For the longest time I never really knew what to think of my time in China gaming. Truth be told it was extremely uneventful and a bit of a let-down when I consider what my friends had told me about Internet Cafés. Gaming in China hasn’t changed all that much in the last 5 years, with maybe the exception of the growth of mobile gaming. If you compared what people were playing 5 years ago to what they are playing today, you would find that the games are pretty much similar. League of Legends is absolutely huge in China and as much as I tried to enjoy it with my friends, it didn’t do it for me. I’m not saying League of Legends isn’t a good game, but for me, I would rather play Battlefield or Fallout, hell I think at one stage I would have even settled of COD.
By the time I had landed in Beijing, I had a laptop that was able to handle Oblivion and Left For Dead. The laptop was for college work and I didn’t consider anything else when I was buying it. I soon became really bored because I’m used to playing something in my free evenings to relax. It sounds odd to some friends that to relax, I would game. To them it gives the opposite feeling of being under pressure. All I can say is, gaming with friends and having a beer is how I like to unwind. After a few weeks I said screw it, I was going to download Steam and play anything with requirements my toaster of a laptop could handle. Oblivion was fun, but way too outdated for me to enjoy fully and Left For Dead was barely playable with my FPS as low as Donald Trump’s IQ.
It was frustrating not being able to unwind and I turned to some of my local friends. They recommended I go to an Internet Café. At this point, about 2 months into my time in Beijing I would have tried anything to chill out. It was my first time living in a city with more than 1 million people, hell Beijing is a city of anything upward of 21 million people. So, I went with a friend to an Internet Café for an evening. It was about a 10-minute walk from our campus and I could see the excitement on my friends face. He was bringing his foreign friend to play some ‘Youxi!’. We got to the café and it was underground. When we got to the reception, if you would call it that, there was an issue. I didn’t have a citizen ID card and I couldn’t log in to play. Everyone in the Internet Café who wanted to go online, had to provide their Citizen ID number, along with a DOB, sex and location, basically their ASL. My passport details weren’t going to work.
The man behind the counter whipped out a box filled with ID cards. They were stacked up high and it looked like there could have easily been at least a thousand of them in there. He gave me one that was over 18 and we paid the price to play on the premium PC’s. The cost to have our own sofa, 28 Inch flat screen TV and PC full of games was $1.50 an hour. The only problem was the layer of smoke above my head. Being underground meant no windows, no windows meant any smoke wasn’t going to leave the place. I could already feel my eyes burning. We logged in and I wanted to play the only game I could recognize, COD World at War. My friend said it was too boring and we settled on League of Legends for the night. The only time I’ve ever enjoyed watching League of Legends or Dota 2 is when I am watching it on Twitch, simply because the broadcasters make it interesting and entertaining, otherwise I wouldn’t play it.
It was boring. I can’t even remember the game mechanics I cared that little. League of Legends was a free to play game I would see now and again and never consider downloading it. It isn’t my cup of tea and that isn’t to say it isn’t without it’s qualities. It just isn’t something I enjoy, yet I was in this Internet Café surrounded by most people who were. It took me a while to understand why people liked Dota 2 and League of Legends so much. They were free to play, required little to no specs to play them and they’re competitive. For most people, buying a console, Television and a monthly subscription is too expensive. For a fraction of that price, you could buy a rig or laptop that can run free to play games.
Consoles were banned in the early 2000’s and they could only be bought legally in July 2015. That doesn’t mean buying a Playstation or Xbox was impossible, they were readily available to buy, but there wasn’t a marketing presence from Sony or Microsoft, or for that matter a culture of console gaming. Now, after nearly a year of being legal to purchase, consoles aren’t doing all that well in the Chinese market and make up a sliver of the overall market. Mobile gaming is still growing and has captured a larger share of the gaming market in China. China now dominates the gaming market worldwide and getting into the market is only going to be more difficult with government legislation.
I went to the Internet Café a few more times with my friend and played a terrible knock-off of Counter-Strike with the same kind of special zombies as Left For Dead and gave up. I stayed with COD World at War and longed for the days of The Forest, Fallout 4 and as awful as it can be, Day Z. I can’t see consoles making a dent in the Chinese market. In fact, Tencent is making a console for playing League of Legends. The console will run on a sixth-generation Intel processor and includes a controller. Maybe this is the way forward for the Chinese market, or maybe Tencent is maybe a big mistake. The problem with consoles in China is that even with a burgeoning population, people still want to play on PC’s. It is cheaper and free to play satisfies the market. A console with the sole purpose of playing League of Legends makes no sense when you can probably pay less for a PC and play it for free and if you put the effort in, you could play it with a controller.
The problem with Tencent, Sony and Microsoft is the scenario that Jack Ma explained when his company, Alibaba, was competing with Amazon and eBay. He said Alibaba (like Tencent) is a crocodile in the river, while Amazon (Like Sony and Microsoft) is a shark in the ocean. If the shark swims up the river, the crocodile will win. But if the crocodile swims to the ocean, the shark will win. It is the problem with foreign markets and the Chinese one. Dota 2 had to adapt to the Chinese market by cutting out gore and skeletons, while most Chinese games are simply not popular abroad. The reason for this is that the Chinese market is still expanding and there are still lots of opportunities to be had. Although it makes sense to have a foot hole in any new market, it shouldn’t come at the price of losing significant resources that could yield higher revenue from a home market.
I will admit my own prejudice when it comes to my taste in gaming. My friends found Fallout 3 & 4 to be boring and I found pretty much any game they recommended to be just as boring. I come from a mixture of Console and PC gaming. Without a doubt in my mind, PC gaming is by far the best. It was where I first discovered online gaming and the fact I don’t have to pay a subscription to use Steam is enough of a reason to stick with PC, but consoles have their perks too. They are more easy going and I can sit on my sofa and crack a beer open and relax. My gaming experience has always made me more privy to play single player games with story-driven elements. The only time I like to play online is with friends, who I’ve either met on or offline. Competitiveness only comes into my mind when it involves friends.
Overall, the future of gaming could be heavily influenced by the Chinese market if it ever decided to localize games to foreign markets, or at least decide on marketing games abroad. At the moment I can’t see that happening because of a lack of originality and a lack of incentive. From my experience, gaming in China and Europe and North America are quite different, but the core element is still there, gaming is fun. Sony and Microsoft are putting in a lot of effort into trying to market and localize games and consoles to a Chinese market that doesn’t really want them. They should change their tactics or lose the biggest gaming market in the world.