CEO of video game maker Nexon flags the 'single most important idea' in his industry

  • Longevity of players is probably the single most important idea in video games, according to the chief executive of Nexon.
  • Online game communities should resemble a software-as-a-service business, where people pay to continue playing those video games over time, Owen Mahoney told CNBC.
  • Some of Nexon's well-known titles include MapleStory and Dungeon&Fighter, which is very popular in China, according to Mahoney.

Online game communities — the winning ones — keep users coming back for more.

Having movie-like graphics and big story lines matter a lot, but making games that keep players engaged for years is even more important, according to the chief executive of a Japan-based company that makes online and mobile games.

Online game communities resemble a software-as-a-service businesses, where people pay to continue playing video games over time, Owen Mahoney, CEO of Nexon, told CNBC at the Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference in Hong Kong.

Attendees play the 'LawBreakers' video game by Nexon Co. during the E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, June 13, 2017.
Troy Harvey | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Attendees play the 'LawBreakers' video game by Nexon Co. during the E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, June 13, 2017.

"It's an annuity type business, where people just keep coming back because they want to participate in their video game world for a very long time, and that is a very disruptive theme in the video games industry," he said. "We think longevity is probably the single most important idea in video games."

Nexon built its business on that concept, and Nexon pointed out that other companies like Tencent, Blizzard and Valve also adopted the approach early on.

MapleStory and Dungeon&Fighter

Some of Nexon's well-known titles include MapleStory and Dungeon&Fighter — the latter of which is very popular in China, according to Mahoney.

He said that advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning can help the gaming industry keep players returning.

"The topic of balance between different players is very important," he said. "If we're in the same game world and we make your character a lot more powerful because we want to keep you coming back, it could hurt that balance for the rest of us who are playing. It can make us relatively less strong."

Often, a game world can have millions of people playing at the same time. Game companies can find it hard to maintain the balance between players — but that's something a machine can do a lot better, Mahoney said.

He said that blockchain technology can help maintain in-game reputation and trust between players who are essentially anonymous in the game world.

"Anonymized reputation is very important, and you build up that reputation by your activities in certain games," Mahoney said, adding that "people want to trust other people within new games, and blockchain technology can help bring that reputation across different sort of games."

Clarification: This article has been updated to reflect that Nexon is a Japan-based company.