Wayfinding China is a good game: Why can’t China make a 3A masterpiece?

On August 20, the first official trailer for the domestic game “Black Myth: Wukong” was released within 24 hours of social media. This 13-minute real machine demonstration quickly exceeded 10 million views on the video sites Bilibili and Weibo. Some players commented under the video: “I was an assassin in Egypt and a Warcraft in another world… Now I finally saw a glimmer of hope, and I would return to my own country to be a monkey brother in another world.”

Some netizens excitedly said “buy it”, and the game also attracted the attention and recommendation of David Jaffe, the developer of Sony’s “God of War” series.

Wayfinding China is a good game: Why can't China make a 3A masterpiece? 1

“Why can’t China make a 3A masterpiece so far?” This question on Zhihu has attracted more than 2,000 people’s attention, has been viewed more than 2.3 million times, and many answers come from game developers and players. The term “3A game” comes from the United States. Since the 1990s, some companies have used “AAA” to describe the long production cycle, high production budget, and high marketing cost of their own games. This means that top game quality and experience are equivalent to The “blockbuster” in the movie. The advent of the “Wukong” trailer has made many domestic gamers see the hope of the domestically produced “3A” masterpiece.

But in fact, there is still a long way to go between seeing the top of the mountain and actually reaching it. The original intention of this trailer is to “recruit people.” Large-scale production games of the same size in the world generally require hundreds of developers, while the development team of “Wukong” currently only has about 30 people. At present, “Wukong” is far from completing the development and design of the entire game. According to the prediction of the internationally renowned game media IGN, there are at least three years before this game’s real launch.

Wayfinding China is a good game: Why can't China make a 3A masterpiece? 2

“Wukong” is on the road

The last shot of the “Wukong” trailer is fixed in the words “After the bones, re-walking to the west”, it is an official response to another game called “God of War” that was almost a god but regrettably retired ten years ago. I have to mention Tencent, the old club of the game development team.

In August 2003, Tencent began to get involved in the game business. Compared with established agents or companies with self-developed games, Tencent was still marginal. In the next few years, Tencent launched a series of online games starting with QQ, such as “QQ Fantasy”, and released a number of explosive models such as “Cross Fire”. Tencent, which is gradually dominating the domestic game market, needs a game of its own. “Good game” to rectify the name.

Quantum Studio, which is responsible for game development and operation under Tencent, came into being. The game producer Feng Ji led the team to develop the game “God of War” in 2008 and was released in 2010. The dark style of this game overturns the traditional theme of Journey to the West. Here, Wukong is not afraid of enemies, fate, or even the Buddha’s oracle, and shouts “I can’t help but my life”, in order to create a very contagious plot effect and exquisiteness Picture, the development cost exceeds 100 million yuan. Common game players can counterattack the original setting of the Great God without charging money, making “God of War” a clear stream in the krypton game’s dominant environment. The game also won the Tencent Game of the Year “Most Expected Online Game” in 2012 Grand Prize”.

However, according to the words of one of the team’s main creators, the high-input “God of War” became “a product with a fairly low KPI benefit weight” for Tencent Games at that time. Feng Ji resigned in 2014 and established Game Science (full name “Shenzhen Youke Interactive Technology Co., Ltd.”) in Shenzhen. The 7 start-up members of the team are all from the “God of War” R&D team, and the plot of “God of War” came to an abrupt end after the third chapter “Goodbye Mrs.”. Therefore, the player said that “After the bones, there will be no Westward Journey”. stem.

However, Feng Ji publicly stated that he left Tencent because he took a fancy to the mobile game market at the time. One year after the founding of Game Science, the first work “Hundred Generals” was released. This is an action card mobile game that sets 100 characters of the Three Kingdoms into battle heroes according to their own characteristics. This game brought the first pot of gold to the team, but within a year there was a problem of user loss. The team began to realize that blindly catering to the market cannot make a good game that impresses itself and the players.

