August 27, 2016

Taobao Offers Pokemon Go Essentials

Pokemon Go, the mobile game released in selected countries in July 2016, has become a global phenomenon with more than 130 million downloads. Although analysts say China will likely never get Pokemon Go for various reasons (including ties with Google and heavy reliance on GPS), popular online retailer Taobao is advertising Pokemon Go “essentials” on its front page. It calls the sale an “overseas special” with the hope of tapping into players abroad with access to the game (Hong Kong in particular).

The products in the “Pokemon Go” collection include portable battery chargers, cell phone cases, charging cables, backpacks, and hats.

August 1, 2016

ChinaJoy 2016: The Future of VR and Mobile Gaming

ChinaJoy is like the E3 of China, the Tokyo Game Show of Shanghai. It features nearly every company with a finger in the video game pie, whether it be mobile, console, or computer; both hardware and software. There are booths for motherboards, PC case mods, headphones, and keyboard; stages set for League of Legends, CounterStrike, and StarCraft 2 tournaments (along with mobile MOBAs trying to break into the scene); beauty pageants, dance shows, and cosplay competitions; 120,000 square meters of digital media companies vying for the attention of 270,000 visitors. Although ChinaJoy's name recognition in the West comes from the big Hearthstone announcement, VR headsets dominated the show floors.

From huge companies like Sony showing off their VR hardware, to tiny unknowns like Viriver Network Technology, ChinaJoy was overcome with VR fever. If there was any concern that VR would simply by a gimmick technology, worry no more-- development is huge and looking to grow. There were FPSs, survival-horror, extreme sports, and hentai games; augmented reality, bicycling, and racing; Oculus Rift, Vive, PlayStation VR, and Chinese brands; there was, in short, something for everyone. A sizable booth even advertised the relaxing qualities of VR. Famitsu put together an album of the range of VR experiences that were available at the convention, which includes white water rafting, jet skiing, and tanks.

Mobile gaming also came out in full force. Stations with cellphones set up to play different games were everywhere; teams sat on stages playing multiplayer mobile games that were projected onto giant screens behind them-- mobile esports. You could even earn prizes by playing the circuit of games set up by companies with booth babes ushering you from one to the next. They ranged from MOBAs, to puzzle games, side scrolling, to 3D action-- mobile gaming in China is unlikely to be eclipsed by the new console market any time soon.

ChinaJoy was 3-4 days of ten warehouses full of video games, cosplay, and anime. It was crowded and hot, with extremely tight security on the show floor, and too much to do-- more than could possibly be done in those three days. ChinaJoy 2016 is a sign that video game companies are making a huge investment in China, and that gaming is alive and well in all its different formats and genres in the Middle Kingdom.

Hit the jump for some pictures.

March 7, 2016

Retrospective: Dota 2 Shanghai Major

The problems that came up during the Dota 2 Shanghai Major are best summarized by Weibo user 际部歌王_Storm:
Game delays, equipment failure. The orchestra under suspicion of being fake, and now it’s coming out that teams’ personal equipment was pulled out of their rooms for cleaning. The most upsetting thing is that all the Chinese teams lost, while showing pictures from TI2 and TI4 on the screen. If the game isn’t perfect next time, you’ve lost face for all Chinese people. @DOTA2 @PerfectWorld @EsportsHaiTao @JinghouzheDC
It all began during the Group Stage when there were broadcasting problems during the English stream of the event, leading to the unceremonious firing of host James “2GD” Harding, the production crew from KeyTV, and an end to the official English broadcast. Subsequent games were broadcast raw, leaving viewers to either watch it without casting, watch unofficial casts, or watch in a different language until Valve could get an English panel back online. Bonnie, the translator-turned-director wrote up a neat summary of what went down backstage during this meltdown, writing that there were issues with equipment, staff not getting enough sleep, poor Internet, and poor communication about problems.

Things didn’t get any better during the Main Event, when more complaints started pouring out from teams and fans attending. There continued to be problems with equipment (including losing a player’s keyboard) leading to game delays of up to 2 hours, streams lagging and disconnecting, player booths not being properly soundproofed and smelling strongly of glue, terrible food, an awkward opening ceremony, no buses taking talent home after the show, and games going as late as midnight local time.

Why Was 2GD Fired?

His firing, along with the firing of the production company KeyTV, was the herald of things to come for the Shanghai Major. There doesn’t seem to be a clear reason for why he was fired, but the most reasonable speculation I found was the nature of the jokes he was making on air. Esports is known for being playful on air, of making jokes that might be considered low-brow, and to many that’s just what 2GD was doing. However, Chinese culture is very different from Western culture, and there are lines you don’t cross, one of them being questioning the Party. 2GD didn’t make any government jokes, but he did make pornography jokes, and pornography is banned in China, so suggesting that he was watching some the night before the broadcast implies he got around censorship to watch something the Party has explicitly banned. That got him a warning, but the next day he made a joke calling a player a “bottom bitch”—a reference to prostitution. To build rapport with the Chinese government in order to continue having Dota events in China, it would have been necessary for Valve to remove someone causing tension and disrespecting the laws of the Chinese government, even if it seems unreasonable to Westerners.

