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Mobile Master

Bang Jun-Hyuk is South Korea’s newest billionaire, thanks to his online-gaming company, Netmarble. A high school dropout, he’s a rare breed among the country’s richest technology entrepreneurs.

Grace Chung

South Korea’s largest mobile-gaming company, Netmarble, likes to compare its founder, Bang Jun-Hyuk, with Steve Jobs. It’s a tale the Korean press also likes. Both men left tech companies they started (for health reasons in Bang’s case), and then those companies nearly tanked. Each was brought back into the fold and engineered a striking revival.

The comparison is debatable, but Netmarble’s success is unambiguous. Today Bang sits atop a gaming juggernaut. His company’s Marvel Future Fight, an action-packed role-playing game with superheroes such as Iron Man and Captain America, has been downloaded more than 50 million times since its April 2015 debut and has cracked the top ten in app charts in 118 countries, including the U.S. Last year Netmarble ranked No. 8 in app sales worldwide, according to App Annie, a firm that tracks the iOS and Google Play markets.

This has the Seoul outfit enjoying a 39% surge in revenue for the first nine months of the year, to $896 million, and a 10% leap in operating profits, to $152 million. For 2015, revenue totaled $949 million and net income soared to $149 million, up 300% from 2014. In South Korea’s overall onlinegaming market, Netmarble is now the second-biggest player, passing NCSoft and behind only longtime incumbent Nexon. With his 32% stake in the company, Bang, 47, breaks into the billionaire ranks for the first time, with a current net worth that FORBES ASIA estimates at $1 billion.

All this appears to be giving Bang, a high school dropout not fluent in English, the confidence to tread into unfamiliar territory. In June he flew to Los Angeles for the annual E3 Gaming Expo, where he explored the latest gaming trends to prep for expanding to the West. He had dinner with Chris DeWolfe, cofounder of MySpace and chief executive of Los Angeles-based mobile-gaming outfit Jam City (formerly SGN Games), which is now majority-owned by Netmarble after a $130 million investment last year.

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December 2016