Two years later, “The Art of War: Red Tide” launched by Game Science swept the App Store recommendation list in 154 countries and regions around the world on its first day of release. Another name “Hero Interactive Entertainment” can also be seen in the promotional materials at that time. Game Science, which has been running independently for three years, received investment from Tianjin Hero Financial Control Technology Co., Ltd. in 2017. Tianjin Hero Financial Holdings is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hero Interactive Entertainment Technology Co., Ltd. The shareholders behind Hero Interactive Entertainment include Sequoia Capital, Zhen Fund, and Huayi Brothers.

As early as 2016, after the release of “Hundred Generals”, the co-founder of Game Science Yang Qi mentioned the idea of ​​making a stand-alone game. Compared with Naoteng’s online and mobile games, single-player games can provide an immersive experience. Players spend dozens or hundreds of hours adventuring in a complete different world, just like watching a novel or movie.

According to the “2015 China Game Industry Report” published at the China Game Industry Annual Conference, the actual sales revenue of China’s stand-alone game market in 2015 has reached 140 million yuan, and stand-alone games have a certain market space. In 2018, the “Wukong” project was established. In order to have a quiet and independent environment, the game science company let the mobile game team stay in Shenzhen, and moved the stand-alone team to Hangzhou. The development was muted until August this year, bombing the whole with a trailer. network.

“Wukong” has nothing to do with “God of War” in terms of plot. It is just a story prototype born out of “Journey to the West”. The most intuitive reason why the enthusiasm of domestic players is instantly ignited is the picture quality. David Jaffe, the developer of Sony’s “God of War” series, could not withstand the recommendation of netizens. He watched “Black Myth: Wukong” on the Internet. At first he disapproved of it. After seeing the light effect of the wolf demon Ling Xuzi’s hair, Can’t sit still, start to analyze which scenes are rendered in real time. On August 21, when Jaffe posted the live video on his personal YouTube account, he wrote in the text recommendation: “I want to play this game, I will spend a lot of money to upgrade the console!” This game will take “one time “Sexual buyout system” is the classic stand-alone payment model instead of the popular free registration-internal payment form.

The game’s development cost is flying with word of mouth. Feng Ji revealed that one hour of smooth experience in the game means ten million yuan in research and development costs. However, due to the attraction of external capital, he also said, “At least there will be no funds in the short term. problem”. In order to focus on research and development, after the release of this video, “Game Science” set up a “No entry, please forgive me” sign at the door of the company to refuse game enthusiasts who jumped into the work area and watched. The company founder Feng Ji said on his personal Weibo, “I will not accept any kind of interviews or visits.”

“They are medium-sized and small (companies), and there are still many companies like this in China. And they have some products in operation and have a stable source of capital flow.” The former executive editor of “Popular Games” and mobile game media The founder Zhu Jiayin told China News Weekly that if there are relatively successful products, they will indeed be sought after by investors and distributors, and content development is not subject to capital restrictions. Up to now, the “Wukong” development team has successfully achieved a balance between ideals and survival, and more game teams in China have either fallen into a trap of feelings and struggled to survive, or fell under the knees of capital and money.

The difficulty of indie games

Fan Peng’s game company was one of those unfortunately dying out. The main game “Micro Warfare” did not come to a successful conclusion after more than 7 years of struggle. When he graduated from undergraduate in 2010, Fan Peng made the game effect. This is a horizontal multiplayer online competitive game (MOBA). The same concept of “Glory of the King” was not officially released. In 2012, “Micro Warfare” “Also won the “Best Technology Award” at the 4th China Independent Game Festival. However, from the concept to the actual product, the workload is hundreds of times that of the original plan. Not only planning, art and program implementation, but also server stability and many other links, every job is burning money.

“MOBA games need funds to continuously improve and polish, otherwise the online products will be rough, the player experience will be poor, the score will be low, and the expectations will be low. If the distribution platform is used to import traffic in the later stage, it will be a big investment. “Fan Peng recalled that in 2016, an investor requested 8 million yuan as a condition of holding a shareholding. Fan Peng refused on the grounds of maintaining the autonomy of the game. Afterwards, the investment environment deteriorated. The game died after several iterations. Fan Peng has now switched careers to the media.

