The time before Starcraft – part 2: the rise of PCs

When it comes to video gaming, South Korea was obviously a console-centric market until the mid 90s. So what happened to the market such that the later Korea could lead the PC-centric esports scene? A few points to mention.

  • Everyone started to have a PC at home

My first PC was a 286 that my dad bought one day when I was a second grader in primary school — 1991. I remember my only usage of that strange boxy looking machine was to play games such as the Prince of Persia (an epic game by the way) and Tetris. I wasn’t the only one among my friends, but probably on the early adopter side. A PC-holding household may have used the PC mainly for some other non-entertainment reasons (documentation, programming, design, and etc.), but these machines were a perfect platform for gaming.

  • Infinite numbers of game contents produced and the ubiquity via piracy

As new PCs were introduced in the market (e.g., 386, 486, Pentiums), so did the computer game softwares. The graphics got more realistic; the sounds got more vivid; many new game genres were created. For instance the first sensation when I played Doom (i.e., the early form of First Person Shooter) for the first time was simply unforgettable. And these game contents were virtually free as software piracy was a common practice in the Korean market.

  • Modems, LAN, and online games

Before the internet really took off in the mid-90s, Korea had what we called “PC Communication (PC통신)” such as Naunuri, Choen-Ri-an, and Hitel that were accessed by modems. These PC communication channels also provided online games, partnering with game publishers, such as MMORPGs and these became more popular. The only drawback was that, because it was based on Modem, while you’re playing the game (usually hours) your household phone line would be on busy and the phone bill would skyrocket. It wasn’t a good era for online gamers as you would get scolded by your parents very often but the situation turned more favorable when high speed cable internet had become available in the market.

  • PC bangs — Commoditized service and community-building

Availability of PCs, Local Area Networks (LANs) through affordable high-speed internet, pirated offline and online gaming contents readily available to the user were all important factors of Korea becoming PC-centric market. But what really changed the game was the advent of PC bangs, i.e., game dedicated net cafe. You no longer needed to have the best PC and the network environment at home neither needed to get a hold of the latest game software through some piracy site. As long as you play a few bucks an hour, you could play whichever game you want at the time of your likings. Also, it naturally enabled local communities to form. It was always fun to play together with your friends or even if you don’t know anyone you could make new friends.

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