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Squid Game: The Journey from $20 Million to $900 Million in 30 Days

Netflix show
Published on Oct 30, 2021

2019 was the year when Korean cinema entered popular culture across the world. When Parasite, the South Korean film managed to become the first-ever foreign film to bag the Best Picture Award at the Oscars, people realised that non-English films and series actually held cinematic value. It created a keen interest in Korean drama, and the recently released series, Squid Game attests to this statement. 

Squid Game was released on Netflix on September 17, 2021, and since then it has managed to stir up quite the storm in the online streaming world. The show revolves around a group of people who have been incentivised to play a series of children’s games but with a deadly outcome. The thriller TV series has managed to reach millions of dollars in revenue generation in no more than a month. Barely two weeks after the show was released into the Netflix universe, the show managed to raise the bar in terms of its demand. If you compare it to an average show, Squid Game was 102 times (Axios) more in demand by October 2, 2021. 

The current projections showcase that the Squid Game TV series is about to reach $900 million in terms of revenue generation, making it the most successful TV show online. There has to be a reason behind why Squid Game has amassed such popularity in such a short period of time. What is it about the TV series that struck a chord with people on such a fundamental level that it managed to become the highest-grossing show in practically no time? 

squid game projection


What is so special about Squid Game? What makes it so unique and irresistible to watch? 

Let’s find out. 

Why Do Fans Adore Squid Game So Much? 

Squid Game reached unprecedented popularity in little to no time. There are many horror TV shows, drama shows, Korean shows, but what is it that’s so special about Squid Game that it clocked a whopping 132 million views (Bloomberg) within the first month itself?  

If people haven’t seen it, it is definitely on their to-watch list because the general population can’t stop itself from talking about the show. This mind-boggling, jaw-dropping show has something to offer that no other TV series has managed to do, which is what has made it reach these levels of success and fame.  

squid games


Jumping the Korean Bandwagon 

Like we mentioned before, Parasite paved the way for TV shows like Squid Game to prosper. The movie spoke of the harsh truths of reality. It showed the helplessness that drove people to insanity, the stark polarizing differences between the rich and the poor, and showed the extremities of what people were capable of doing in order to feel safe and successful.  

Needless to say, it shook people’s minds. It hurled Korean cinema into mainstream culture and popularity, and Squid Game rose to and met people’s expectations of what the Korean movie and TV culture could offer. Even though Parasite might have had an indirect impact on how well Squid Game performed, the TV series managed to hold its own ground quite well without the added support.  

The Storyline of Squid Game and its Insight on Human Nature 

The storyline of Squid Game, once again, put great emphasis on how desperate men can reach extremes and participate in something that they never thought they would do. It is both bizarre and shocking. It shows some real insight on how messed up the people in our generation can be, driven by helplessness and poor circumstances. It is a horror show, but it is a horror show you can’t get your eyes away from. 

The storyline shows people in abject despair. They are completely burnt out. They have no other choice but to do what they do, which is participating in the Squid Game. No matter how horrific the turn of events got, the participants who made it did not quit. It may seem greedy to most but they were motivated by more than just the money. It was their miserable life they wanted to leave behind and escape, and they would do anything in their power to get to it. It showed the worst of humanity, of classism and the lowest levels that people would stoop down to get away from their ongoing crises.  

All the participants were in grave debt. Their reasons might have differed but it had one common factor. They were the unfortunate victims of poverty and got caught in its vicious cycle. The storyline of the TV show depicted the true, gory essence of human nature and how vile it can get – from the privileged perspective and from those of the participants. 

It also showed that people tend to stick together in times of crisis. Despite knowing that there was imminent death for all the participants but one, people still formed teams, worked together in groups, and hoped for a better outcome than what was expected. Against all odds, people still had hope, and this hope was what drove them to fight during each game. 

Squid Games show shooting


The Relevance of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Popularity of Squid Game 

Within the first few months of the pandemic being declared as a global emergency, causing countries to halt all operations, work, and functioning around the world, the impact on the economy was witnessed. Millions of people were out of work and hundreds of millions of others had their jobs impacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

By April 2020 itself, 81% of the global workforce was said to have been impacted by the pandemic. This meant that 4 out of 5 people who were a part of the active workforce in the world faced financial losses due to the pandemic. Some people lost their jobs, some were asked to cut down on their working hours, and most faced a pay cut in order to keep their organization floating and functional for a longer time. 

These circumstances drove people to feel helpless and insecure about their financial safety. Along with the confusing yet scary challenges that came with handling the safety precautions for the COVID-19 pandemic itself, people also had to deal with the economic fallout of the pandemic. The sense of disarray, lack of control over their environments, feeling trapped in their current lives with no freedom is something that is portrayed extremely well in Squid Game. 

The helpless nature of the indebted folk in the game? People related wholly to that. Even if they didn’t consciously understand what it was that drew them to people’s misery on the TV show, on a subconscious level they all knew. They could understand the characters’ pain on a deeper, more personal level. Most people in the world felt like their lives were hell in 2020, no matter how good they had it before, and this feeling resonated very well in the characters and the plot throughout the show. 

