Yat Siu, Co-Founder of Animoca, as well as Founder and CEO of its parent company Outblaze, has always been attracted to technology, although his educational background is in music. His interest in gaming began as a child playing on his Commodore 64, but he never expected to work primarily with games, simply because it was such a fledgling industry at the time. But as he followed his interests, his career included various technology areas, such as lifestyle, Internet, Web, social media, and games.
When Siu co-founded Animoca, he recognized the high investment necessary in publishing and marketing a hit game as a formidable problem. The games industry is a crowded and competitive market, and with so many people focused on creating the next big hit, the chances of succeeding are limited. So Siu went a different direction, with what he calls a “supermarket approach.” Animoca offered a broad selection of titles that would appeal to a wide range of the global market, including the underserved female audience.
This plan, particularly catering to girl gaming and the “cute” niche, allowed them to become profitable in their first year. The strategy also allows them to distribute apps very effectively because their games are played by a broad range of people over the globe, with 220 million downloads by early 2014. For the future of Animoca, Siu expects to continue growing the business, but equally important, he wants them to continue having fun, learning, unlearning, and learning even more.
To navigate the inevitable crises in this business, Siu uses negotiation skills and a logical, information-based decision-making process. And he insists, “Develop the ability to avoid panic!”
Keys to Success
Siu emphasizes that the most challenging aspect of working in the games industry is its ever-changing nature. To be successful, you must identify trends early, before they become established. It is essential to be constantly learning and observing, while discarding outdated information and modes of thinking. He says, “Running tech companies is a mountain of hard work, and often your efforts don’t succeed at first, but the key is to adapt, persevere, and follow your vision.”
For a game’s success, Siu feels the most important factor is player engagement. He insists, “Whether it is the story, the art, the difficulty, the game play, or the social features, what you want is for your game to engage players.”
Siu emphasizes that the Asian market is far from being a single market. In fact, it is a multi-market with dramatic cultural and language differences between countries, and a game can succeed in one country while failing miserably in another. There are dramatic cultural and language differences between countries, even such geographically close ones as China and Japan. An example of these differences is the strong trend toward portrait-based, one-handed game play in Japan, something which is not evident anywhere else.
Asia, he tells us, is fragmented with many markets at different stages of development, affluence, and hardware penetration. For instance, China is a fast-growing smartphone market; Korea is a mature one. And in South Korea, China, and Japan, ecosystems are emerging and interacting with hardware companies and telecoms to provide new methods of distribution.
In contrast, in the West, the USA is a single enormous market and no European market is even close to its size. App developers focus on what will be popular in the US. In Asia, the vast population is localized into single markets; being successful in one market is not considered a problem. The West concentrates on a global market while developers in Asia localize for a single market. Asia is moving toward localized, culturally relevant content rather than emphasizing products which will be easily transferable to other markets and cultures.
Asia’s Influence on the Industry
Over the years, Siu has seen the games industry become more mainstream and accessible to everyone; focused on delivering a personal experience. In the past, games were experienced on a special shared device, a console, or gaming computer. Now games are played primarily on the device you use to communicate, to manage your contacts, and to connect to the internet, your social circle, and your social networks. Gaming is now moving toward the personal and the personalized with Siri-like services in games and more portable or wearable computing devices.
Siu has noted that the games industry thrives on borrowing and adapting, and the influence of Asian models and innovations continues to increase. For example, free-to-play came out of South Korea, and Asian game titans are now starting to dominate. He expects to see continued cultural exchange and assimilation of games, and at Animoca, the emphasis is on finding the appropriate market or niche for a title. Another trend in the Asian market is the focus on producing hardcore games that require significant investment in player time and effort, a trend which is now spreading to the US.
Breaking into the Asian Market
As developers attempt to break into the Asian market, the most frequent mistakes he sees come from allowing personal bias and experience to get in the way when making decisions. He points out that you can’t take your intuition and habits for granted in a new market. It is critical to study the environment, the opportunities, and the obstacles and use them to make sensible, data-driven decisions.
The most important advice he gives for making a game stand out in the Asian market? “Move to Asia!” Or at least work with good local partners.
Yat Siu will be speaking about what it takes for Asian mobile game developers to break into the US market at Casual Connect Asia 2014 in Singapore next month. Find out more about his session on the conference website.
Catherine Quinton is a staff writer for www.gamesauce.org. Catherine loves her hobby farm, long walks in the country and reading great novels.