Fan Peng’s other label is indie gamer. The concept of “independent games” was originally proposed to distinguish commercial games. “It refers to games with self-expression in which the developers themselves control the direction of the game and are not influenced by investors.” Game research scholar, Beijing Normal University Defined by Liu Mengfei, lecturer in the Department of Digital Media of the School of Arts and Media. But this kind of freedom is not unlimited. When the developer’s “self” cannot fit with ordinary players, this freedom of not compromising with capital and the market will also make independent games a prison.

Independent games are not only profit-oriented, but they are often unexpectedly hits due to their innovative gameplay and unique aesthetics, and they can eventually become commercially successful. Perhaps the most famous is the Finnish indie game “Angry Birds”, which was logged on to the Apple Store in December 2009 and became one of Apple’s top ten paid apps in the following year. Rovio, the company that developed this game, was founded in 2003. Its revenue was bleak. When the first version of Angry Birds was developed, there were only 4 core members. This was the 52nd game they developed.

“Indie games have the biggest boost to the entire game industry in that indie games are undertaking a lot of cutting-edge and exploratory work. Many new gameplays are first verified on independent games, and then commercial companies follow up.” Founder of China Independent Games Alliance Liang Tiexin told China News Weekly.

Independent game producer Wang Miaoyi left the game company six years ago in order to break the fate of compromising game creativity to commercial operations. But when she started to make games, she still had to learn to deal with “money”. She joked that her game saves money and saves money. She chose the “text decryption adventure game” as the first game she developed, which is Later, “WILL: A Wonderful World” (WILL for short), because of the small amount of art work and low cost.

In less than a month, Wang Miaoyi made a demo. A peer review said that “the gameplay is novel and the brains are big”. The player plays the role of the god who solves human suffering in the game, by disrupting the word order in the confession letter. , To change the trajectory of human destiny and discover the hidden story behind it.

Soon, Wang Miaoyi formed a team of 4 people, all programmers, 3 of whom were Tsinghua Xueba. The cycle and cost of game development exceeded everyone’s expectations. It took two and a half years, and the cost of more than two million yuan was all paid by the team members, and they were all burned into the game development. Without the money to publish, Wang Miaoyi manages the game’s official website, Weibo, and WeChat official account to update the progress of game development in real time. He has the opportunity to participate in the internationally renowned game video game exhibition to increase his exposure and accumulate game reputation. Maintain the fan community. Liang Tiexin recalled that two years ago, we needed volunteers to organize the WePlay Game Culture Exhibition, that is, game fans recruited through Wang Miaoyi, which shows that the user community relationship is stable.

In June 2017, WILL was released on the game platform Steam, priced at 60 yuan, with a high praise rate of 96%, which can be called the domestic independent game with the highest praise rate. This game finally made the team back and made money, but it did not change the fate of the team’s dissolution. “Playing indie games is like starting a business. Financial freedom and time freedom are not what many people think. Trial and error is the norm, and the risk of failure is still high. Everyone has different demands. After all, survival is the primary goal.” Wang Miaoyi recalled.

In Northern Europe and the United States, the history of independent game development is not short. Many game makers born in the 75s and 80s have had experience in designing independent games. “Independent game production takes time. The pace of life in foreign countries is relatively slow, and the welfare system is relatively complete. It is not easy to starve to death. But if you stop paying two months of salary in Beijing, the rent will drive you away. It is difficult to live without income. Work with peace of mind.” Liang Tiexin said, he is also the producer of the “China Independent Game Movie”. Before the film was released in 2018, a name that was closer to the living conditions of Chinese independent game producers was named “Lone Walk”.

With high living costs and high rents in Beijing, many independent game teams have moved out of Beijing after some toss. Wang Miaoyi said that the rest of the Beijing independent game circle is basically local indigenous people, at least Beijing children who don’t have to worry about food and accommodation.

