Mon, Jul 05, 2004 - Page 11 News List

Staking a gaming claim

Renowned Chinese saga novelist Jin Yong may never have imagined his works would be popular with everyone from retirees to schoolchildren. Wang Chin-po, founder and president of Soft-World International Corp, the nation's largest online PC game provider which vitalizes Jin Yong's characters in the virtual world, talked with 'Taipei Times' staff reporter Jessie Ho about his vision to turn online gaming into Taiwan's signature industry

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

Wang Chin-po, president of the Soft-World International Corp, gestures during an interview.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

Taipei Times: Online PC games have been enjoying considerable growth over the past few years in Taiwan, but one researcher said the market is nearing saturation, given that annual growth and game titles are declining by the year. Do you agree?

Wang Chin-po (王俊博): I don't think so. From the point of view of the market, broadband Internet subscribers here will only increase with time, which is good for the development of the online gaming industry.

According to our survey, one-fifth of Internet users are online gamers in Taiwan, while the ratio is one in three in South Korea. It shows we still have room to grow.

On the other hand, like the movie business, which counts on summer hits to lure consumers into movie theaters, I find that the gaming sector also brings in new segments of gamers with killer games. One example is our staple Ragnarok Online (RO, 仙境傳說). Before we rolled out that product, our rival Gamania Digital Entertainment Co's (游戲橘子) Lineage (天堂) series dominated the online gaming market with 180,000 members. But rather than snatch away Lineage members, we targeted female gamers who prefer light and casual games.

As a result, subscribers to RO are now hitting 300,000, and many of them are first-time players. Based on this experience, I believe strong and diverse products will continue to bring in new game lovers.

TT: Soft-World International Corp (智冠科技) is doing well in Taiwan and China. What distinguishes the two markets?

Wang: Taiwan is a free and democratic society with no laws regulating game publications. The upshot of this open environment is that game providers are allowed to release diverse categories of games, and gamers' tastes are also diverse. For example, role-playing games have been popular in the market, but strategy, sports and puzzle games are grappling for their market segments too.

Chinese gamers, however, tend to concentrate on a specific game category. Unlike Taiwan, Internet infrastructure is still not installed throughout most provinces in China, so most gamers there flock to cybercafes to play group role-playing action games together. Individual games are therefore less popular. Besides, the Chinese government censors game publications, which more or less hampers the development and diversification of the industry.

TT: Like Soft-World, many local game providers have also made inroads in the massive Chinese market, but few have struck gold in light of heavy competition from their South Korean and Chinese counterparts. How did you succeed?

Wang: We entered the Chinese market about 10 years ago, when Taiwan-produced PC games were overwhelmingly popular there. But the market was filled with pirated games. Consumers at that time just went straight to computer stores and got cheap pirated games, leaving us no room to survive. After struggling for two years, we adopted a detour strategy rather than meet our illegal competitors head on. We started to use 30,000 to 40,000 newsstands there to distribute our gaming magazine. And after the magazine's circulation grew to a certain size, we offered games with the magazine at prices that were cheaper than those of the pirated versions. The tactic was more than successful and we still use it now.

Another important key strategy is working with Chinese companies. Overseas gaming companies cannot apply to distribute games in China, so we forged partnerships with local companies and asked them to apply for us. Hence, we can bring our products directly to the market instead of being a mere distributor.

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