Since the global release of a blockchain-based game in late August, shares of Korea-listed game developer WeMade have nearly quadrupled, making its founder, Park Kwan-ho, a billionaire.
The game, called Mir 4, was released domestically in November last year and made available globally—across 170 countries in 12 languages—on August 26. Since then, it has been downloaded more than 1 million times on Google’s Play Store and shares of WeMade soared about 290%. Park, who turns 49 next month, is the chairman of WeMade and its largest shareholder, with a nearly 45% stake in his own name. Forbes estimates his net worth at $1.2 billion.
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Mir 4 is a blockchain-based game that allows players to earn cryptocurrency and trade non-fungible tokens. Such games have been growing increasingly popular as cryptocurrencies gain mainstream acceptance and the value of digital assets continue to rise (bitcoin’s price reached an all-time high on Wednesday). For example, Axie Infinity, developed by Vietnamese startup Sky Mavis, boasts more than 2 million daily active players. Sky Mavis raised $152 million in a funding round earlier this month led by Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.
“Our games are evolving into metaverses and the value of the virtual assets are being recognized,” WeMade CEO Henry Chang said on an analyst call in August. “WeMade has since then continued to focus on capturing the opportunities that are created in the course of this transition.”
Based in Seongnam, south of Seoul, WeMade was doing well even before Mir 4‘s global release. It reported that revenue rose 175% year-over-year in the second quarter to 69 billion won ($60 million), while net profit was 19 billion won ($16 million), up from a loss of 5 billion won ($4 million) in the same period last year. “We expect earnings to continue on an uptrend, driven by the global release of Mir 4 in August and the launch of Mir M (a mobile version of the game) in the fourth quarter this year,” Shinhan Investment analyst Lee Moon-jong said in a report in mid-August.
The company makes most of its money—about 95%—from games, including mobile, personal computers and licensing fees. Besides the Mir franchise, WeMade’s other major game is Icarus; a mobile version of the game has been downloaded over 500,000 times on Google’s Play Store.
WeMade’s other revenue streams include its blockchain business, which it launched in 2018. So far, the game developer has its own cryptocurrency called Wemix and an NFT auction platform. In July, WeMade invested 80 billion won (about $70 million) in Vidente, the single largest shareholder of Seoul-based bitcoin exchange Bithumb, according to its earnings report.
Other Korean game makers such as Nexon, Netmarble, NHN Entertainment and Smilegate have also delved into cryptocurrency. The digital currencies have long drawn interest as a replacement for in-game currencies that would help users easily purchase game items, as well as stamp out speculation on items and the distribution of unauthorized items. Nexon’s holding company, NXC, holds a 65% stake in Seoul-based Korbit, Korea’s first cryptocurrency exchange. “The connection between games and cryptocurrency is huge,” Netmarble Chairman Bang Jun-hyuk said in 2018.
WeMade’s Park, who holds a bachelor’s degree in business from Kookmin University in Seoul, founded WeMade in 2000 and listed on Korea’s technology-rich Kosdaq stock exchange in 2009. Previously, he worked for four years at Korean game developer ActozSoft, where he was an auditor and led the development team.
Besides Park, there are seven other Korean gaming billionaires: Krafton’s Chang Byung-gyu, NCSoft’s Kim Taek-jin, Netmarble’s Bang, Nexon’s Kim Jung-ju, NHN Entertainment’s Lee Joon-ho, Pearl Abyss’ Kim Dae-il and Smilegate’s Kwon Hyuk-bin.
In August, Krafton’s Chang saw his net worth more than triple to $2.9 billion as his company raised $3.8 billion in an initial public offering—the second-largest IPO ever in Korea after Samsung Life Insurance’s $4.4 billion listing in 2010.