A Talk on Chinese Indie Game

Author: indienova
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About the Interviewer

Luis is currently working at indienova, connecting Western indie developers to the Chinese market and helping Chinese developers publish their games globally. He's also the co-founder of LEAP Game Studios and the organizer of the annual Global Game Jam event in Lima. Luis has also written articles about the game industry and indies from around the World in sites like Polygon and Kill Screen. He also remains active in supporting the game industry in Latin America and after spending some time living in Angouleme (France) and in Guangzhou (China) he is currently based in Lima, Peru.

The Interview


What is your name? Where do you live?

My Chinese name is 熊攀峰(Panfeng Xiong). I took an English name when I was in college -- Tony Shong (my family name Xiong could be pronounced much more easily as Shong in English), since then I have takentook a nickname (cyber-name back in 1998) which is 熊拖泥(Tuoni Xiong). I've been living and working in Shanghai since 2001 after graduatingon from college in Wuhan.
What is your background?

I started my career as a Flash designer in Shanghai in 2001, creating Flash ads & websites individually for a domestic automobile portal site. In 2005 I started to work inas Creative Planning for a French company named China interactive. After 3 years I begun to create interactive experiences via a combination of physical & digital spaces as tailor-made branding solutions for 4A agencies and PR/Event companies. At that time I started my research on interactive experience - why could it be so appealing to people in the public when we’re just changing the way people interact with the same contents from old school games? While I was running my own interactive studio in 2011, the experience of an indie game named Limbo inspired me greatly. I realized there was something veryextremely unique in Limbo -, once it's refined it would be the essential answer to hHow games deliver experiences and why sometimes they sometimes surpass the experiences I geot from all other media forms.? After searching for the answer but finding nothing solid enough to satisfy memeet satisfaction, I tried to discover it by myself, from the perspective of an interactive experience creator. Since 2014 I've been an active member to in forming an indie community and host indie meetingssaloons in China., Iit's very important to establish a place where people who really have passion for games canto meet up and discuss about game design and the, gaming experience instead of ARPU/DAU factors. Now I am working as VP in indienova -, with the strong support from the biggest indie platform in China I'm trying to build a prosperous ecosystem around indie gamers along with my colleagues. We are also working closely with CiGA(China indie Game Alliance - http://www.ciga.me) .
How did you become involved in games?

I've been a game player since the days of the ATARI 2600 JR. Gaming experience has been an inspirationing to me solidly for all the time in the last 32 years. I've played been playing all kinds of games on almost all platforms; such as ARC/NES/SNES/GB/3DO/SS/PS/PC besides ATARI, particularly when I was in college . After graduation in 1999 I created my very first game with Flash 4 in 1999 (I learned Flash 3 by myself before graduation while my major was International Trade)., Iit was a quiz game with South Park resources taken from a Flash animation at shockwave.com. I also tried to look for a position in game studios like UbiBIsoft Shanghai or InterServ International after arrival in Shanghai, but certainly they were not recruiting junior game designers/level designers in China;, people with great art and& program skills were all they needed then, which I didn’t haveon't have any at theat time. Still, I paidy close attention to the gaming industry via magazines, websites and the online community, when online games started to boom after 2004., Ggradually I got a clear picture of what it was like to work in a MMORPG agency onas game planning. It has been copying mechanics of popular hits on the market for the last decade, due to the most hottest genre being has been MMORPG. alone, Mmost of the time you wshould be dealing with numbers in the major systems, and math models to help archive income as much as possible. Since the era of NES I've seen so many great innovations on gaming experience, but since I have no interest into being a copycat at all I stayed creating interactive experiences rather than working in online game companies.This didn’t hasn't changed until I met with some senior indies in China -, we all love games as a brand new media form to deliver experiences and, that's the genuine gaming community -and I would like to do anything I can to help everyone in this group.
How do you see the indie scene in China? How is itit’s different in cities across the country?

The indie community has been booming since 2014, attractingit attracts not only people that the ones have been creating games silently in various areas, but also the ones now working in the big companies who have dreams of creating their own games. The most significant fact is the rapid growth of game jam participants. From January 20-22 this year, Global Game Jam was hosted by CiGA at 8 locations in 7 cities in China. iIncluding Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Zhuhai and Hangzhou. indienova & VRStar were cCo-oOrganizers into hosting the Beijing session and indienova also provides online service to all jammers to upload, demonstrate and discuss their games in a more convenient, domestic way. Over the weekend more thanthere were over 1,000 people joined Global Game Jam and created over 220 games. The quantity and quality of games have surpassed Global Game Jam 2016 by a large margin.


