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How to localize your app in Korean

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How to localize your app in Korean

South Korea has become one of the world’s biggest app markets with a revenue of $72 million in 2020 and a 11% YOY growth. Localizing your apps and games into Korean then becomes a must to succeed in this market. So, what do you need to take into account when localizing your app/game for South Korea? We’ve gathered for you all the information and tips you need to know to localize your app/game successfully.


Mobile Landscape in Korea

iOS versus Google Play

Contrary to Western markets, the South Korean mobile market is dominated by Android, which represents nearly 80 percent of the market. With Android devices dominating the market, Android app stores other than Google Play Store stand out especially One Store. In fact, according to IGAWorks, a local market research agency, the market share of the South Korean app store One Store has reached a record high of 18.4 percent in August 2020. So, while the Google Play Store remains the most popular and used Android Store in Korea, looking at other local Android app stores is worthwhile.

As for iOS, it still represents a quite significant portion of Korean users. Thus, if you are thinking about launching your app/game in Korea, it is preferable to make it available for both Android and iOS but to keep in mind that Android should be the priority.

Top Apps & Games

Local apps and games dominate the market in South Korea. In fact, when having a look at the top charts we see mostly local developers such as Netmarble, NEXON Company, KAKAO, NAVER Corp., 4399 KOREA, Highbrow and others.

Still, this domination by local developers does not mean that Western ones cannot succeed in South Korea. Plenty of foreign studios have had success from localizing their apps/games to the South Korea market including King, Playrix and Supercell with games such as Candy Crush Saga, Homescapes and Clash Royale.

In terms of app preferences, South Koreans lean more toward shopping, finance, productivity apps as well as dating apps (but this category is mostly dominated by local developers). There is also a growing interest for fitness apps and Language Learning apps, especially the ones for English.

As for games, they are tremendously popular in South Korea which is the #4 biggest game market worldwide with $5.6 Billion in game revenue. The most popular game genres for men are RPG more particularly MMORPG, Action and Sports games for which the interest continues to grow whereas women tend to have a preference for puzzle, board and casual games.

The South Korea market represents a great opportunity for mobile developers, especially game developers. But it is a very competitive market dominated by local developers and Korean users have high expectations so it is necessary to not only translate your app/game but to adapt it to the local content trends and cultural nuances in order to grow users’ interest in it. So to help you we have listed the different elements to keep in mind when localizing your app/game for Korea.

Language

Translating your app/game to Korean is vital for its success in the market because the majority of users want their apps/games to be in Korean due to their moderate proficiency in English. Also, with local developers dominating the market both in apps and games, Korean users are used to having localized apps and games and therefore tend to favor those. Thus, localizing your app allows you to better compete with local developers and gain very loyal users while for games, it makes users feel more engaged in the storyline of the game.

In South Korea, the Korean alphabet is called “Hangul” and like Latin languages it is written from left to right. One Hangul character generally uses the equivalent space of two English characters (but it counts as one character) so in cases where the translation doesn’t fit, adjusting the font size is not always the best thing to do because it can make the words difficult to read. For Hangul, the best fonts are then Dodum and Nanum because of their high readability but other fonts can be used too as long as it provides full support for Korean characters.

Finally, Hangul has a very unique grammatical structure, a lot of different tones and nuances which makes it challenging and more prone to poor quality or wrong translation. For example, the order of words is important - instead of saying “Select 4 out of 10 gadgets”, we would have to say “Out of 10 gadgets, select 4” because the larger number should always go first. Therefore, to select the best tone, order of words, font and more, it is recommended to work with a native speaker for the translation.

Metadata

Title and Subtitle/Short Description

It is advised to translate your title when you enter the Korea market. In fact, 75% of the top 25 apps/games in both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store in Korea have their name in Korean or in both Korean and English separated either by a dash, a space or with a language version in parentheses.

As opposed to the Chinese market, some popular international brands/games such as Instagram, Netflix, Youtube, Google, Minecraft, Pokemon Go and others have kept their original names in English. But while the name is kept in English, they have all localized their subtitles and short description to Korean. In fact, like mentioned earlier Koreans prefer apps and games in their own language so it is recommended to translate your subtitle/short description to Korean.

Keyword Field/Long Description

While Koreans prefer apps and games in their own language, some words are fine kept in English such as “ok” and “cool”. Also, because Koreans are moderately proficient in English, some English keywords are still worth adding to the keyword field for iOS because they still offer a considerable amount of traffic such as game(s), puzzle(s), “movie”, “shopping’, “watch”, “play” and more. So mixing Korean and English keywords in the keyword string for Apple can be worthwhile.

On the other hand, for Android even though the long description is not read by many users it is better to stick to Hangul as it is still by far koreans’ preferred language. But in this case, it is important to make sure to reach the right density for your app/game’s high volume most relevant keywords in order to rank well on them, as well as, be associated with other apps/games that use them.

