Gargantuan Trios

I realise this kind of article probably has a pretty narrow audience, but on the plus side there probably aren’t too many like it on the interwebs.

Entertainment media is big business these days. Like, BIG business. Big business breeds big companies who survive because they happen to be the best at what they do. Each of these companies may emphasise its own supposed competitive advantages, but when push comes to shove the entertainment media juggernauts are still around because deep down they are really similar, whether they sell movies, TV shows, videogames or music. This hit home for me recently when I happened to notice that the apparently different worlds of console gaming and Korean pop music shared the phenomenon of a dominant “Big 3” who control market share. And public (read: internet) perception of these companies within their own contexts is kind of unnervingly similar.

So for the hell of it, I paired them up and tried to find as many similarities between the most obviously corresponding members of each trio as I could. Of course they tout many differences as well, but the amount of similarities I did end up finding is perhaps a little scary. For the sake of uniformity I’ve referred to videogame franchises and Korean idols/groups alike as “brands” here, cause that’s what they are, really.

And please forgive the terrible DIY image quality.

sm=nin
The first comparison is the easiest to make. Both SM Entertainment and Nintendo are the oldest and most experienced in their respective trios. They have also both tasted at least some degree of ongoing success, even dominance, for almost the entirety of their participation in their respective fields. Nintendo has enjoyed some pretty impressive runs in the home console space, most recently with the Wii, and has owned the dedicated portable gaming sector for the longest time, while SM has been number one in K-Pop pretty much since the genre came about. The reasons for their successes are varied, but can boil down to a very similar eye for quality, whatever “quality” may mean in each individual case here.

Both companies are very meticulously regulated and operated. Nintendo’s name literally means “Leave luck to heaven”, implying a strict attention to detail, while SM founder Lee Soo-Man is famous in the K-Pop world for inventing the “culture technology” approach – an alarmingly effective technique that boils the tastes of the K-Pop fan masses down to a set of nuanced bullet points that most every big SM release aims to check off. Both companies are also famously adept at keeping secrets until they decide they are are ready to be revealed – and very strict on those who break embargos and such. Their inner workings are shrouded in mystery and so any story that does come out is often exaggerated in an attempt to grasp at an understanding of them. Tales of Nintendo mastermind Shigeru Miyamoto flipping rooms full of desks when a big game isn’t coming along as planned, or of SM employees being viciously beaten to within an inch of their lives, need to be taken with a grain of salt but are unquestionably based on a Draconian reputation for strictness.

Then there are the brands the two companies are responsible for. Out of their respective trios, Nintendo and SM have the most franchises/active artists, each of which cover slightly different tastes but almost all of which qualify as being “family friendly”, at least relatively speaking. Though the size and philosophy of both companies makes the debut of new brands a rather rare sight, SM and Nintendo have the luxury of being able to constantly change things up and innovate within their established brands while holding firm to tradition and pleasing fans. See SNSD’s I Got a Boy, f(x)’s Rum Pum Pum Pum, Super Mario Galaxy, Kid Icarus Uprising, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and many others.

Then there’s also the fact that I’m kinda biased towards both of these companies.
yg=ms
Out of the three companies in their respective fields, YG and Microsoft are the most “Americanised”. YG Entertainment bases the structure of its music production around American standards more than any other label, giving (slightly) looser contracts, greater emphasis on cohesive albums and more creative freedom to its artists, and Microsoft, well, it actually is American. The consumer-friendly vibe Microsoft gave off during most of its Xbox 360 success matches up quite nicely with the laid-back air that YG likes to perpetuate. The downside to this is a reputation for occasionally confused and deceptive messaging. YG’s reputation for delaying product releases is worse than any other company I’ve ever had an interest in, and remember that E3 Xbox One announcement debacle?

But the comparisons don’t stop there. In recent times both companies have been known for relying on only a small number of exclusive (and very impressive) brands to achieve their considerable success. The Xbox 360 has made and continues to make exorbitant amounts of money out of merely the likes of Halo, Gears of War, and maybe Fable, while YG relies rather heavily on Big Bang, 2NE1 and PSY. The addition of the likes of Lee Hi, Epik High and some new and mysterious rookie talent to the latter’s stable and Titanfall, Sunset Overdrive and Quantum Break to that of the former is an attempt to give the company more successful avenues for income. Particularly in the case of Lee Hi and Titanfall, it seems to be working.

Certain personalities working behind the scenes at both companies have enjoyed a spotlight of their own that matches and in some case even eclipses some of the output of their respective employers. Microsoft uses Major Nelson as a voice directly to fans, while the likes of Gears of War’s Cliff Bleszinski and Fable’s Peter Molyneux were larger-than-life personalities who often had entertaining things to say to the public when they were working under Microsoft. Meanwhile YG’s Teddy, who writes a great deal of music for the company including most of 2NE1’s material, has more fans than some of its actual artists and Lydia Paek, also a YG songwriter, has a better singing voice than half the idols she writes for.

There’s little doubt that both companies ultimately share a great taste for quality and everything they release is accompanied by an incredible amount of polish. Fans wouldn’t have it any other way.

jyp=son
Finally, there’s these two. In terms of money making, at least in recent times, JYP and Sony each unfortunately lag behind their two closest rivals despite the generally high quality of their releases. The difference isn’t all that large in the grand scheme of things, though, and while there’s always plenty of doom and gloom hanging around them from “analysts” and regular Joes alike, these two juggernauts likely won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Both have been focusing on generating goodwill in their fan communities of late and that has had positive effects on their images. The buzz for the Playstation 4 is largely very positive based on a perceived focus on the desires of gamers first and foremost, while JYP management never misses an opportunity to show that their idols get along like one big family.

The heads and public faces of the Playstation brand and JYP Entertainment also share the quality of being actively involved in said communities. Playstation bigwig Shuhei Yoshida is well known for his regular and often amusing tweets about games and his fame skyrocketed during this year’s E3 when he released a super-short and super-cheeky video about used game sharing. Similarly, Jin Young Park (the head and namesake of JYP) gets amongst his employees not only by continuing to release material himself, but by making regular, often self-deprecating cameos in his artists’ videos. Whatever both men may actually be like in everyday situations, their public personas are immensely likeable.

Finally, there’s the two companies’ similar brand ownership strategies. Sony’s Playstation branch has a staggering number of individual studios under its wing, including the highly acclaimed Naughty Dog, makers of Jak & Daxter, the Uncharted series and The Last of Us. Many talented developers, such as Insomniac Games, got their big break working under Sony but then moved on to outside projects.  JYP, meanwhile, is unique among the K-Pop Big 3 in that it either owns, oversees or has spawned and set free a perhaps surprising number of other, smaller labels, at least one of which (namely CUBE Entertainment) has found enough success to create talk of challenging JYP’s own Big 3 status!

Oh, and there are of course the “ones that got away”, group members and characters who left JYP/Sony for various reasons only to find success elsewhere. Let’s just say equating Jay Park to Crash Bandicoot and Hyuna to Spyro may yield some surprising similarities.

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So there you go. And the number one parallel between the Big 3 of K-Pop and the Big 3 of console gaming? Fanboys and fangirls love to dish out inordinate amounts of love and hate on them! Yes, that’s the reality of internet-dominated pastimes, folks. This has been fun.

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