Group photo of jammers at GGJ 2017 Bejing

In general you can find the highestmost number of indie game studios in the first-tier cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. There are various of indie meet-ups like Game Friends indie salon hosted by CiGA with indienova (Beijing)/Coconut Island, indieLight (Shanghai)/icon, Hao Games (Guangzhou)/Feiyu, Another indie (Xiamen)/Shards Game (Hangzhou) etc. Many cities follow up quicklyin a fast pace, such as Xiamen, Chengdu, Xi'an, Nanjing etc. As mMore and more indie studios are founded, they show up and become active members in the community.

And there two more important events hosted by CiGA - indiePlay (http://www.indieplay.cn) & indieArcade. indiePlay is also called China indie Game Carnival.,

It includes an annual indie game competition, a grand award ceremony and indieArcade, - where game awards nominees are displayed.


indieArcade displays 42 finalist games


2016 indiePlay Awards Ceremony

On July 30th 2016, the 2nd indiePlay was held as scheduled. CiGA invited Rami from Vlambeer, Jason from Execution Labs and, Patryk from 11 bits Studios along with other experienced people in the Chinesea gaming industry to attendcome to the event and share their opinions on game design, development, publishing etc.


Speakers & presenters

Please check more Chinese info here - http://www.ciga.me/indieplay2016

What were the first indie games made in China?

As far as I know, the very first indie game created in China was should be a PC game named FOUR MEN(红花会密令) in 1995. It was a Chinese RPG game and the poster could be found between page 32-33 in TV Game Software (the first & only TV game magazine in China at that time ) Volume 7.

FOUR MEN-poster

The very first advertisement of Four Men, also first Chinese game ad on print media


Sole China mainland video game magazine in 1995 - TV Game Software

This game was created by two brothers - younger brother Ding Ye was in senior middle school in Beijing, he did all the art work and wrote the story of the game. Elder brother Zhan Ye was in Tsinghua University and took care of development of the game. They called themselves Y.Y. Studio at that time. The game was based on Ding's school life, he put the campus and buildings, even classrooms, into the game and the main characters were all designed based on his classmates and& friends in the real life. As it was the very first Chinese game advertised ion the magazine and there had never been a Chinese game on the market, a lot of Chinese players were hugely excited!on the tiptoe of expectation because there never been a Chinese game on the market yet! Unfortunately the game was never really officially published due to various reasons -, the expectation became urban legend and, later became myth amongst senior players., Eventuallyfinally people started to forget about it. But the game was actually played byin a small group of people -, I was lucky to be one of them. The Ye brothers immigrated to US afterwards and established Zing Games (www.zinggames.net) in Naperville near Chicago and continue to create new indie games today.

How do indies get games in China?

At the very beginning of the gaming era in China, people played games mostly via illegally compatible consoles -, cracked consoles and& bootleg game copies sourced via countless small game shops and& street vendors. Later p2p platforms and& websites became privacy- flooded lands. This didn’thas not changed until in the last several years when more and more indies got access to Steam. Due to big sales and service of community services such as comments, /achievements, /Ggreen light, /friends list etc,. players in China realized that they could have a much better experience without paying too much money to be legal users on Steam just like players from other countries. Especially after Steam started supportings China UnionPay(银联), the legal Steam players are boomeding in China, too. Meanwhile, when people started to create games they becameare keenly aware of how much effort is needed during the process, leading toalso they show great respect shown to those who created wonderful games. As I know it, almost all indies in China own a great numberdeal of legal Steam/Console/iOS/Android games.
Do you have any anecdotes while promoting and supporting the indie scene in China?

Too many, lol. There could be a whole series of articles, each filled with great memories & photos since 2013.
Could you please tell me more about the idea around the indie bar Indie Light in Shanghai?

Indie Light was founded by two close friends we called Snake & Chicken Wings -, these are nicknames they have been using in the indieACE WeChat group. They were formerlyused to work as colleagues at Tencent Games Shanghai. Snake has been a senior game designer for many years -, before he left Tencent games and established his own indie studio, he was working on project of Monster Hunter Online. He is also a very senior member in the community. AsSince he knows so well the major troublespain spots of indie developers, he wantedstarted to contribute his solution to the community. Indie Light is his solution to help indies to share experience, discuss game design ideas with each other, and is a place to host events to connect indies and players, such as beta testing and& game demo interviews. Indie Light is also a venue where devs canof meet-up and play retro games together to get more inspiration.
You have been to the US and know the indie scene there, how different is from the Chinese game scene?

