I dug a little deeper into the distended landfill of available Chinese software and came to realize there are contemporary gaming platforms out there, which, despite being driven by the consumer, are prolific enough to rival the big boys who can afford those multi-billion dollar advertising budgets and massively expensive retail shelf space. China, it seems, is a haven for the perplexed, jaded gamer.
With traditional market leaders unable to find a finger hold in such a prolific, yet low-profit industry, the particularly discerning Eastern gamer is in a position to dictate to the manufacturer what they want to play; inversely proportional to the way our computer and videogame shelves are filled by gigantic corporations who tell us, the lowly Western gamer, what we will and won't enjoy.
The Chinese player - who for the most part is unable to afford (and is therefore unsupported by) the big name consoles and game developers - has found an entertainment outlet that provides real choice. It doesn't take a large team of programmers, artists and musicians millions of dollars to create a new game for a mobile phone, and buying the latest titles is a simple matter of having them sent to your handset at any time of day, the storefront being nothing more than a couple of bars of signal strength.
Despite an estimated 40-50% of the world's PCs (and a significant portion of individual PC components) being manufactured in China, the majority of the population is in no position to own their own computer. In the same way that a lack of affordable gaming systems has influenced the massive proliferation of mobile games, the lack of a PC has lead to an unprecedented growth in WAP and wireless internet access. Not only does this allow an aspect of the internet's communication tools to become available to an otherwise disconnected populace, it also provides the main source of new games, even when those titles are paid for in person at a retail store, as I discovered in Manchester.
Clearly one of the major contenders for the much anticipated boom in Chinese videogames, mobile gaming highlights another more personal divergence from the way we in the West play our games. While we sit on our sofas and in our bedrooms for hours on end as we indulge our computer entertainment addictions, the Chinese are (as the platform's name suggests) going mobile with their playing experience.
When the console/computer is always in your pocket, there is no restriction as to where the games are bought or played. Mobile gaming is becoming something of a social experience for the Chinese; gathering together to play the latest craze, or thumbing away at a game while out on the train or shopping, like my collective of Java junkies in China Town. Granted, there may not be much eye contact and these groups of mesmerized mobile fondlers might not be replete with poignant conversation, but they are at least congregating with other, tangible gamers while playing. Perhaps, it's not the ideal way to spend your formative years, but young people across the world have known considerably more personally and socially destructive pastimes than tapping away at a phone keypad. With such a monumental number of players, it's never hard to find other like-minded people to get together with and play, and as popularity grows, so does the subscription to more advanced network services.
China Mobile, the largest mobile phone service provider in China, has reported an average of five million new subscribers a month, and although it is struggling to keep up with the network load, it's also pouring millions into upgrading the services to meet expectations of the game- playing youth; desperately trying to predict the next technological gaming sensation. The Java and WAP games being developed in China, Korea and Japan (with Europe and the U.S. now getting in on the action) are becoming more detailed and in-depth playing experiences, and with over 400 million mobile phone subscribers in China alone, a great deal of investment is going into ways of using this immense wireless network for multiplayer gaming.