For small teams, the downturn in the game industry came too fast. At the end of 2015, Steam, one of the world’s largest comprehensive digital distribution platforms, unlocked logins and RMB purchases in China. By the beginning of January 2016, the number of genuine Steam players in China exceeded 6 million, surpassing the number of players in the UK. The analysis report stated that “according to the 2016 China mobile game market size of 81.9 billion yuan, the mobile independent game market space is about 18 billion yuan.” However, the vent is fleeting. On March 29, 2018, the former State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television issued the “Notice on Important Matters Concerning Game Application Approval”, stating that due to institutional reform, the issuance of all game version numbers has been suspended. It was not until December 29, 2018 that the release of the version number was resumed. In addition to the cold winter of capital that year, many gold owners withdrew from the game industry, which also caused a lot of damage to the game. According to CCTV reports, in 2018 alone, there were 9,705 game companies cancelled or revoked nationwide. According to the company’s data, from 2015 to 2019, there were about 9,247 newly established game companies in China, and about 18,710 game companies were cancelled or revoked.

Krypton Gold

As a post-85, Wang Miaoyi witnessed the golden age of Chinese video games. One of the happiest things in middle school was to buy games from street vendors. From “Hero no Messenger” and “Lehman” to “Sword” series, And now when I look back, I still feel that the domestic game “Amao Ago” is advanced in concept, so she did not hesitate to choose the School of Software after being admitted to Tsinghua University. She doubled for a bachelor’s degree from the Academy of Fine Arts, and then went on to study for a master’s degree in computer science at our school. After working as a program architect for a game company for two years, making games was her dream.

“People who have never experienced it can’t imagine how popular games were in China in the 1980s and 1990s.” Liu Mengfei, for example, said that the People’s Daily in the 1980s was particularly positive in reporting on early video game halls, saying it was helping young people. Familiar with the application of contemporary technology, both with social functions, will also be promoted in the Children’s Palace.

In the 1990s, well-known game paper media such as “Electronic Game Software”, “Home Computers and Games” and “Game Base” came into being, and to some extent assumed the role of industry supervision. In 1997, a domestic strategy game “Blood Lion”, which was claimed to be comparable to “Command and Conquer: Red Alert”, came out, but it was quickly criticized by a group of game media as “a shame of domestic games” due to its crude style and game loopholes. . However, with the game’s defeat in the Internet Addiction War and the decline of paper media, the old game media also fell by half around 2015.

The emergence of krypton gold online games has changed the pattern of the game industry. The so-called “Krypton Gold” is to recharge the game. For a long time, the charging mode of domestic online games is to buy point cards. Buying a point card can be exchanged for a period of game time, just like calling to buy an IC card. In this mode, the player level and game duration are directly related. Linked up, players with money and no time gave birth to power leveling companies and equipment transactions. Giant Network Chairman Shi Yuzhu once spent more than 50,000 yuan to purchase an account with top equipment.

This experience allowed Shi Yuzhu to see the business opportunities of “free games”. Rich players don’t care about the cost of buying equipment at all, while players who have no money and time will naturally not miss the gimmick of “playing games for free”. “Business” magazine once concluded that the essence of free games is to “let those without money play for free, let the rich play happily, and earn money from the rich”. For this reason, you can even “raise 100 people to play with one person” “. In 2006, Giant Network produced the online game “Zhengtu”, which was one of the earliest free download-built-in paid games in China.

Under normal circumstances, there are clearly marked prices in the game mall, and occasionally limited-time purchases and limited-level purchases are introduced to stimulate player consumption. At present, the most controversial form of payment is “drawing cards”. An item that normally sells for several hundred dollars can be obtained by drawing cards. Each draw only costs one or two yuan, which is easy for players to accept, but the probability of winning is only 1 %, or even lower, some games will allow players to first draw small equipment to taste the sweetness, and then spend a lot of money for rarer resources, in various ways, such as collecting 10 cards in exchange for a set of skins, and there are always so many Zhang card is harder to draw than winning the lottery.

