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ChinaJoy 2010; West-East/East-West Invasions

The Chinese games business is coming to the West, only a few years after we came to them. In other news, ChinaJoy remains crazy.

Having just visited the "E3 of China" - Shanghai's ChinaJoy consumer games show - for the fourth time - I had sworn the third was going to be my last - I was recently looking at some old photos of the very first one I attended, in 2005.

My memories of ChinaJoy since then mainly consist of consecutive increases in volume and average number of booth girls per exhibitor... to say nothing of the performances of said booth girls. The vast majority simply stands on or around elevated platforms amongst her contemporaries, DSLR shutters clicking inches away.

On the other hand... someone told me this year that there were pole dancers. I did not see this. There were belly dancers in 2008, but no poles.  My jaw has been saved from impact by the floor at least for this year.

While enormous at roughly 3.6 billion USD in 2009, the Chinese games market (read: Chinese online games market) appears to offer only a few categories of major market games, especially in terms of context, metaphor, and aesthetic. MMOG, pseudo-historical/period, high fantasy, cute, social networking focused, and ... and that seems to about do it. There are more things going on under the surface, but to the average western gamer looking into Chinese games, close enough.

I noticed that back in 2005, major international publishers and first party developers were clearly in the middle staking out ChinaJoy, with many having a significant presence. Five years later, its hard not to be struck by their seemingly smaller numbers. They've already made their move now, most having partnered with Chinese operators or running dedicated sourcing studios.

What does the continual expansion of the local market, along with the increased reliance of international players on Chinese operators mean for the local industry and with the rest of us? The Chinese games industry won't be just the Chinese games industry for long.

Simply localizing a Chinese MMO for the West won't cut it. The other trouble is the business model, which has come a long way and is being caught up to by the rest of the industry even now, but I don't expect to see any significant business model innovation coming out of a Chinese game presence in the West.

The reason microtransactions were an innovation here was from necessity for the local industry to monetize here on a consumer market that simply could not sustain any sort of viability for traditional retail.

While microtransaction-based business models are in the process of finding their places in the west, particularly in SNS and mobile markets, Chinese devs will not find the same success using the same practices internationally. But since they are powerhouses of their operation/monetization models, don't expect them not to try.

What they need to be doing now is hiring international talent at their foreign hubs, and lots of it. Then along with whatever SNS or MMO based games they're bringing to the west, they will need to develop original games tailor-made for the international market, ditching any expectations that may have accompanied them from the mainland. I believe one happily-dropped traditional issue would be a certain "influence from on high", but thats another story.

International publishers and developers have moved from staking out ChinaJoy, just a few years back, to now working extensively with local (Chinese) operators.

For Chinese devs to move to the international scene? The law of the land is different. It won't be about operators, business models, or monetization at this point. For them it will be about local (international) developers.

As long as E3 doesn't start resembling ChinaJoy, I'll be fine.

Should all be interesting, anyway.

Originally posted at

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