the total revenue, while the overseas market represented 73%. Korea is clearly consuming less and less, as it was 28% of the total revenue in 2020 and 33% in 2019. The overseas market accounted for 72% and 67% respectively.
EBITDA was at an all-time high in 2020 reaching ₩384 billion ($313,788,295.68). It decreased in 2021 by 12.2%, amounting to ₩306 billion ($250,050,048.12). It was slightly better in 2019 with ₩321 billion ($262,307,403.42).
For FY2021, operating profit totaled ₩155 billion ($126,659,338.10) with Q4 being their best semester with total revenue of ₩58 billion ($47,395,107.16). Operating income in 2020 was way higher, reaching ₩272 billion ($222,266,709.44). Which in itself is an improvement of 34.2% YoY compared to 2019’s ₩203 billion ($165,882,875.06).
3Q20 was the best semester that year (₩87 billion or $71,092,660.74), but the last three semesters in 2020 were all really successful, staying above ₩80 billion. Even more of a feat when you notice that 1Q20 only generated ₩20 billion ($16,343,140.40).
In 2019, Q3 definitely did some wonders by generating ₩84 billion ($68,641,189.68) in operating income, which is a huge gap between Q1 (₩34 billion or $27,783,338.68) and Q2 (₩33 billion or $26,966,181.66).
Net profit in 2021 amounted to ₩253 billion ($206,740,726.06) with 4Q as the most productive semester with ₩107 billion ($87,435,801.14) earned. A noticeable decrease compared to 2020 when it was up to ₩338 billion ($276,199,072.76) and Q4 alone bringing in ₩103 billion ($84,167,173.06).
In 2019, net profit totaled a timid ₩159 billion ($129,927,966.18), with Q4 delivering a really poor (under)performance since net profit was actually a loss: -₩6 billion (-$4,883,332.20). Quite the drastic contrast with Q3 which recorded a net profit of ₩85 billion ($69,180,539.50).
Netmarble has certainly seen some ups and downs, with some of them being quite radical. Of course, like a lot of video game companies, 2020 was the gift that just kept giving since their numbers soared. 2021 was reported to be less active, but not by far, and Netmarble stayed optimistic: if Q3 ended up being a disappointment, the release of new IP, amongst which huge names like Marvel, gave a well-expected boost to the financial health of that fiscal year. The company also raised its employees’ salaries in 2020. A feat since 2020 was mainly acknowledged as that year when people were losing their job left and right. Another interesting point is the last asset bought by Netmarble: SpinX, a mobile game company based in Hong Kong and specializing in casino games. Netmarble knows how to diversify itself, even if its specialties are still RPGs, MMORPGs, and casual games (casino games are actually categorized as casual games). They have around 20 games planned for 2022-23 for global release.
2. Netmarble has a total of 3,500 employees, with 1,000 of them working for the parent company in Seoul and 200 for Netmarble US.
(Source: Owler, LinkedIn)
₩666 billion ($544,226,575.32) of the total revenue in 2021 was generated in Korea. Overseas market generated a total of ₩1,840 billion (1,503,568,916.80). 4Q did especially well with an increase of 78% QoQ in the overseas market, taking the amount from ₩426 billion ($348,108,890.52) to ₩587 billion (479,671,170.74).
In 2020, Korea spent ₩693 billion ($568,741,285.92) in Netmarble’s products, while the overseas market spent up to ₩1,792 billion ($1,464,345,379.84).
In 2019, North America took the lead as the continent generated ₩1,449 billion ($1,179,324,726.30) and revenue from Korea amounted to ₩727 billion ($591,697,084.90).
4Q21 was fueled by North America: 43% of the total revenue originates from the continent. It is followed by Korea (22%), Europe (11%), Southeast Asia (10%), and Japan (9%).
Revenue for 4Q20 was mostly generated by Korea and North America, with both a proportion of 33%. They are followed by Europe (12%), Southeast Asia (10%), and Japan (8%).
North America represented 30% of the overall revenue during 4Q19. Korea was second with 28% and followed by Japan (15%), Europe (11%), and Southeast Asia (9%).
In 2021, the MMORPG genre was a favorite since it represented 32% of the revenue based on genre. RPGs snatched the 2nd spot with 28.5% and are followed by casual games with 28.25%. Other genres totaled 11.25%.
For 4Q21, casual games were dominant with 40%. They were followed by MMORPGs (26%), RPGs (21%), and other genres (13%).
