Thursday, December 20, 2012

The tech and entertainment outsourcing paradise - Pyongyang?

On Google+, Steve Juranich recently shared a post from The Verge about a new game, Pyongyang Racer.

Yes, Pyongyang Racer. As in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Who would create an online game about notoriously tech-backward North Korea?

The North Koreans, of course. From The Verge:

The "goal" of Pyongyang Racer is to explore the country's capital city while collecting fuel barrels to keep your car moving. Other than popular destinations in the city — which are surprisingly well-modeled compared to the rest of the game — there's not a whole lot to see.

The Verge notes that the game was developed for Koryo, a travel company offering trips to you-know-where. The game is apparently available at, although with all of the current attention on the game I wasn't able to get it to load.

The actual development was performed by another company, Nosotek. I had never heard of this firm, so I read about it.

Nosotek is the first western IT venture in DPRK (North Korea).

Nosotek employs over 50 programmers, drawn "from the mathematics elite." Significantly, the programmers enjoy Internet access - a rarity in North Korea.

This particular statement, however, definitely caught my attention:

Nosotek was set-up in DPRK because IP secrecy and minimum employee churn rate are structurally guaranteed.

Compare this to other outsourcing destinations, such as India or the Philippines, where you can easily quit working for one company and start working for another company. In North Korea, they have ways of making you work. If you don't believe me, consider this Dave Gunderson Google+ share of the story of Kim Jong-Il's movie producing career. Despite having unlimited power in North Korea, producer Kim was unable to locate sufficient movie-making talent. He then devised a solution.

South Korean director Shin Sang-ok, widely regarded as the Orson Welles of the peninsula, had modernised movies when people needed them most. In the wake of the Korean war he make at least 60 movies in 20 years. He and his wife, the well-known actress Choi Eun-hee, were well placed amongst Seoul’s celebrity set.

But in 1978 Shin clashed with the repressive government of General Park Chung Hee. His studio was closed. Kim grabbed the opportunity and lured the two to Repulse Bay in Hong Kong on a bogus business trip. Choi was the first to disappear after heading over to discuss an acting job. Concerned, Shin followed her trail – only to be wrapped in plastic, with a chloroform-soaked sack over the head on his way home from dinner.

After ending up in North Korea, the pair received job offers that they couldn't refuse. Literally.

Shin says that shortly after arriving in Pyongyang he made several attempts to escape, only to end up with four years at Prison No 6....Shin endured four years in the all-male prison – wondering whether his ex-wife was dead – while being fed a diet of grass, salt, rice and Party dogma.

Eventually Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee accepted Kim Jong-Il's job offer and made several movies in North Korea. All seemed well, and there was "minimum employee churn" - until 1986.

Plans were made for a joint venture with a company in Austria to distribute [Pulgasari, a North Korean Godzilla-like film]. Soon, Kim trusted the director to travel to western Europe for a business meeting. As a trip to Vienna approached, Shin writes, a plan began to form. They had no doubts about wanting to leave their comfortable lifestyle....

During the trip, Shin and Choi were able to escape with the help of a Japanese movie critic friend. Meeting him for lunch, they fled by taxi to the American embassy, shaking off one of Kim's agents in another taxi.

After the embarrassing escape of his star propagandists, Kim Jong-il shelved Pulgasari and every other Shin film.

So if you're looking to outsource your development, and you want to invite Nosotek employees to a meeting in Silicon Valley - don't count on it.

P.S. Shin and Choi's departure did not shut down North Korea's film industry. Far from it. I blogged about other Kim Jong-Il era North Korean films back in 2006, including such titles as "The Leader Is the Great Father of Our People," "The Fatherly Leader with the Working Class," "Having the Great Brilliant Commander," "Care Shown to Make Their Lives Shine," and "Legend of Love Created on the Road of On-site Guidance." No mention of "Pulgasari" in this particular film festival, although North Korea did permit the film to be shown outside the country in 1998.
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