South Korean gaming giant Netmarble has endured a turbulent period recently, with its core interactive entertainment franchises failing to capture player imagination and generate sufficient revenues to avoid eight straight quarters of losses. Despite bold visions around trailblazing blockchain ecosystems and emergent metaverse worlds, the company finds itself at a crossroads – needing major new hits to reinvigorate stagnating in-game spending while rationalizing expenses across burgeoning side projects.
It is here that the experimentation around virtual humans and digital talents promises a bright spot, even if commercial prospects remain uncertain currently. Through subsidiary Metaverse Entertainment, Netmarble has introduced personas like Lina, Jenna and Siwoo – predominantly visible on social platforms where they attract modest followers. Ambitions are clearly more audacious, with Lina already attached to a marquee Korean talent agency to expand her showbiz profile. There are also allusions of ultimately embedding such virtual creations inside gaming titles and online spaces operated by Netmarble and partners.
Interviews with executives relay eagerness to nurture digital talents exhibiting unique personalities and backstories that resonate emotionally with the public. The vision seems capturing wider entertainment terrain beyond gaming, learning from runaway success of virtual YouTubers in Asia as well as Netmarble’s own pedigree around animation and fictional universes. Yet timelines for integration with core gaming exports seem unclear currently, as teams grapple with supra-competitive blocks like Marvel Future Revolution and Ni no Kuni: Cross Worlds.
Indeed the languishing financial metrics suggest Metaverse Entertainment and other Web 3.0 plays remain peripheral to the fundamental challenge of reviving legacy titles such as Seven Knights and The King of Fighters Allstar – while incubating new hits to address player flight to ascendant rivals like Krafton and Pearl Abyss. Still the calculated investments into digital avatar research, leveraging growing public appetite, offers a credible lane for Netmarble to regain industry authority through bite-sized entertainment formats that require less resources than big-budget gaming blockbusters.
If the company can astutely blend virtual talent shows and cultivate celebrity personas that truly capture audience imagination over sustained periods, it may yet solve the revenue puzzle that has proved so elusive over two painful years featuring excess spending and strategic miscalculations. Though near-term focus necessarily stays on rationalizing unprofitable units and staging gaming comebacks, the vision around virtual humans points to Netmarble’s traction within crucibles of digital culture where South Korea frequently pioneers consumer tech revolutions. The seeds for future success may thus already be planted, contingent on patient execution.