For Nexon Corp, a booming South Korean online-game producer, bucking the conventional wisdom certainly paid off.
The company is raking in millions of US dollars every month by selling digital images, not real products.
It sells "avatars" -- cyber representations of online game players -- and virtual baubles such as karts, clothes and weapons for its wildly popular Kart Rider game.
Nexon's 37-year-old founder, Kim Jung-ju, made the headlines this month when Forbes Korea, a local business magazine, ranked him as South Korea's richest "venture company" owner with a fortune of some US$340 million.
It seems game players are happy to pay up to ensure they have the best, and coolest, karts to compete with rivals playing Nexon's flagship video game.
"I am not so game-crazy but I come here to play Kart Rider once or twice a week," says Kim Young-soo in a game parlor, fingers dancing on the keys as he drives his colorful virtual kart through a bridge, waterfall and a minefield.
After a quick lunch, Kim and his friend -- both insurance company employees sitting in a venue full of cigarette smoke and packed with dozens of players -- met three others online for a round of Kart Rider racing game.
"Why is it so popular? I think that's because this game is easy to play and fun. The characters are so cute, women and kids especially like it. You use only the shift, control and direction keys to drive," Kim says of the game.
Kim also bought a balloon for US$0.4 to float behind his kart and helps protect it by lifting it to avoid a US$0.9 missile launched by a rival.
Kart Rider brought fame and money to Nexon. Launched a year ago, it still earns Nexon some US$5 million a month.
Nexon said the game had attracted 12 million users, or one fourth of the country's population, and 200,000 users logged on for the game at peak times.
Nexon and Coca Cola Korea jointly sponsor an ongoing nationwide tournament, where the winner will get US$20,000 of the US$50,000 at stake. A top mobile carrier, KTF, is also financing a separate US$30,000 tournament.
"A pro gamers' league is in the offing," says Nexon spokeswoman Lee Jae-kyo, adding that a garment maker and a few other firms are seeking to launch teams of professional players for cyber-racing competitions.
Last September, Nexon set what it claims to be the world record when 700,000 users in China simultaneously logged on to compete in BnB, an online game where players struggle through a digital maze to trap and finish off rivals by popping their balloons filled with water. Players buy the "needles" from Nexon.
But Nexon's sales have been inflating incessantly and are expected to double this year to US$200 million, including US$60 million from overseas markets.
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