Updated: 2010-12-24 12:42
By Eric Jou (China Daily European Weekly)
More independent game makers in China and beyond are coming into their own.
Players catapult birds at pigs in structures with the aim of destroying as many of the swine as possible. It sounds ridiculous in mere text, but the game, Angry Birds, is one of the most popular in Apple's App Store. Finland-based Rovio, the group behind the runaway hit, started out as a work-for-hire company and made games for other companies like Electronic Arts before it struck gold with Angry Birds.
Rovio's success with Angry Birds will also resonate with the hundreds if not thousands of foreign and domestic independent developers in China.
Independent game developers were originally outsourcing companies that foreign entities used as a form of cheap production labor, but that is changing now with China's game industry maturing and more companies and developers moving toward the production of original property, analysts say.
Shouji Mobile, a British-owned mobile gaming and application developer that started in 2005, was initially two companies - one that helped localize foreign games for the Chinese market and a mobile game developer making mobile games. But it is shifting from outsourcing to original development.
"Up to today, we're still doing outsourcing," says Patrik Wilkens, vice-president of sales for Shouji Mobile. "But we're shifting we're doing more original IP (intellectual property) development these days."
In the quest for developing original IP, Chinese companies are also moving toward that same end, with some companies bypassing outsourcing to create games.
With the Apple iPod and Apple App Store, developers are also forgoing the "convoluted and costly" process of dealing with operators.
"We worked with Motorola before, so we knew how the operator and carrier ecosystems with their monopolies were just very depressing," says Bjorn Stabell, managing director of Happy Latte Games.
"So the iPhone and Apple are the only ones strong enough to push through a platform across the world.
"We want to build something that's global it doesn't make sense to target one country."
Stabell and Wesley Bao, the co-founder of Coconut Studios that is behind the popular iDragPaper game, are just some of the developers that fashion their games purely for the West.
"It's just more convenient," Bao says.
The mobile games industry is projected to bring in more than $600 million (456 million euros) in revenue this year alone and Chinese independent developers have a new source of help in the form of Irish media company United Business Media (UBM).
UBM is the organizer of the worldwide Game Developers Conference (GDC), where game developers and industry experts meet and share lessons, corporate strategies and network. UBM has operated a GDC China since 2007 and one of its services includes the chance for Chinese developers to learn from foreign developers.
"Currently, we focus mostly on foreign speakers but in the future we may have more Chinese speakers," says Zhang Ming, deputy secretary general of government agency Shanghai Information Services and vice-president of UBM China.
"I think this is a very cultural thing because many foreign companies are more open to talk about their methods, successes and even their failures, but Chinese companies are less inclined to share their methods and are embarrassed to talk about their failures."
"One of the most successful talks of the GDC is 'what I did wrong'."
A special speaking tract that GDC started to help the growing number of Chinese game makers that want to enter foreign markets is a series of talks about creating products that are tailor-made for certain markets.
GDC also offers lessons on IP protection and business strategies for independent developers, as Zhang says many developers do not know about government support for gaming in IP enforcement.
The GDC's ultimate plan is to bring creativity to the Chinese community and expand the country's gaming industry, says Meggan Scavio, event director for UBM.
Five Minutes, the creators of popular Chinese game Happy Farm, is often cited as one example of an independent Chinese company that created a hit game. Ellison Gao, co-founder and CEO of Five Minutes, says the true spirit of the game maker is to have the most players having fun.
Gao and Five Minutes abide by an almost Taoist philosophy - striving to understand the "feelings" in making a game.
"The most important thing about a game isn't how much money it will make," Gao says. "The game has to be fun, it has to be fun before it can make money."
Analysts say many developers in China also have ways around a closed system through online applications distribution, but nothing trumps what makes China's gaming industry an attraction for game makers, foreign and domestic alike - the low cost involved.
"It's still really cheap to operate here," Stabell says.
"It's harder to fail by running out of money here."
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