Finally, for English keywords with very high volumes, it is recommended to still target them in the visible metadata including title and subtitle but only if your app/game can get a better conversion for these keywords in English than in Korean. One way to test this on iOS is to use Apple Search Ads before deciding which version of these keywords is better to use in the metadata.

Creatives

When it comes to creative assets including icons, screenshots, videos and feature graphics, Koreans have a preference for complex and anime creatives rather than the minimalist and realistic design found in the West.

Koreans are basically drawn to images that have a Korean “feel” to them. For apps, localizing UIs and having asian models on your creatives make them more appealing to Korean users. As for games, it means having a cute manga and/or anime style called “Aegyo” that is highly popular in Korea such as “Kawai” in Japan. “Aegyo” is basically the use of cute and babyish actions in one’s voice and facial expressions in order to obtain what one wants, which for games can be applied to the characters and storyline. So, having anime elements or Asian models on your creatives make them more appealing to Korean users.

Icon

When it comes to games, Koreans tend to like games that have deep character collection and leveling systems that you would find in an RPG. So very often the icon of the game reflects a game character. Even when looking at the top games in the Games-Sport category, we see that 8 out of the top 10 apps display a character in their icon.

Screenshots

It is important to keep in mind when designing your screenshots of apps for Korea the meaning of the color. Some colors have positive connotations such as white, green/blue and yellow whereas others have negative ones like Black and Red that is a lucky color in China. In fact, the colour white that is associated with purity, innocence and temperance is used by many apps (local) in Korea for the background of their screenshots.

Also, a critical element to make sure to localize in screenshots is the currency. Use the Korean won (₩ or 원) and not foreign currencies such as $ or € and preferably not the acronym KRW. The way the price is written is important as well: it should be uncluttered with no use of decimal points or digits. For example, it is recommended to use ₩ 2,200 or 2,200 원 rather than ₩ 2220.00.

Another important element to take into account when localizing your app screenshots to Korea is to use Korean/Asian models. It makes the app more appealing to users as it makes it feel like the app was made for Korea.

As for games in particular, the screenshots tend to include more intense design treatments of characters or action than in the West where factual content tends to work better. In fact, like mentioned earlier Korean gamers have a preference for games that have an important character collection and leveling systems like you can find in RPG games - most popular game genre - so they are drawn more by attention-grabbing images of the different in-game characters and levels.

Video

Like for screenshots, Koreans appreciate the high quality of in-game graphics and are drawn more by images displaying the large number of characters and levels the game has to offer so it is important to put emphasis on those two elements in the app preview video as well. For example, the content of Angry Bird 2 app preview in Korea is quite similar to the one in the United States except that characters along with overlaid texts were added in the foreground in the Korea video.

Therefore, to succeed in the Korean market, not only your in- app/game and metadata need to be translated but even the images/creatives have to have the Korean feel. For games in particular, localizing allows you to compete with local game developers whose games are in Korean from the start and makes the gamers feel more engaged in the storyline of your game.

Other Tips

Emojis/Stickers

Emojis and Stickers happen to be very effective in Korea like it is in Japan, mostly due to the long history of cuteness in these countries. In fact, Korea’s online culture has for a long time a strong emphasis on visuals and characterization so including special emojis to your UI campaigns or app page can have an impact on your conversion rates.

Social Media Login/ Messenger apps

Social Media Login/Messenger apps are a must for your game to succeed in Korea. In fact, the majority of top Korean apps/games in the app stores offer the possibility to sign into apps using popular local social networks therefore having a form of messaging apps embedded in them. Some great options for South Korea include Google, Naver, Kakao, and Facebook. This social component is very important because it allows apps and especially games to automatically reach a significant number of potential users/gamers.

LiveOps

LiveOps are referred to as frequent updates in games. Generally, these updates are biweekly, monthly, or quarterly and consist of running in-game events or adding content to the game such as a new character, equipment, level or episode. For your game to succeed in Korea, it is very important to keep it fresh and engaging by running LiveOps on a regular basis and promoting the LiveOps on social channels.

Various holidays are an excellent occasion to run new in-game events because people tend to spend more time than usual on their smartphones resulting in a significant increase in profits from in-game purchases. The most important Korean holidays are the Seollal (Lunar New Year, January 24-26) and Chuseok referred to as the Korean Thanksgiving Day (September 30-October 2). Also, some Western holidays are important in Korea including New Year and Christmas.

Sensitive Topics

Unlike China, South Korea is a pretty liberal country in terms of freedom of expression and speech. Still, some topics are negatively received in the Korean culture such as violence and cruelty. Also, politics/politically sensitive histories especially related to the Korean war and relationships with China and Japan are best to be avoided. For example, Age of Empires had to release an update only for Korean users and change the course of history in its game because the Ministry of Information in Korea claimed that at no point in history do the armed Japanese forces invade the Korean Peninsula and seize power - like it was displayed in the game - even though historical documents indicate otherwise.


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