If the pandemic did not seem like it had a direct impact on the success of Squid Game, you were not looking hard enough. People think that they do not like to attach a deeper meaning to the content they consume, but that is not true. Relatable content has historically had a way higher reach to the audience than non-relatable content, and this was true even before social media statistics & insights, and market research services confirmed otherwise. 

squid game watch time

Overall, in the first four weeks, since the show was released, Netflix claimed that the total duration of the views that individuals had watched had crossed over 1.91 billion minutes (Screenrant) of viewing time. Squid Game struck a chord in the hearts of the general public, and it felt like people could not get enough. 

The High Quality of Production Value 

The total cost it took for Squid Game to get made was a little more than $21 million (Business Insider). That means each episode did not cost more than $2 million to make. Epic TV shows such as Game of Thrones that required a lot of production value, stage design, CGI and more, cost around $15 million (Variety) to make per episode towards the end. That’s nearly the total budget of Squid Game.  

The production value of the TV show was a lot higher than the actual cost. It looked like a lot more effort, funds, and equipment went into creating Squid Game than it did. Another point to note is that typical US-based and UK-based shows are produced with budgets according to their national currency. The Korean currency, which is the South Korean won, is extremely weak in comparison. 1 USD equals 1,170.60 South Korean won, and 1 GBP equals 1,610.39 South Korean won. So the cost it would take to make the TV show would appear to be quite less, but in fact, in South Korea, it was one of the most expensive TV shows to have been made so far.  

So in terms of budgeting, Squid Game had quite the budget in South Korea, but when Netflix picked it up, it didn’t cost them much due to the currency exchange rate. The seemingly low cost of production and the high-quality acting, effects, direction and production showed that people didn’t need a lot of money to make something great if they had the right talent.  

The show wasn’t a typical Korean TV series. It was catered to a more international market, which is another reason why it rose to popularity so quickly. Normally, when a new foreign language TV show, anime, or movie comes out, the subtitles aren’t immediately available for it. It limits global viewership and the audience it can reach out to. The Squid Game subtitles came out right away, alongside the show, which made it a lot more accessible than its competitors.  

The Visual Appeal of Squid Game 

There are two aspects of the visual appeal to it. The structure of the game was designed in a way that it would appeal to people of all ages around the world. Even though some of the games were traditionally Korean childhood games, they were fairly easy to understand. They also had generic universal games in the show like Tug of War.  

These games helped create nostalgia for a simpler time which was enjoyed by many of the viewers who did not grow up with video games, iPads, and technological advancements. All they had was each other and their imaginations to play with every day. This appealed to the older viewers of the TV show and engaged them with the content. The younger generations appreciated the cinematography, the direction and the general chaotic storyline of the show.  

Read Also: Netflix’s New Interactive ‘Game’ – Mobile Gaming or Interactive Videos? 

The Importance of Gore to Draw Attention 

Gore is nasty. It is disgusting to look at. Yet, viewers cannot seem to look away. Gore cinema, TV, and display have almost a hypnotic look and feel to them. You are drawn by how gruesome the visuals are and even though you might feel revolted at the thought of that taking place in real life, you can’t stop watching it on the big screen. It draws you in and you are immediately sucked into the universe they are trying to showcase. 

This is exactly what happened with Squid Game. People just could not seem to look away. In fact, they wanted more. A lot of those who watched the TV show watched it in one sitting. They couldn’t get their eyes off their screens. It was captivating to watch the worst of humanity unfold right in front of their eyes. It is vivid imagery that stays in your mind long after the show is gone. Gore has an addictive trait to it that people just cannot seem to ignore. It’s because of the overwhelming nature of the scenes presented in front of your eyes. Your brain goes into a sensory overload trying to process what is happening and you feel overwhelmed in a going-on-a-rollercoaster kind of way. It’s almost as if you get an adrenaline rush while watching disgusting, gory cinema.  

It compels your attention and holds it.  

When your viewers can’t seem to look away, you have them powerless. Netflix knew that was going to happen with Squid Game and it played on these intense emotions to make this show such a big success in such a short period of time. 

Easy Character Stories 

Besides all the gruesome content, the gore, and the despairing nature of the content of Squid Game, the characters stood out in contrast. They were simpletons. People like you and me. They had simple lives, and their ease of character development across the show made it more comfortable for people to watch.  

A wide array of characters, along with a complex storyline, and added aggravated visual effects would become too much of a sensory overload and not appeal to the masses. If that was the way the show would have progressed, it would have targeted a very niche audience and become a cult show. But the show used simplistic characters to make it more palatable for the users, which created the perfect balance between the intense themes of the show and the easygoing nature of the games and the characters. 

squid game growth infographic


The journey of Squid Game does not seem to be stopping any time soon. From the most-watched show on Netflix, it stands a strong chance of becoming the most-watched TV series ever in the world. The phenomenal rise to fame had multiple reasons, but the biggest takeaway from the show is probably this – people are a lot more diverse than you think.  

The traditional sitcom nature of TV shows might soon be too simplistic for people to enjoy, and the general population might just be getting more interested in dark, more intense viewing programmes. If it’s a one-off show or it is a catalyst to more shows and worldwide cinema like this, no one can tell. But what you can tell for sure is that Squid Game is truly one of a kind.