What country would come up first when people are talking about game empire? Some people might say Japan. Well obviously it is because Japan has cultivated several influential gaming company, such as Nintendo and Sony Computer Entertainment, for decades. On the other hand, some people might support the idea that the western world, or more specific, the United States, is the game empire nowadays. Famous online games, for instance: Counter Strike (Valve Corporation), League of Legend (Riot Games), and World of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment) are all designed and produced by American companies. Personally, I think although Japan and United States are powerful, significant, and remarkable game “ancestors” that plays important roles in game industry, Chinese game industry has proved they are becoming one of the greatest game empires ever. Since 2000, Chinese game industry, include China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Malaysia has gradually increased their experience, strengthened their skills, and has had a great explosive growth in the past few years. Chinese game industry is opening up a new era in Game history. For the next decade, Chinese game industry will dominate Asia and further challenge the standing of United States and Japan in the game industry world widely. So, on the whole, what exactly make Chinese world a new empire in game industry? And what is the difference between Chinese game Business and Western game business?
Take Over the Economy Advantage
Economically, the Chinese game industry is projected to soon overtake the US market by as early as next year in 2015.[i] The Chinese market overall has a population of approximately 1.5 billion, and last year the game industry brought in almost 13 billion US dollars with a impressive 40 percent year-on-year growth.
Unlike decades ago, China is no longer a tech-desert. The tremendous population represents a guaranteed player-base. Most importantly, nearly 8.7 billion dollars came from client-based personal computer games.[ii] Well, as a matter of fact, the Chinese market has become the world's largest market for PC gaming. Apparently, while Japanese and American companies putting attention on Play Station or Xbox platform, Chinese game companies have switched their focus and received a huge, worldwide success in “nearly abandoned “ PC platform. Additionally, most of the games in Chinese market are no longer developed overseas. Thanks to the restrictions ruled by Chinese Government, most of the mobile games are not allowed to launched or published in China (main land). Also, according to Eric Tan, the CEO of fifth Journey, “ As we speak of marketing and advertising, in the West you can use Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. All of these services are banned in China so you need to use the local equivalent services such as Sina Weibo, WeChat and Youku.” [iii][iv] In other words, domestic game designers in China have more space and freedom to advertise and develop their games while foreign competitors have to adjust to all the rules and restrictions. From the point of view from economic, Chinese game companies has become more financially independent, domestic- developed, and most important of all, it precisely sees what is missing in game industry.
The Narrative: The Soul of games
What makes Chinese world a new empire in game industry has another key factor: the narrative. First of all, a good narrative of a game must include a great environmental story telling. In the book, The Game Design Reader – A Rules of Play Anthology, Henry jerkins said, “Environmental storytelling creates the preconditions for an immersive narrative experience in at least one of four ways: spatial stories can evoke pre-existing narrative associations; they can provide a staging ground where narrative events are enacted; they may embed narrative information within their mise-en-scene; or they provide resources for emergent narratives.” [v]
Evoking Pre-Existing Stories that Players Recognized
Most of the games made by American companies have a common trait: the stories in the game can often evoke the pre-existing game. For example, there are hundreds of games that were designed and developed based on cartoons (Disney, Dream Works, harry Potter Series), movie or TV plots (The Walking Dead, The Lord of the Rings, and despicable ME) and even comic books (Iron Man, Batman, and The Avengers). In western world, players already know the story, so there exists a substantial association between those previously existing narrative competencies and the stories in games. Briefly speaking, western players are strongly bonded with the game per se. In Asia, especially in Chinese world, the cultural difference establishes a huge gap between players and the story. Chinese game developers cleverly draw in Chinese traditional folk tale, ancient mythology, and historical story. Instead of player a role of Apollo, Diana, or Zeus in games, Chinese gamers would feel more comfortable, or let us say, more nostalgic, through manipulating characters such as The Monkey King, Kong-Fu Fighters, or General Tau. Personally, I think this is a profoundly important factor differs the popularities of oversea- developed games and domestic-developed games.
Enacting Events Which Players Can Witness Personally
Speaking of “enacting narrative events”, players in Asia are seeking for a new environment, or even better, a familiar environment, through games too. As a matter of fact, Chinese game developers tend to involve Chinese history, Chinese culture, and native landscapes in games for specific reasons. Take Grand Theft Auto Series as an example; designers always use western cities, such as Los Angeles, New York City, and Miami, as backgrounds and models. To be honest, GTA series has been a huge triumph in western hemisphere, but not so much in Asia. In Chinese gaming market, this kind of environmental storytelling is really difficult to encourage players to play games since it does not make a resonate with players at all. Chinese game developers successfully connected culture with the game itself. Rather than killing enemies with a variety of guns and weapons, Chinese game developers favor traditional martial arts; Rather than driving a fancy sports car wandering around in ghetto, Chinese game developers prefer to set the game in a historic market where you can see the famous Grand Wall in background. What impressed players in China, is that they see the miniature of their daily life throughout the game.