Some heavy krypton games will open an online game server specifically for individual “whale” players with strong financial strength. The gaming circle divides paying players into 3 levels according to the level of invested funds, the fish level, the dolphin level and the whale level. Even if whale players account for only 10% of the total number of players, they can cover the cost of the entire game server. It is very common for them to spend hundreds of thousands for the game, and if there are several such servers, there is no need to worry about making money. According to a game producer, “Some online chess and card games may be gambling offline, and the industry is very deep and complicated.” Some game companies will send undercover agents to the game to ensure the activeness of whale players. Play as the “big guy”, provoking and stimulating whale players to continue krypton gold to maintain their status in the game.

Liu Mengfei analyzed that games with excessive krypton gold are difficult for new players to use, and will be abandoned by the market. Most built-in paid mobile games are designed very well. The game plot, character settings, and combat system are all vassals of the paid system. It is to attract players to enter the game, create as much inconvenience as possible, and finally guide players to eliminate this inconvenience or pain through consumption.

Determined by the payment model, most of the built-in paid games are mobile games, and the games that can bring in-depth experience are more on the console, including handheld games and home console games, because the early stage investment threshold for console games is higher than that of free games, and pre-purchase is required Equipment and games will screen out most speculative players. Surprisingly, many players with tens of thousands of dollars in mobile games will find it expensive to spend dozens of dollars on a game.

Most profitable game companies in China are also doing internally paid mobile games, mainly because of the profit prospects of mobile games, “which is also caused by the overall environment of the game industry.” Deputy Director, Youth and Social Issues Research Office, Institute of Sociology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Tian Feng analyzed. China’s game rankings are based on a paid recommendation system. Whoever pays more will rank higher. Profits are being pursued in all aspects. The quality of the game is gradually being ignored or even sacrificed.

On the other hand, for large-scale game publishing companies, it’s not a big deal to sign a game team with hundreds of thousands of yuan in agency money. If the publishing agency has ten games at the same time, as long as one or two of them are lucrative Enough to cover the entire cost, then the publisher will tend to continue to promote these two hot games, abandon the announcement of other games. For games, there will be no exposure without publicity, and there will be no users and revenue.

“The main players who master the entire game industry are not developers, but publishers and distributors. They know what platform the game is published on, and where it ranks on the list.” Liu Mengfei said. Fan Peng said that every player who is diverted into the game is actually sold to game developers for real money by channel dealers. The main cost of the later stage of the game is promotion and guidance.

The industry is breaking through. In April 2016, TapTap, an interactive community for gamers known as the “Chinese version of Steam,” released the Android version of the App. It is a service platform that integrates mobile game distribution, community and media. The parent company Xindong Network Co., Ltd. once promised to CEO Huang Yimeng that “the platform will not be transported or divided” and only provide official channels and lines for downloading and purchasing major games around the world.

“I hope that more developers will stand with us and bring more new user growth to developers. This is our long-term goal.” On March 30 this year, officially announced the In the first annual financial report after the Hong Kong listing, the number of registered developers on TapTap in 2019 increased from 7,662 in 2018 to 11,006. In the subsequent earnings conference call, Huang Yimeng said that when other channels have to divide 30% or even 50% of revenue, TapTap can be 100% unshared.

“There has been a shortage of excellent domestic game works. It has its own reasons and external environmental factors.” Zhu Jiayin said. The number of game version numbers approved in 2019 is less than 1/5 of 2017. A game producer who has been engaged in game development for 11 years said in an interview with China News Weekly that there are peers who have not applied for version numbers for two years. In the end, he was told “no longer be accepted.”

According to industry insiders, in 2019, about 80% of the version numbers were given to internally paid mobile games. Many games that won international awards were removed from the shelves because they did not have a version number, which can be described as survival in the desert. “Designing, investing in investment, getting the version number, the early investment of the game is large, the cycle is long, and small game companies are basically dragged down, unless there is support from large game companies or internal incubation.” Tian Feng analyzed China News Weekly.

