Sunday, July 18, 2010

A new market awaits the game industry

Ever have a moment where you're playing the newest game and realize it just isn't as fun as some of those you used to play a decade ago? Why do we always look back on things in life and say to ourselves, "Those were the good times". Another good place to base examples from is my past experiences in China. I look back at the "good times" (and they truly were good times) in America when I would spend countless weekends with my LAN friends playing all sorts of games.

Humans simply become bored with what is the same. Many older games are still intriguing because they have a unique style built into them that is lacking in many games today. Adventure games were all the rage in the 90s, but are practically non-existent today. Even those that do show up from time-to-time are shallow structures of what was once a great genre. Let's bring those old games back in a new and fresh light, without ruining the genre please!

I remember when the movie "Neverending Story III" came out years ago. I was so excited to see the series continue, I happily bought it as soon as it went on store shelves. Upon watching the sequel I never quite looked at the series the same way again. I had developed a bad taste in my mouth from the incredibly horrible remake, that it simply ruined the rest of the series. It took me literally years to watch the originals again with any sort of respect.

That is the problem with many remakes in the game industry today. There are so few that are as good as the originals... so few period. Starcraft 2 just came out, but that is being made by Blizzard, one of the companies that knows a thing or two about game development and success in the market (not to mention a huge fan-base ready to buy anything they make, regardless). Hundreds of old games that are long forgotten by past generations, and completely non-existent in the minds of current generations of gamers, are waiting to be remade in a better and bigger way, and sold for a price all over again to those curious.

Allow me to briefly clarify what I mean by a "remake". Some games simply deserve a graphics makeover, while others deserve some tweaks beyond the visuals. My adage is always "don't fix what isn't broken", so as long as developers keep that in mind as well, remakes could be very successful.

The redevelopment of old games could easily progress into an entire new genre of computer games and console games developed over the coming decade. I would call this genre "The Transformers", old games that have been forgotten and are now transformed into new games that are given a new life again on store shelves. A cliche in terms maybe, but a good one I think.

Get to it developers! Find those old games, remake them in a new way, and sell them again to customers looking for fresh and "new" games that set themselves apart from many of the bland clones we see today.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Getting A Game Studio Started In China had an interesting article recently that discussed some key points on how western game studios can best establish themselves in the Chinese market, particularly pointing out some of the pitfalls that come with establishing companies in a new market. I thought the following points were especially interesting to read. Take point 2. particularly closely, as this one reaches into all areas of foreign investment and business establishment in China:

1. In addition to the major players the author mentions, other publicly listed companies that deserve a mention are Tencent, the leader in the casual games space with its QQ Game platform, and CDC Games, who have been quite successful operating "Yulgang" through their 17game subsidiary. They also recently announced that they have licensed the MMOG, "Lord of the Rings" [LOTR], which should launch in China later in 2007 or early 2008.

2. One of the reasons why the western publishers such as Electronic Arts (ERTS) struggle in China is that due to regulatory issues they can't directly publish online games so they need to work with a local partner. Korean companies such as NC Soft who have licensed numerous games to Chinese companies are worth looking at. The game consoles (ie: Microsoft's (MSFT) Xbox, Sony's (SNE) PS3 etc) has too many issues at this point (regulatory, piracy, business model) so the market will continue to be PC-game dominated for the foreseeable future.

3. A big issue for the Chinese games industry is the shortage of quality game developers, especially game designers, and low level of game developer education. While Netease (NTES) has been successful at developing their own 2D/ 2.5D titles no Chinese company has managed to develop a quality 3D title. Imitation still rules over innovation with many copycat games being developed.

4. I would expect all of the Chinese game companies, including Netease, to license foreign titles in the future. This is partly due to the poor state of the local game development industry as mentioned above, and also because WoW has shown that a lot of money can be made from licensing a blockbuster title even if royalties have to be paid out to a foreign party. Due to the risk averse nature of many of these companies they will try to secure western titles that have reached open beta testing or have already launched in the west, or are being developed by famous developers who already have a track record. While this lowers their risk it also means that they will likely have to pay higher licensing and royalties for these titles.

5. Expect to see more games operated on a "play for free, pay for items" model compared to the traditional subscription model. The Korean games industry has already moved in this direction and Shanda (SNDA) and CDC Games/ 17game have shown that it is a viable model in China.

The9 (NCTY) has had a good run with WoW and has licensed numerous upcoming titles but it is not obvious how a company that has essentially been operating one game could expect to be successfully operating up to six games within the next 18-24 months. Their strategy may be more to do with "locking up" as many of these titles as possible. While this may suit The9 it isn't good for their licensing partners, which makes them a poor "Chinese partner of choice".