The Problem with KeyTV and Perfect World

According to a Perfect World insider’s post to Tieba (a forum), the problems with KeyTV come from a somewhat soap opera-like problem. Perfect World has exclusive rights to market and distribute Dota 2 in mainland China, according to an agreement with Valve made in 2012. A man named JingLing runs the Dota 2 branch of Perfect World, and he is married to Ruru (LGDRuru, the owner of LGD; KeyTV is also her company). The head of KeyTV, T-boy, refused to listen to Valve and would only listed to JingLing, who was not present at the Major. Really, the only reason KeyTV got the production rights was because of the Chinese concept of guanxi: a system of social networks and influential relationships which facilitate business and other dealings.

Whether or not that’s how it really happened, or if it is Perfect World trying to cast all the blame on KeyTV, is unknown, but Ruru and Jingling’s relationship does cast some doubt on the true ability of KeyTV to handle the event if they got the deal as a result of nepotism.

We might never know who to truly blame for all the problems at the Dota 2 Shanghai Major, it’s likely a combination of many elements coming together to form the perfect storm. Its possible Perfect World didn’t allow Valve to get a word in about who to hire for production, and did all of the preparation at the arena themselves. However, some oversight needed to be present to stop at least some problems before they got out of hand—such as the non-sound-proof booths and the smell of glue. Regardless, it has damaged the reputation of Dota 2 as an esport, and of China as a desirable location for future events. It turned the country and Valve into laughing stocks, so as  际部歌王_Storm writes, things will have to be perfect next time.

February 23, 2016

Chinese Game Localization Fact Sheet

Interested in localizing your game for a Chinese audience? Check out this useful fact sheet created by Localize Direct for game creators looking to tap into the Chinese market.

It includes information on types of games that are popular in China (Puzzle, Casual, Social and Racing games; along with free-to-play MMOs), and font and text considerations. It's not comprehensive (you can find more information about the Chinese market and user behavior here), but there's not a lot going around for Western game developers, so the more the merrier.

November 13, 2015

Familiar Faces at a Shanghai Amusement Park

Our school took a trip to the Shanghai amusement park, Happy Valley (上海欢乐谷), and, in addition to a ring-toss game where you can win a bottle of wine, I stumbled across some familiar faces in a claw machine and the souvenir shop.

September 28, 2015

KFC Offering League of Legends Combo Meals

For a limited time, KFC in China is offering League of Legends combo meals which includes a gifted code for a champion skin. There are three combo meals you can pick from-- a New Orleans Burger with chicken nuggets (99 RMB), a BBQ pulled pork burger with hot wings (39 RMB), and a bucket of chicken with a zinger burger, hot wings, and "dragon twister" (a chicken wrap) (39 RMB). Each one with a trading card that includes a code for a random champion skin; if you buy the 99 RMB combo, you get a nice holographic trading card.

The skins you can win include Snowstorm Sivir, Snow Bunny Nidalee, Snow Day Singed, Frost Queen Janna, Ice Drake Shyvana, Urfrider Corki, Musketeer Twisted Fate, Victorious Jarvan IV, Mad Scientist Ziggs, Headmistress Fiora, Forecast Janna, Jailbreak Graves, Commando Xin Zhao, Headhunter Master Yi, Toy Solder Gangplank, Team Spirit Anivia, Surgeon Shen, and Arctic Ops Kennen.

September 2, 2015

Brief Update

 Hello, everyone!

I apologize for not having had many updates recently. This summer I enrolled in a graduate program to get my Masters Degree in international studies with a focus on China and concentration on education. We had a six week intensive study in Irvine, and then got shipped out to different parts of China to continue our coursework, do research, and teach. I'm now settled in Shanghai, teaching fourth grade English and Social Studies while doing research on video game addiction. Now that the dust has settled and I'm back in "primary source" territory (instead of relying on news from 17173 and QQ), I hope to update more consistently. Something interesting I missed writing about include gamer jargon is becoming a part of everyday Chinese slang.

I look forward to being back in China, and being able to write about observations and things as they happen, as well doing research and being able to put some of that data here as I start collecting it. Exciting times!

April 22, 2015

Assassin's Creed Chronicles China Gameplay

This installation in the Assassin's Creed franchise will take take players to China in 1526 during the collapse of the Ming Dinasty. The last member of the Chinese Brotherhood, Shao Jun, returns to her hometown on a journey for revenge against the Templars in a 2.5D adventure. It is one of three games in the Chronicles trilogy, with the others taking place in India and Russia.

Reception on Weibo has been mostly positive, with many players saying, "I'm a fan of Assasin's Creed, seeing a Chinese theme is great." Other users worry the Chinese elements will be lost on players: "A video game about Chinese culture... Will it do well with foreigners?" Another user wondered, "Why does Shao Jun speak English?" There was also lamentation for the inability to climb Chinese palaces, but believed that being able to do so would probably get the game banned in China.