Now, they're catching up. Fast.
"Korea created the Chinese [MMOG] industry," says Wujcik. "In 2004, 70% of Chinese [MMOG] income went to South Korea. The Chinese government woke up. They're very aggressively promoting the [MMOG] game industry."
OK, but when "the Chinese government" promotes something, who exactly does the promoting? It's hard to say. A report by the interactive entertainment industry research firm DFC Intelligence lists a hair-raising alphabet of niggling bureaucracies: "the State Press and Publications Administration (GAPP), the Ministry of Information Industry (MII), the Ministry of Culture (MoC), the State Copyright Bureau, the Ministry of Public Security, the Bureau of State Secrecy, the Commission of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration (SASAC), and the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT). These agencies all have a hand in controlling the game industry through regulations that not only are constantly changing, but often conflict."
Still, somehow or other, the Chinese game industry is being promoted. Check the PDF report called "Analysis of the Development of Chinese Online Game Industry," written by Qun Ren and Xiaosong Yang, students in business and computer animation at Bournemouth University (U.K.). The report lists several recent government initiatives:
- A school of game software created in October 2003 at Sichuan University in Chengdu, capital of southwestern China's Sichuan province, plus online gaming departments in 10 other universities.
- A technical college and 15 training centers for internet games, set up in August 2004.
- National online game development bases in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangdong province and Sichuan province.
- A 1-2 billion renminbi (U.S. $120-240 million) program announced by GAPP in October 2004 to sponsor development of 100 online games in the next five years. The MII has also appropriated funds to support some domestic online game companies.
In addition, EA, Ubisoft and most of the other big Western game companies have set up Chinese divisions, mostly in Shanghai. Each of these companies employs hundreds of workers.
All of this demonstrates the classic Chinese "human wave" method of problem-solving. In software production, this approach usually doesn't work. But in MMOGs, where content is king, this may be a key to eventual Chinese dominance. It depends on whether Chinese developers actually learn how to make fun games, either through all these state-sponsored programs or, more likely, just by playing the games to death.
It'll probably happen. Out of 200 million or more players, you have to think some of them will develop real talent. Sure, it may take decades. But China has decades. It's been around for 3,000 years already, and for most of that time it was Earth's most advanced culture.
Chinese designers will get better. Then, we'll see interesting stuff, and Westerners will finally talk about, and play, these games. Take off your blinders; the future is red.