The scale and frequency of communication and& events in the US indie community is much greaterway much larger and more frequently than the indie scene in China. For now I've seen a few major indie events only in the first-tier cities., Tthe good news though is that there will be more events in different cities such as indieArcade & Game Friends (http://gamefriends.cn) hosted by CIGA (China Indie Game Alliance).
What are your thoughts about the indie scene in China?

The foundations of genuine game design methodology and experience areis still weak even in the senior indie studios. Part of the reason could be that the gaming industry in China has been filled up with what we called capital game companies. They pursueit profit and profit alone. The goal has been so clear and exclusive that they reallytotally care nothing about gaming experience itself - - only thing you only need to know how to copy and follow every single detail from so-called market proven profitable games. To be more exact, it is to copy game mechanics, level design and all that has been popular and maximize income by controlling distribution channels and utilizing Skinner Box theory. At the same time these companiesy know how to trick on game data and monthly reports to attract new investors by purchasing their own games, so that they canould get ten times more investmentmore investment tens of times. They only treat a game as a tool to play a rigged capital game, so I call them capital game companies. This scene has been so unbelievably successful for the last decade that no one would like to really innovate anything. The only and very reason a game needs to be modified must be based on solid data related to the revenue that game generates during the its life;process such as Retention Rates, DAU, ARPU etc. If someone jumped into the gaming industry because they were inspired by experiencinges a great game delivered and want to make a game to inspire other people, they would find themselves no place to stand in the industry or just resigned to doing the copycat job everyday hopelessly. Later even the tutorial i n the game must be the same asto the successful ones. Innovation inon a gaming experience has been athe thought only fools would come up with. Innovative game design has been a desert where only few indie pioneers would get into and gain precious experiences.

I believe there will be more opportunities along with no fewer less challenges in 2017. It's true that there have been more and more successful showcases from the Chinesea indie community in 2016, such as Candle Man, Code: Hardcore etc. Events like indieArcade & game jams getoes bigger and more frequent, whichthese give us more power to spread a more powerful voice. If we want to tmake a further step towards a worldwide success we need a more solid foundation on which to base various areas of game developmenting.

The good news is that, finally the way of copying games has been going down;, players in China have groewn a lot with the help from the App Store & Steam and have, they started to realize there are so manyuch wonderful experiences games canould deliver, there are so many different genres and spaces they need to explore as players. Great games like Monument Valley really broadened major players' vision. So now they need more innovative games!

The bad news is, we will face a more intensive competition with great games all over the world, lol. Rome wasn't built in aone day. Companies like Activision, Blizzard and, Square Enix have learned a lot from past failures whichand made them what they are nowadays. But in China we've only just started this journey. Even with the situation in China improved a lot, the very top priority is still to keep creating good games and survive.

Besides the foundation of game design, how to manage a team, how to promote a new game, how to deal with investors and distribution channels are often the headaches in indie studios. We need to grow faster in these fields, too.

Could you please tell me about the differences between indie games, regular games and capital games that you mentioned before?

I named these three parties when introducing China gaming industry because things are very different here. Indie games I regard it as the creation due to people treat game as a new media form of self-expression and deliver experience to others via interactive means. Regular games or I called original games are those games really innovate on experience somehow, it does matter if the creator wants to express himself or just wants to earn more money. And capital games. Well, they are the most special ones in the China gaming industry, in fact their success reflects the status of game players in China, a lot of them played their first game as MMORPG or mobile game and think that all game is about. Fortunately this has changed a lot since App Store coming to China, also with effort from more than 12 million active Chinese users on Steam.
Any other comments?

I've been the one who communicates with indie communities from other countries at GDC China in the last few years. I’ve mMet with major players fromin Japan, Philippines, Australia, Russia and Thailand etc. I am so happy to see that we are sharing the same passion and vision for indie games! I hope that indies in China will continue to ould make a greatermore contribution tofor the global indie scene.

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  1. siliang 2017-03-03

    Yes,China Indie!

  2. luiswong 2017-03-05

    Great insights from Tony about the current state of the Chinese indie scene showing that there's a great opportunity for Western indies in China.

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