Sangpil Moon, from Cogoo: “Game developers need to find a way to compete against YouTube”

September 5, 2018

At a time when other graduates were fighting to get into Samsung or LG, Sangpil Moon decided to work for Nexon and form part of projects like MapleStory and Audition. At that time it was just a small company, but nowadays it’s one of the biggest studios and publishers in the industry. Since then, Moon has carried on creating successful games like OvenBreak and Runaway, a long road which has led him to found Cogoo, a studio focused on free-to-play games for mobiles. 

And all thanks to a South Korean law which allowed a small number of graduates to fulfil their military service by working for a small company. “But my co-founder and I were really fortunate, and served the army working for companies that were really small but that were growing really, really fast”, says Moon. 

At the F2P Campus in Vitoria-Gasteiz we also feel very lucky to have an expert like Moon as a mentor, and we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to talk to him about the present and future of the industry. 

F2P Campus (F): What are the projects that you’re most proud of?

Sangpil Moon (SM): I think I’m proud of all the projects I’ve been involved with. But out of them all, I feel very fortunate and thankful for being part of the newest game that we’re making right now. I’ve been making match-three games since we started Coogoo, and ever since we’ve been trying to learn what it is that all these match-three players would want to play…trying to figure out what would be the next Candy Crush or Homescapes, and I think we finally have something that players would want to play and they would know where to go after Candy Crush.

It’s an ongoing project, and I applaud my team for coming [from South Korea] to Vitoria-Gasteiz to finish it.

F: Why choose Free-to-Play as a business model?

SM: This is what we know how to do. And I think that making a game as a paid-upfront model is way more difficult because you would have to be able to persuade players to buy and pay before they played the game. 

So I think it’s way easier to tell people, ‘Hey try the game, you don’t have to pay. Perhaps you’ll wanna pay if you get really involved in the game’. So I think that free-to-play is a model that makes sense to me. And if it makes sense, it’s way easier for us to create those games.

Free-to-play needs a lot more effort to prepare the game for a very long run. So a paid game, perhaps people replay it, but you will only play for about a month. And the free-to-play model expects you to play the game more than a month. Technically it’s a little more difficult to expand that life cycle from one month to two, three, up to a year…

Sangpil Moon Interview CogooF: In your conference you talked about Facebook gaming, and how big it is that you don’t need to download anything to play. You also mentioned that YouTube is so successful because you can start a video and change it quickly, and also that a big shift is coming. This makes me wonder if the future of the industry is in a Netflix for videogames. Given that Google and Microsoft are rumored to be working on something like this, do you think that this could be the way in the future?

SM: No-one can predict the future, but I know that YouTube is the biggest competitor of gaming now, in mobile space. So I think that game developers will have to find a way to compete against YouTube and create something even better.

To find a space between players who would play games instead of YouTube, it’s a tricky thing. But in terms of where the market is going, I think that we’re expanding to VR, getting new technologies like Artificial Intelligence, and I think that this free-to-play model is going to expand into the new markets. 

Eventually I think that Netflix and game companies are all heading towards the same thing. 

F: These days it seems that data is the answer to everything. But don’t you think that in some cases developers tend to see what they want in the data and ignore what they don’t?

SM: I don’t think that data and metrics give you all the answers. You have to come up with the right hypothesis first and then use data to see if you’re right or not. 

So if someone comes to me and says, ‘Let’s use data’, I tell them, ‘Stop using data’. First let’s come up with what’s the right question, what are we more curious about, what are we prioritizing and asking and answering first. To consider and prove ourselves right or wrong through the tools that we have here with analytics. 

I think that data is just a good way of communication. Proving to a designer, ‘the color blue is more popular among our audience’. But the color blue is not popular among everyone. You just have to see what’s right for your audience. There is no right answer.

F: After listening to your stories about the 3pm spike and the chargebacks, I want to ask you: Is there any trick to realizing what data means? Because I would never have discovered why these things were happening. 

SM: Basically, it’s not only that data that we utilized to know what was happening. We were listening to a lot of users’ feedback, we were active online… For example, for the 3pm peak, as soon as you go online as a GM and see what the users are talking about you’ll instantly be able to tell that these kids are off school, because they’re talking about [it].

It’s that conversation and feedback that we got, that we were matching with the backend data and thinking, ‘Oh, we must be right’.

Sangpil Moon Interview CogooF: How different is the market in South Korea from Europe?

SM: I’d have to learn more about Europe to tell you the answer to that, but I think that in Europe there is so much more to do than play games. You can actually get involved in an outside activity, but in South Korea it’s hard to find an outside activity after school. It’s cheaper for people to hang out online than play football or go swimming.

For Europe I think that there are way less game players compared to the population, while in South Korea, everyone is playing games…South Korea is a peninsula that’s very secluded: you can only enter by air, or sea, but not by land. So culturally we’re very united.

So in South Korea, if you’re playing games and you’re my friend it would be very natural for me to play with you. But in Europe I think that you’re more connected with other countries and you’re not secluded, so you’re culturally more diverse. There are many things to do and talk about besides games. That’s a really big difference in how you approach games.

F: What advice would you give to someone who is taking their first steps in the industry?

SM: I would advise that they don’t think about what they’re doing first, because they have no idea what they’re doing; just choose to work with the right team. Try as hard as possible to work with the right people.

Finally, I would suggest that they not try to be too creative; try to copy someone, because that’s the quickest way to learn: from other people’s mistakes.

Many thanks to Sangpil Moon for coming to Vitoria-Gasteiz to answer our questions and advise the F2P Campus teams.

Until next time!