Online gaming is big in China, and nobody knows how to play the market better than Bill Wang. Bill is the Manager of Global Business Development for Turbine, Inc., the US-based producer and publisher of online subscription entertainment that has signed deals in China with companies like Shanda.
Bill has extensive experience in corporate strategy and business development. His career has progressed with increasing responsibilities at global leading companies including Shell and Teradyne. He has also been actively involved in Harvard China Review, a prestigious not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting cultural, commercial, and academic exchange between Greater China and the rest of the world, and he is the co-chair of this past month's Harvard China Review's 9th Annual Conference.
Bill received his master's degree in finance, Beta Gamma Sigma, from Boston College in 2004 and graduated from the Pennsylvania State University with an MBA degree in 2001.
In April 2005, Turbine announced a partnership with Shanda. How is the cooperation going?
The cooperation has been going very well. Shanda views "Dungeons and Dragons Online" (DDO) as the most important title in its product pipeline. Turbine believes China is the most important market for its franchises in Asia. Both parties have invested substantial resources to bring DDO to China this summer.
You personally deal with markets in Japan, China, and the United States. How does the gaming business compare in each region?
China's online game market is overcrowded. The industry will go through consolidation as business models are tested by rising competition. Shanda's free game initiative is an interesting experiment toward this direction. In the end, big titles will win out and the strongest will survive as we have been witnessing World of Warcraft (WoW)'s huge success in China.
Japan is primarily a console market and online gaming accounts for a small market share. It is estimated that total online gamer population is around 3MM in Japan. Ragnarok Online (RO), Final Fantasy, and Lineage, are the top three MMOGs. RO is estimated to have about one million players. Overall, the market potential is substantial and the playing field is wide open for newcomers who want to participate in this growing market.
The U.S. has a fast growing online gamer population thanks to the recent success of several premier titles. The subscription model will continue to be the primary one in the foreseeable future. Item trading and in-game ads may open new revenue streams for online game operators.
What have been some of the challenges in operating and licensing games in China?
Culture is the number one concern for Western studios. Due to the cultural proximity, Korean developers have been far more successful in China than Western counterparts. However, the successful launch and operation of WoW is the game changer.
WoW has generated tremendous excitement among Chinese gamers. I believe that Chinese gamers are more receptive to Western titles than before. Thus, local operators are more confident in licensing elite Western titles including "Dungeons and Dragons Online" and "The Lord of the Rings Online".
Chinese government ministries and agencies has announced new rules over the last year that regulate users' playing times, their access to Internet cafes, and the type of information that they need to provide to register for games. How are these rules affecting how you develop games for the China market?
Online gaming companies need to be good corporate citizens in the local community. The new regulations will help youngsters play online games within an adequate amount of time, which reduces parents' concern and should be positive to the industry's long-term growth. Turbine supports regulatory initiatives and will comply with local government's requirements.
Is wireless gaming something that you see a good future for in China?
Many new business opportunities are created through technology convergence. Being the largest mobile phone market, China has a potentially huge market for mobile games. However, there are some hurdles. First, the competition will be fierce because of the low entry barrier. It is relatively cheap and easy to develop mobile phones. Thus, hundreds of mobile phone companies will compete for limited slots provided by a limited number of wireless carriers. Second, business models are still evolving. Third, connectivity and the small size of the mobile phone screen are challenging to game developers.
Have you settled on a partner in China for the release of "Lord of the Rings"?
"The Lord of the Rings Online" (LOTRO) will be one of the most exciting launches in the MMOG industry history. Turbine has chosen Midway as the publishing partner in North America and picked Codemasters for the European launch. In other geographic markets, this title has generated strong interest from potential partners. We expect to grant the China rights to a partner in the near future.
Will there be a day when Turbine does all its development work offshore in a country like China?
China is a strategic market for Turbine's growth. To gain the intimacy of the local market and take the advantage of local design talents, Turbine will explore all the options. As a matter of fact, Turbine has already outsourced a certain amount of design work to some local art houses.
When you have free time, what types of games do you like to play?
I play WoW and DDO. I will play LOTRO when it enters closed beta.