The narrative through the games not only enacted each little plot or story in the games, but also enacted the game into the real world. In Chinese game company, they successfully put a perfect performance on enacting events and environments that players can experience or witness personally. To sum up, I would say Chinese game developers have made a great move on localizing and “culturalizing” the game into Chinese market.[vi]
Embedded Narratives: Linear vs. Complicated
For most of the games made by western game companies, the stories within are mostly complicated. Those stories in the game are like detective novels: full of tensions and suspicions. As players moving on through the game, each actions and decisions may bring up different consequences. That is to say, the story actually changes because of different narrative action that players make. Unfortunately, this type of game seems not to appeal a wide audience in Chinese market. Chinese players most likely to enjoy linear, simple-motive games like Candy Crush Saga, Fruit Ninja, and Temple Run. What Chinese players need and looking for is not a game like The Walking Dead that is teemed with confusing plots with numerous outcomes. In reality, they only need a goal to attempt, a straight plot line to follow, and a game that kills time. Additionally, according to Greg Chang, a Vise President of Glu Mobile Game Company, claimed, “US gamers lean towards more of a skill based game play for a sense of achievement. Chinese game play is more passive and a lot of things can be done in the game if users pay.”[vii] Western games are more likely to contain complicated plots and stories that required players to make choices and to achieve skills, while Chinese players prefer games that is as simple as possible. About six months ago, the game 2048 struck the whole Chinese world. I remember when I was on the train in the city of Taipei, everyone who had a smartphone was struggling to reach that “incredible number.” Well, 2048 is one of the simplest games that have the least story element. This personal experience shows that Chinese market has become the best habitat for those creative, innovative mechanic games.
Narrative Possibilities Get Mapped Into Game Space
The Sims series are definitely an enormous success in western world. Players get to create their own world with thousands of possibilities on their own. In game business, it is usually called a SLG, as known as city builder, style games. Unlike western world that consider SLG game as out of style nowadays, Chinese market is eagerly publishing this kind of game. In SLG style games, players can define their own goals and write their own stories. For instance, Minecraft, also known as the most popular sandbox game particularly with young children, has also received a large popularity in Chinese market. When Minecraft was planning to “land” on China in 2009, Mr. Harding-Rolls, an experienced Xbox developer said, “I don't think Minecraft has been heavily exposed to the Chinese market. It is educational, innovative, and most importantly, it is an entirely new game to most of the players in Chinese market. I see a lot of potential here.”[viii] Indeed, after Minecraft was published, hundreds of similar games have come out every year. In my point of view, I think it has a close association to the political positions. In Chinese world, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Malaysia are all considered as free, capitalism countries, while China is known as a more conservative, traditional communism nation. Obviously China has a lot of strict policies toward western culture in different aspects include games. Actually, not until 2009, the Xbox and PS4 console system were still banned by Chinese government. After Minecraft entered this lucrative Chinese gaming market, players in China finally find a way to express their private thoughts and ideas through game. According to the statistics, there are surprisingly more adults Minecraft players than young players in China. To sum up, I would say that SLG style games and sandbox games like Minecraft have influenced Chinese players massively by revealing their own opinions. Games that contain emergent narrative are a huge hit in Chinese market, and I believe it is intently related to the players’ political situations.
Can Western Style Games Enter Chinese Game Industry Successfully?
Now we learned that the cultural difference has affected on Chinese players to prefer on domestic-developed games. On the other hand, while Chinese games started to break the boundary and compete with western style games, is it possible for western game company to enter Chinese market?
First, Western game company must cooperate with local game company in Chinese game industry. Localize. It’s really important for western game company to realize that it would be a tough road to achieve success in Chinese game industry without any help for Chinese game developers. Second, it is also critical to find a publisher in Chinese world. As we discussed, the social media is completely different between western and Chinese world. Last but not least, monetization. Monetization means to convert or to establish something into legal tender. However, in this case, what monetization represents is the price that developers set for their games. [ix]Obviously, as the western games enter Chinese game market, they got to set a new price. Chinese players tend to play games that required paying for better equipment or for a complete game. Free games seem not attract players in China, yet oppositely, paid games occupied most of the places in top hundred games in China for the past few years.
New Game Empire Aroused
Following up by Japan, America, South Korea, now, a new game empire has aroused, Chinese game industry. Chinese game companies have achieved an explosive growth since the early 2000s’, and now, they are looking forward to become a leader in world game business. Chinese style games are quite difference from western style games. The narrative, the story, plays an important role. Chinese game developers prefer to adjust the knotty story line to a more linear, simple plot. Meanwhile, they contain Chinese traditional culture, history, scenes, and even ancient folk tale to make intimately reflection to domestic players. They believe establishing a familiar storytelling environment and atmosphere in games convince players to get more involved in games. As a matter in fact, this strategy worked out well and Chinese game designers has gained incredibly impressive outcome: the Chinese game industry is projected to soon overtake the US market by as early as next year in 2015. In brief, Chinese game developers successfully localize and culturalize games into Chinese society. Personally, “made in China” may not represent bad quality and coarse process anymore. At least in terms of “game industry”, “made in China” speaks for a new era that a new game empire has aroused.
[v] The Game Design Reader – A Rules of Play Anthology, Game Design as Narrative Architecture, Henry jerkins
[vi] How To Be A B2B Pro When Working With Chinese Mobile Game Companies, Michelle Zhao
http://www.lai.com/blog/?p=538 The official Blog of Language Automation
[ix] The Evolution of the Chinese Online Gaming Industry, Nir Kshetri