Nexon founder Kim Jung-ju.
Kim Jung-ju, founder of online gaming giant Nexon, died in February, the company said in a statement on Tuesday. He was 54 years old.
“Please excuse us that we cannot explain in detail as all of his family members are devastated,” Kim’s personal holding company, NXC, told South Korean news agency Yonhap. “The deceased had been receiving treatment for depression, and we are sad that it seemed to have worsened recently.”
Kim, who also went by the name Jay, is survived by his wife, Yoo Jung-hyun, and their two teenage daughters, Kim Jung-min and Kim Jung-youn. He debuted on the Korea Rich List in 2007 at No. 28 with a net worth of $590 million and joined the billionaire ranks in 2011. In the country’s latest ranking, published in June last year, Kim was No. 3 on the list, right after pharmaceutical tycoon Seo Jung-jin and Samsung’s Jay Y. Lee, with a net worth of $10.9 billion.
“It is difficult to express the tragedy of losing our friend and mentor Jay Kim, a man who had an immeasurably positive impact on the world,” Nexon CEO Owen Mahoney said in the statement. “As a founder and visionary leader, Jay encouraged those around him to ignore the skeptics and trust their creative instincts. He will be deeply missed by his Nexon family and many friends.”
Kim founded Nexon in 1994 and transformed it into one of Asia’s top videogame companies. Nexon developed the first MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game), The Kingdom of the Winds, in 1996. One of its most famous games is MapleStory, launched in 2003, which has more than 180 million registered users worldwide. MapleStory pioneered the free-to-play model where users play games for free but pay for virtual items and accessories.
Nexon moved its headquarters from South Korea to Japan in 2005. It listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2011 in a $1.2 billion initial public offering that was Japan’s largest of the year. Nexon said it listed in Tokyo rather than Seoul because it’s a bigger, more sophisticated market with greater access to international investors. The listing more than doubled Kim’s wealth in a year, from $2.06 billion to $4.3 billion, catapulting him to the No. 3 spot on the Korea Rich List in 2012, up from No. 9 the previous year. Nexon has a market capitalization of $20 billion as of Tuesday’s market close.
While Nexon is headquartered in Tokyo, NXC, Kim’s personal holding company, is based in Jeju, a resort island off the southern coast of the Korean peninsula. Famously media-shy, Kim retired from day-to-day management in 2006.
In 2016, Kim was found not guilty of bribery charges after being indicted for giving money to a prosecutor, Jin Kyung-joon, who was a close friend he had met at Seoul National University, in return for favors. While Kim did admit to giving money to Jin, he was acquitted on the lack of evidence that any favors were granted. Kim issued a public apology after the indictment and resigned from Nexon’s board, though he remained chairman of NXC.
Since then, Kim has focused on philanthropy. He founded C Program, a venture philanthropy fund, in 2017 along with fellow Korean internet entrepreneurs Kim Beom-su (Kakao), Kim Taek-jin (NCSoft), Lee Hae-jin (Naver) and Lee Jae-woong (Daum, which merged into Kakao in 2014). Kim was good friends with Lee Hae-jin; both went to Seoul National University and Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.
Then in 2018, Kim pledged to donate $93 million of his wealth to fund startups and children’s hospitals. He also vowed that his children will not inherit his stake in the company. Kim’s personal donations to the children’s hospitals were on top of Nexon’s donations. From 2013 to 2015, the company donated 20 billion won (about $16.6 million) to build the Purme Foundation Nexon Children’s Rehabilitation Hospital in Seoul, which Nexon says is the first rehabilitation hospital for children in Korea. The 10-story, 18,580-square-meter hospital opened in 2016.
In January 2019, Kim sought the sale of all his shares in NXC, the largest shareholder in Nexon, with a nearly 50% stake. NXC also holds stakes in cryptocurrency companies, including Korbit, South Korea’s first cryptocurrency exchange. Kim abandoned plans to sell his shares in July that year due to disagreements over the price.
In recent years, Kim has continued to support children’s hospitals. He has given 3.8 billion won to Daejeon Chung-nam Public Children’s Rehabilitation Hospital since 2019 and 2.5 billion won last year to establish the Nexon Children’s Palliative Care Center at Seoul National University Hospital, set to open this year.
“Since its foundation, Nexon has been able to grow thanks to the great love and interest it has received from children and teenagers,” Kim told Forbes Asia by email in November. “For the past 10 years, I have been looking for ways to help the rehabilitation and treatment of children with disabilities in Korea, while constantly thinking about how to repay them.”
For his efforts, Kim was named as one of Forbes Asia’s 15 Heroes of Philanthropy last year.
Nexon founder Kim Jung-ju.