TV shows and movies that turn into cultural phenomena have become pretty commonplace these days with digital media so accessible to the general public. Last year it was Tiger King that gripped us, the year before it was The Witcher but this year the spoils unarguably go to Hwang Dong-hyuk’s nine-part show about a series of games where people stake their life for the chance to escape financial ruin, Squid Games.
The title of the show is so innocuous you’d be forgiven for thinking it were a David Attenborough-narrated nature program or a remake of the 1960’s cartoon, Squiddly Diddly. You’d likely be even more incredulous for learning of its worldwide success despite not being portrayed in a language spoken commonly around the world.
Despite all this, it seems like you can’t go anywhere these days without over hearing someone mentioning Squid Games. And it seems as though the stars have aligned with an idea so ingenious (and well executed) that it could be commercially, a franchise that enjoys much success over the coming decade. Today on Business Upturn, we analyse the secrets of its success.
Timing, it’s everything.
Any TV executive worth his salt knows that. And it runs much deeper than the logical assumption of ‘horror films make more money when released in October’. The show taps into many primal fears and concerns layered in our subconscious around money, mortality, and the political systems that perhaps weren’t as prevalent some years ago. It’s maybe cliché to say global tensions are at an all time high but there’s no escaping the fact that a show centred around the moral quandary of how far desperate people would be willing to go to attain financial freedom speaks to a lot of people around the world having fiscal difficulties of their own.
According to the Netflix YouTube channel, the script has been sitting in a drawer somewhere since late 2009 with the show’s creator taking almost a decade to convince networks to run with his idea. Given how the global landscape has changed, it’s perhaps fortuitous that Dong-hyuk was forced to wait until he was given his shot at making the Netflix series.
For many in the west South Korea is on the other side of the world both geographically and culturally but the show strikes a political chord felt globally with its ‘them and us’ feel.
Similar to screen compatriot the Oscar-winning Parasite it shows an upper class taking advantage of the desperate lower classes who in Squid Game lead Lee Jung-jae’s case the loss of a stable and fulfilling job in the car making industry.
Automation, globalisation and economic downturns might be mooted as the reasons for this new insecure and precarious workforce who aren’t always able to take care of their families but there’s a seemingly super-rich who don’t seem to be affected and that divide can be seen in a tribal battle of ideologies in countries all over the world.
And yet whilst Samsung, LG and Hyundai go from strength to strength the workers both in Korea and across the planet don’t feel like they’re benefiting.
When a show hits that feeling it’s destined for success and ironically will grow into a money making behemoth.
For a franchise to have long term success it needs viability outside the four walls of its TV studios. Another show that taps into a ‘primal fear’ (albeit a more fantasy-based one), Jurassic Park had a premise that could easily be accessible across many kinds of media and leisure activities. Following the franchise’s maiden release in 1993, a water-based theme park ride was built in Universal Studios just three years later that was so successful it remained a flagship attraction in the park until late 2018 where it was closed and rebranded as Jurassic World: The Ride.
Around the time of Jurassic Park’s release, many other emerging markets came to the fore and grew exponentially such as Video Games. The franchise seized on this and along with the original movie, which raked over $1billion at the box office, released its self-titled video game on several platforms and has released over 15 titles with the latest Jurassic World Evolution 2 due out this year.
As recently as 2020 downloadable Jurassic Park content was added to Minecraft and a collaboration with Igaming software provider Microgaming took place to create a Jurassic Park related slot game, hosted by the likes of Betway.
Back in 1993 Jurassic Park was visually stunning just as Squid Games is today and this combination of hitting the pulse of a global audience and unique branding gives the Korean series the opportunity to diversify into countless niches for years to come.
10 years from now…
So will we see a theme park with ‘red light, green light’ being played? You’d really hope not!
But perhaps without the jeopardy of actual death the possibilities could be endless for Squid Games.
Video games are a certainty and who knows with Mark Zuckerburg’s new metaverse could you imagine hundreds of people paying thousands to play a virtual version of Squid Games? No doubt someone in Silicon Valley is already coding it up.
And that just might be scarier than watching Netflix.