The most important thing about the game is fun

The birth of a 3A game requires the game company to spend time, hire a professional team to polish the details of the story, establish a good worldview and artistic beauty. It also requires the patience of investors and publishers to finally impress discerning players with their own pockets and high prices. , To achieve a win-win situation, and China has never had such a mature game environment. Public reports show that the most expensive video game currently is the British Grand Theft Auto V, which was developed for five years and cost 266 million U.S. dollars. However, sales on the day of its debut in 2013 reached 800 million U.S. dollars.

Feng Ji, the founder of Game Science Company, “does not reject or like the word “3A games”, but he thinks that it is dangerous to talk about 3A. “This kind of enthusiasm can easily confuse the game industrialization level and the quality of the game. For completely different things, the means is the end.” Feng Ji wrote on the Zhihu account, “The most important thing about the game is fun.”

“What is a good game? At least the gain is greater than the effort.” Chen Jiang, a professor at the School of Information Science and Technology of Peking University, analyzed that his public elective course “General Theory of Electronic Games” at Peking University is very popular. Players have paid money, time, and other things that could have been done during this period of time, personal enjoyment of audio-visual and other things that are more than they paid, then it is a good game.

Wang Miaoyi unexpectedly received a thank you email from a British player last year. Just like the god who can solve human troubles in the game, the game WILL also helped this male player to dispel suicidal thoughts. He experienced abuse and bullying in his childhood, and accidentally obtained a 15 in his most depressive period of adulthood. The pound electronic voucher just happened to buy this game. It was still his favorite type of puzzle solving. By changing the life trajectory of the characters in the game, he also changed his attitude towards his life.

It has been more than three years since Wang Miaoyi’s start-up team was disbanded. After the original rented office was emptied, she moved the important items back home, working alone in the study and living room, and continued to do the follow-up maintenance of WILL. At the suggestion of a Portuguese player, the two are doing translation and proofreading of the Portuguese version of WILL. Recently, she is trying to develop a new decryption + story game. “We all say that Chinese games will get better and better. Someone will do it, right?” Wang Miaoyi said.

Liang Tiexin has a more well-known screen name in the gaming circle “Play Hard to Play Saburo”. In 2008, he created a website called “Play Hard to Play”, recommending three mini games every day, and insisted on personally recommending and testing it in 2013. Played more than 5000 models. He found an interesting phenomenon. Game teams all over China have obvious regional personality characteristics. Shenzhen’s game commercial elements are relatively complete and easy to burst, such as “Vitality Knight”; Shanghai independent games are highly artistic, such as “Pumpkin Mr. Adventure”; Beijing’s game producers usually do things in a more organized manner, knowing the audience and market corresponding to the game type, and the promotion strategies they need, such as Wang Miaoyi’s WILL.

Game developer Li Yuanyang once played an anti-war game “Brave Heart: The Great War”. This small game produced by French game company Ubisoft uses a humorous storyline to reflect the ubiquitous cruelty of war. Players give it back This game is called “What Can I Save You? My Father-in-Law”, and the final theme is serious, just like “War makes people crazy” written by one of the protagonists in his suicide note.

“After the company’s revenue stabilizes, I also want to play such a game.” Li Yuanyang said. His team is currently developing two new games. The type is Roguelike, a sub-category of role-playing (RPG) that is more popular among players. The main feature is that a new scene is randomly generated every time the game starts, and the character has only one life. Roguelike’s game concept originated in the 1970s and has been tested by the market. “We have already spent the time to pay the tuition. It won’t be as wild as before. What I have to consider now is how to keep the company alive and gradually do better.” Li Yuanyang said.

In the “Wukong” trailer, the level demonstrated by the real machine is called “Black Wind Mountain”. Just as Feng Ji said at the internal meeting on the afternoon of the trailer’s release, Heifeng Mountain is the eleventh difficulty on the way to learn from the scriptures. There are seventy difficulties. To spread the content of the same quality in the trailer over a dozen levels and dozens of hours of “Wukong”, the game science team has to overcome many difficulties.