BTS fans get chance to manage their idols in new game

Seoul (AFP) –


A million fans of K-pop boy band BTS have signed up to have the singers at their fingertips when a mobile game about them is released this week, according to reports.

"BTS World" -- set to be released in 176 countries in 14 languages on Wednesday -- is a role-playing game where the user is the band manager, recruiting and training the musicians and guiding the group in their quest for stardom.

Managers and agents are the driving force behind the K-pop industry, exerting extensive control over their stables of stars, rather than musicians forming bands themselves and working to get spotted.

BTS have developed a global following in recent years, becoming the first K-pop group to top charts in the US and Britain with a string of sold-out shows in Los Angeles, Chicago and London's Wembley Stadium.

The floppy-haired musicians, whose ages range from 21 to 26 and who often sport earrings and lipstick, appeal to a generation that feels comfortable with the idea of fluid gender identity.

Their hit single "Boy With Luv" broke the YouTube record for the most views in 24 hours, with 74.6 million hits when it was released in April.

"BTS World" includes exclusive photos and videos of BTS and video calls with the band members.

Using another mode within the game, a player can select a BTS member to go back to his childhood and a life away from the stage - perhaps even as a strawberry farmer.

The demand for the app has prompted its publisher Netmarble -- South Korea's biggest mobile-app creator -- to plan a new game featuring the septet which is in its "early stages", a company executive told AFP.

Netmarble could not disclose the number of users who have pre-registered for the game, the official said, but South Korean reports estimated the figure to be around one million.

The verified Twitter account of "BTS World" has 1.3 million followers, with each of its 90 posts retweeted hundreds of thousands of times.

"I don't play mobile games but I can't wait for BTS World," said Jessica Kim, a 33-year-old fan in Vancouver who travelled twice to Los Angeles to attend BTS concerts.

The game is free to download, but users can pay to speed up the process -- each time a mission is cleared, a new BTS video or photo is unlocked.

BTS -- or Bangtan Sonyeondan, which translates as Bulletproof Boy Scouts -- maintain close relationships with their fans, flooding social media with selfies, videos and tweets in Korean and English.

Their popularity has translated into billions of dollars in profits for their company, Big Hit, which is even collaborating with Barbie maker Mattel for BTS dolls.

South Korean performers such as Psy -- whose 2012 hit "Gangnam Style" became the first video to top a billion views on YouTube -- have previously broken into Western markets, but none have achieved BTS' sustained success.