“My experience has been that most people who’ve come up through the video game industry in the West tend to be very new-game oriented, and I think that comes from the fact that many people in the packaged goods industry would associate job security and success with the start of a new game,” Dan Fiden said in a panel at Casual Connect USA 2014. “Whereas in Asia, the culture is completely different. The on-going operations of a game generally mean job security and financial success.”
Dan Fiden is the chief strategy officer at FunPlus, a Beijing-based developer, operator, and publisher of social and mobile games. It now has offices in Vancouver and San Francisco and more than five million daily active users.
Fiden has always been interested in games, playing a lot of them as a child in the 32-bit console days and earlier. When he began in the games industry, there was no formal education in making games. He started with a company called Jellyvision (now Jackbox), the makers of You Don’t Know Jack. He says, “It was an incredible experience with some really fun, like-minded people. I was hooked thereafter.”
As CSO, Fiden’s main objective is to build the team through hiring the most talented people he can find and by forming partnerships with people and companies that share the same goals as FunPlus. This means he spends a lot of time traveling and meeting new people.
The focus at FunPlus is on giving consumers games that put players and fun first. They are in the business of nurturing and maintaining communities, meaning that they treat their players well. Their international ops team is dedicated to making sure the players are constantly engaged in the game.
Fiden believes the same game can work all over the world, but the game operations and the people who interact with the players in whatever language on a day-to-day basis and manage the game must be 100 percent dedicated. They need to understand their players and be able to essentially run that game. So at FunPlus, they never outsource operations behind player volunteers. Instead, they have full-time employees whose entire responsibility is managing the game.
Because FunPlus wants every player to have a great experience in their game, they emphasize treating users well. Social media helps them to communicate with players, so it is a fundamental part of their business.
When well done, online games create a community around a shared experience. And social media, and the way people are constantly connected on their mobile devices, creates opportunities for players to engage with your services anytime, anywhere. This will continue to increase, so Fiden believes any game that fails to take that into account and foster it won’t work much longer.
Knowledge of the East and West
When Fiden first worked in China 10 years ago, the industry was dominated by Tencent’s PC instant messenger client QQ. People played games primarily in internet cafes, and most of the games were very casual multiplayer games like Link Link or low fidelity MMOs. The development community was dominated by outsourcing or insourcing studios for the big western publishers. Today, the situation has completely changed. Chinese developers are concerned mainly with the Chinese market, and that market is focused on mobile. He points out that there are now 80,000 development studios in China, and they release about 100 games every day.
The differences in the games industry between West and East are very familiar to Fiden. In the West, most game companies and game developers came from the packaged tradition. Since those games generally couldn’t be changed once completed, there was a strong focus on craftsmanship and polish. But in the East, video games have been online services for much longer, so Asian companies really understand what it means to focus on player retention and satisfaction. He says, “They interact with their users like a resort operator movie company.” Great experiences and services lead to customer loyalty. At FunPlus, Fiden emphasizes, they try to combine the best qualities of both East and West: great, polished, innovative games and incredible, memorable service, whether players are in Timbuktu or Toronto.
Excitement of Innovation
Fiden believes the most significant innovation in the last few years in the games industry is the free-to-play business model. He claims, “The significance of the free-to-play model has been understated. It’s not just a pricing model. It changes the nature of how you build a game team and what you think of as a game. It radically expands what we can do with game experiences and stories.” He would like to see the dialogue become less about whether it is predatory and more about how it necessitates an ongoing commitment from game makers to support the game and the players, and how that introduces really interesting creative possibilities.
In the near future, Fiden believes developers will have the ability to tailor the game to the player. Already, with Barn Voyage, they were able to create the game in fifteen languages, making it global from the first day on the market. There are community managers creating events in each country; these events will reflect an individual country’s culture, pop culture, and personal experiences. He foresees, “Games will no longer be generalized; they will be relevant to each player on a global scale.”
The coming games technology Fiden is most interested in personally is VR tech, such as Project Morpheus. However, in terms of impact on the industry, he selects the rapid proliferation of mobile devices with high speed internet connectivity as the most important trend. An example of what this can do is the amazing large scale battles of games like EVE. He enthusiastically speculates, “Imagine what that will look like when the real, addressable audience is nearly everyone in the world, and all of those people will be able to join in whether they are at home, on a train, or at work because it’s accessible on their mobile device.”
Catherine Quinton is a staff writer for www.gamesauce.org. Catherine loves her hobby farm, long walks in the country and reading great novels.