Sunday, June 27, 2010

An Infant Chinese Game Industry

With China exploding in growth in all sectors of industry, you would expect game development to be doing the same. This hasn’t quite been the case in the degree that many foreign analysts expected, especially in terms of foreign penetration. Although the Chinese game industry overall is huge with vast potential for years of growth (not to mention a lot of tax revenue for the country itself), game development has ironically been hindered by the government and the people’s inherent social culture.

Game development is not allowed to have government support (but plenty of regulation), partly due to the government’s somewhat reputed belief that games are not socially functional or beneficial. Most western cultures would abject to this stance, firmly believing that its own citizens can and have benefited from the mental activity of playing games, not to mention again the taxation opportunities the industry is capable of generating. Much like the American and Indian movie industries, the game industry is seen by most other cultures, even in many parts of Asia, as a positive influence.

What is most disturbing about the Chinese government’s intervention is the blatant disregard for actually understanding the industry and its products. Just a few days ago, China’s Ministry of Culture introduced new online gaming regulations which only vaguely define what they consider as “unwholesome” content. The regulations also severely restrict play session times with the goal of stopping recent deaths resulting from gameplay “marathons” that can last days straight. While moderation can be said to be a good thing, these regulations blanket the entire industry and often ignore many of the positive potentials that are snuffed out.

On the consumer end, games in Asia have just as much of a different perspective. Very few Chinese games, or even any other Asian ones for that matter, display graphical blood effects, visibility of human bones (but not bones of another creature), and persona fighting in the reference of a person directly referencing their characters as their own while fighting another person in the same capacity. World of Warcraft was a recent victim of this difference in culture, as the latest expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, was restricted from being published until the game’s skeletons were covered up with flesh or clothing.

The later reference is more easily dealt with in foreign markets, while the former once is proving cumbersome for western game developers. Another problem that invades the Chinese government and its citizens is copyright ethics. The Chinese don’t much care about, or more pointedly can do anything effective to stop it, the rampant stealing of software. One of the more unfortunate results is the undermining of their culture with very young kids getting hold of games meant for a much older audience. This has resulted in addiction and even death in the few cases linked to the marathon gameplay sessions mentioned a moment ago.

Regardless of these issues, nothing is going to stop the ultimate engine that is the Chinese game industry. It will undoubtedly overtake all other international game markets in the not-too-distant future in terms of revenue, game development efforts, and sheer player count. Like many industries in China and all over Asia, the question will be whether foreign games are as accepted in China as much as most Asian games have been in western markets. Instead of western games reaching Asian audiences, we may unexpectedly find ourselves and our locally based games in the minority on local turf.

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