Are you aware that ChinaJoy took place a few weeks ago? Do you know what it is? I'd venture to say that a great many western gamers are unaware of this annual event, which happens to be a highly significant one for companies involved in the free to play space, and for those of us who try to track it with a global perspective.
ChinaJoy is a game show that includes both consumer and trade portions. It's huge. Compared to the most similar events in North America, attendance is far greater, and many more companies participate. A lot more titles are shown, most of which are F2P. And unless you've actively searched for coverage, there's a pretty good chance you haven't seen any.
If you're not particularly interested in how the game industry is evolving, especially beyond just here and Western Europe, you probably don't care about this lack of visibility. That's fine - for you. I, on the other hand, deplore it. There's simply too much going on in China that I want to know about, most importantly - at least to me - trends that have the potential to impact this hemisphere. Of course, there are also lots of games we may see here.
I've yet to have the opportunity to take in ChinaJoy in person, but I'm in a fortunate position where I can access information and opinions from people who do go. One with whom I touched base this year is Jikhan Jung, CEO of Gala-Net, which operates various F2Ps in North America through its regional gPotato portal. He believes China has achieved the status of a leader in online game development, from web titles to client-based. In some categories, he even feels it's now the standard bearer in Asia - no small feat considering the pace of evolution in Korea.
As a result, the show offers the chance to keep up with global trends and to find new releases to bring to the west. Looking at the enormous Chinese market and the vast development resources that now exist there, Jung wasn't surprised that ChinaJoy apparently grew. On the trade side, he cited a stronger international focus as a key reason. "While many studios still focus on the domestic audience, this year, we found more than ever that are striving to develop games that also target a global audience."
Another attendee, True Games Interactive Founder and Chairman Jeff Lujan, pointed out that there was also content on display from elsewhere. "Being at ChinaJoy gave us an opportunity to learn more about the Chinese market, and to see content on display from all over Asia. Many games won't necessarily make it to North America, but by attending, we still got a sneak peek at things to come." To me, this is critically important, especially in terms of seeing emerging and even strong trends that the western hemisphere seems likely to follow.
Lujan also went with an eye to entering China by licensing the upcoming Mytheon to a regional operator. "One of my main goals this year was to identify and meet with potential partners for the upcoming launch of our game. Not only was I able to do so, but I also got a chance to see what the consumers there might think of it, which was very valuable to our company."
As for the dearth of attention in western game publications, Jung was somewhat understanding. "The Chinese market is drastically different from the west; there are considerable differences in gamers' genre and styling preferences. There is a large quantity of games, but the quality can be low. As a result, western media outlets entirely ignore ChinaJoy, considering it to be irrelevant here." He does say that continuing to disregard the show will be increasingly difficult as Chinese games improve and gain fans in western markets.
In Lujan's seemingly different opinion, "ChinaJoy receives an adequate amount of coverage in North America based on the style of the show, its content and focus. It's primarily online/PC-oriented, so it may not get as much media attention as others that also include consoles, handheld, mobile, etc."
For what it's worth, I think the coverage overall was far less than adequate. Yes, it costs thousands of dollars to send a staff writer to China, and doing so also means that person can't do his or her regular work for several days. However, that's not the only way to cover a show. For instance, while it may not be ideal to use stringers, doing so costs far less. I'd also guess it's not easy to find them halfway around the world. However, I doubt it's impossible, and I can't help but wonder how many western publications even tried.
Two things make me feel even worse. One is that I don't think GSTAR, the Korean show in November, will get appreciably better coverage. The other is that the Austin GDC, which is coming up shortly, seems likely to have smaller attendance this year, perhaps far smaller, across the board, including general registrants, exhibitors and media. As a result, it's hard to anticipate either will appreciably boost the visibility of the F2P sector even though it continues to be a major driver of industry growth.