Throughout 4Q20, MMORPGs were the top revenue generator, making up 33% of the total revenue. They are closely followed by RPGs (31%), casual games (24%), and other games 12(%).
4Q19 for the semester of everything RPG, since the genre made up 39% of the total revenue. It is followed by casual games and MMORPGs, each scoring 25%, while other games represent 11% of the sales.
Bang Jun-Hyuk still owns 24.12% of the company. The second-biggest owner is CJ E&M Corporation (21.78%), followed by Han River Investment (Tencent in disguise) with 17.52%. NCSoft also owns 6.80% of the company and that is why Lineage 2 and the latest Blade & Soul have the Netmarble label.
If you doubted how global Netmarble is, after seeing those numbers, there must be no doubt left in your mind: Netmarble has a strong international presence in the mobile gaming landscape. Most of their revenue comes from overseas and more specifically from North America where they are enjoying stable popularity. It is probably due to the company having official IPs from Disney and its subsidiaries, NCSoft’s titles that were already known in the West, and popular Japanese titles like Nanatsu no Tanzai (anime/manga) and Ni No Kuni (video game). North America and Europe taking over even more in 2021 has also to do with the new casino games that are not only generating quite a profit but are also mostly targeted at the West since several Asian countries do not allow the genre due to its addictive nature. If Korea and North America stay the biggest customers, the trend changed for Japan, as the country has been quite quickly declining in how much they consume Netmarble’s games.
Netmarble video games overview
Netmarble has few games on consoles (actually, it is just the one and it is a port). Mobile is where it’s at for the company, and its catalog is only targeted at smartphone users. Thanks to their popularity, you will not only find Korean licenses, but also Japanese ones from anime or big video game titles. And even official Marvel and Star Wars games are amongst their products, not just for distribution, but also for development.
3. In 2018, Lineage 2 Revolution surpassed $1 billion in lifetime player spending since its release in 2016.
(Source: Sensor Tower)
A good chunk of that total came from South Korean players (57%), followed by 26%, courtesy of Japan, while the United States only accounted for 3%.
By 2019, the game had amassed over $1.5 billion in revenue. By then, $900 million had been spent in South Korea, $345 million in Japan and $45 million in the United States.
In only 11 months after its release, L2R had already generated $924 million in lifetime revenue.
4% of the overall revenue generated during 4Q21 originated from Lineage 2 Revolution. It was twice that percentage during 4Q20 since 8% of the overall revenue came from the game.
Lineage 2: Revolution is the only title of the dark fantasy MMORPG started, and still owned by NCSoft. The other installments in the franchise are all developed by the latter. But one thing that can be said is that they are all doing pretty well, often featured in the top-grossing charts for mobile games in South Korea. Lineage 2: Revolution is most popular in South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, and its fifth-biggest market is none other than the United States. In 2019, the game had been downloaded 28.5 million times, which is a great number considering that it achieved the $1 billion milestone. It also signals a devoted fanbase. Today, it has now surpassed $2 billion in lifetime revenue.
4. On Black Friday 2019, Marvel Contest of Champions generated $2.7 million in player spending in just that one day.
(Source: Hollywood Reporter)
The game was ranked the fifth leading RPG on mobile in the United States during 1Q21, making up 4.5% of the total revenue on the platform in that category.
As of 2019, the game has been downloaded 215 million times and accumulated over 2.8 billion hours of playtime.
In 4Q21, the game took over 12% of the total revenue for the semester, making it the most lucrative individual game for that period. It was already the case in 4Q20 with 15% as well as during 4Q19 with 17%.
The action/fighting game developed by Kabam, a San Francisco-based subsidiary, was released in 2014 and is still the most profitable game in Netmarble’s catalog. In just one year after release, it had already been downloaded 40 million times, after all. The game features heroes and villains from the Marvel Universe. Not just from the movies, but also (and mostly) from the comics, meaning that MCoC boasts a roster of over 200 playable characters. It is free-to-play and follows the freemium business model with several microtransactions in the game. As per usual with games with certain longevity, it has often been said that MCoC was dying, but it is the complete opposite: in March 2022 the game has raked in $6 million on Google Store alone. Plus, if it had become a liability for Netmarble, it would have been discontinued. Even more so considering all the new IPs that will be released in 2022.
5. Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds broke a record upon release as it reached $100 million in player spending in just 11 days.
(Source: Sensor Tower)
Pokemon GO took 12 days to reach that milestone, Genshin Impact needed 13 days as well as Lineage 2 Revolution.
Japanese players were the biggest spenders, as they spent $45.6 million (45%) during those 11 days. South Korea represented 35% of that global revenue and Taiwan was third with 15.7%.
The RPG is the second-biggest revenue generator in 4Q21, as it brought in 9% of the total revenue.
In Q2 2021, Ni No Kuni was the most downloaded game in South Korea and the second most downloaded in Japan.
Released in June 2021 (Q2 2021), Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds was only launched in Japan, South Korea, Macau, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. It was a raging success, as it took no time at all for the game to rake in millions and top all the charts in the countries it has been released in. Ni No Kuni is actually a Japanese franchise of video games known for their fantastic stories, magical atmosphere, intuitive and rich gameplay, and beautiful aesthetics. The games benefit from Level-5 and Ghibli (yes, THAT Ghibli) experience and are all classics. Netmarble retained the already well-known visual identity of the original games and developed most of the story, based on Level-5’s guidelines. The MMORPG is drowning in raving critics, which is a good omen for the future since it is scheduled to be released globally in summer 2022. And not just on mobile, but also on PC.
To sum up
Despite a somewhat weak 2021 (based on their standards), Netmarble is far from not doing well. The company is still making quite the profit with most of its titles, with some having almost 10 years behind them. When looking at its EBITDA, it is clear that its operating performance is pretty strong. It is also important to note that Netmarble is one of the rare Asian mobile game companies to actually have a strong presence in the United States/ North America.
Netmarble has seven offices spread between North America and Asia and Europe (because of Turkey), three subsidiaries in the United States and Hong Kong, and between 7-9 teams working on development (labeled under Netmarble). With SpinX now under its umbrella, the company enjoys a huge boost in revenues thanks to that catalog of social casino games. And they are successful, but also -mostly- only available in the West since most Asian countries actually ban gambling games due to their addictive nature and the fact that kids would get easy access to them. Netmarble is also a big shareholder in HYBE, the South Korean talent agency, best known for BTS. That power move made it possible for Netmarble to be the only one developing and publishing games based on the widely popular K-pop group.
Netmarble has already announced 20 new titles with 70% of them using blockchain technology and NFTs. A lot of them will also be exclusive to the West since they are bound to be play-to-earn which is considered gambling in Asia. After 2021, Netmarble has decided to release a certain number of new IPs, limiting new games from “old” IPs to a new BTS game for 2022 (for now).
Chung, Grace. “High School Dropout To Billionaire Status: How One Man Built Korea’s Biggest Mobile Gaming Company”. Forbes, 2022, https://www.forbes.com/sites/gracechung/2016/11/30/high-school-dropout-to-billionaire-status-how-one-man-built-koreas-biggest-mobile-gaming-company/.
“Netmarble Company History”. Netmarble, 2022, https://company.netmarble.com/en/company/history.
“Lineage 2: Revolution Revenue Has Surpassed $1 Billion In Global Player Spending”. Sensor Tower, 2022, https://sensortower.com/blog/lineage-2-revolution-revenue.
“Lineage 2: Revolution Has Amassed $1.5 Billion From Players Worldwide”. Sensor Tower, 2022, https://sensortower.com/blog/lineage-2-revolution-revenue-december-2018.
“Netmarble’S Lineage 2: Revolution Generated $924 Million In First 11 Months”. Pocketgamer.Biz, 2022, https://www.pocketgamer.biz/asia/news/67695/lineage-2-generated-924-million-in-first-11-months/.
“Mobile Game Spending Hits Single-Day Record Of $70M On Black Friday – The Hollywood Reporter”. Hollywood Reporter, 2022, https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/general-news/mobile-game-spending-hits-single-day-record-70m-black-friday-1259854/.
“Five Years On, Marvel Contest Of Champions Is Still Growing Strongly”. Pocketgamer.Biz, 2022, https://www.pocketgamer.biz/news/72135/marvel-contest-of-champions-growing-strongly/.
“Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds Races Past $100 Million In 11 Days, Faster Than Pokémon GO”. Sensor Tower, 2022, https://sensortower.com/blog/ni-no-kuni-cross-worlds-100-million-revenue.
“Ni No Kuni: Cross Worlds Storms The Most Downloaded Q2 2021 Charts In Japan And South Korea”. Pocketgamer.Biz, 2022, https://www.pocketgamer.biz/asia/data-and-research/76912/app-annie-ni-no-kuni-cross-worlds-most-downloaded-q2-2021-charts/.