Regardless of how China Mobile and China Unicom plan to regulate China's telecom landscape, there will always be a need for reliable companies to provide the gaming content for users to play. Originally from Israel, Ori Elraviv is the CEO and Co-Founder of Dragon Ports, an outsourcing house for porting, testing and localization of mobile applications in China.
Prior to founding Dragon Ports, Ori headed business development and marketing efforts for a number of service providers in the technology industry in China including work with a conference organizer and a strategic consulting firm. He is also the co-founder and director of the Beijing chapter for China Entrepreneurs, a non-profit professional organization focused on providing a platform to foster ideas and expand the movement of entrepreneurship in China.
How did you get involved in mobile gaming and start your business?
I had my eyes set on mobile applications for quite some time, but it was Richard Robinson (ex VP International Business Development for Linktone, and an investor in Dragon Ports) who got me involved in setting up Dragon Ports. Richard got together two other entrepreneurs in setting up Dragon Ports, as he saw there are opportunities for an efficient, reliable outsourcing house, especially located in China.
What are major differences between porting mobile games and computer games?
Well, mobile games and computer games are completely different in everything from size, graphics and user experience. The main issue when importing a computer game is related to the localization part–this can take quite a bit of time, and has lots more to do then just language issues.
In mobile, "porting" is referred first to enabling the application to be downloaded and work probably on all requested handsets–either as a requirement from the carrier, or to have it available for more users. It is a relatively straightforward assignment, but you have to be familiar with all the issues/bugs related with the handsets you want to port the application into, and you have to actually have those handsets in-house to execute quality assurance.
Overall you can say that the major issue in the mobile application space is the fragmentation of the mobile handsets, and the lack of a unified platform and standards that can easily support them all. Sadly, although maybe not for us, there is also little incentive to come up with one, and companies are resorting to their own internal solution to be able to lower the burden of this "headache".
China Mobile and China Unicom are placing restraints on wireless value-added services in China. How does this affect your business?
This is an interesting thing that happens in China, and in the mobile industry in particular. Overall, the restraints the local carriers impose on service providers (SP) or wireless value-added service providers (WVASP) have no direct impact on Dragon Ports, as we don't have an SP license, and hence don't aggregate content.
Also, these restrictions affect SMS/MMS services in particular, or other subscription-based services, and do not really effect Java/BREW games/applications–this segment has enough troubles on it's own without any interference from China Mobile or China Unicom.
It is easy to be intimidated by all the restrictions that come out from the carriers, but that might be what the industry needs at the moment. There are too many small and medium SPs who are eager to show value to investors, and are using every trick in the book to come up with revenues. This not only hurts the pockets of everyday mobile users (with all kinds of fees they have no idea where they come from), but could potentially become a disaster for the mobile content providers and carriers looking to gain the trust of users, and increase revenues from mobile content.
So do these new restrictions mean difficult times in the short term for Chinese SP's?
Absolutely! But it also means that they will need to start creating a viable business model, and creating value for users. Actually, in my point of view, this is something the entire mobile industry needs to start creating.
What sort of funding does your company have now and what type of additional finance are you seeking?
Dragon Ports is an outsourcing house, and is working on a model that doesn't require us to have huge funding. The initial started funds came from the four founders, and currently we are not in need of additional funds. That said, we are open for strategic investors that will bring value to Dragon Ports in different ways other than cash alone.
Why choose China for a business like this?
I believe China is the perfect spot for mobile activity, and definitely makes a lot of sense for an outsourcing house like Dragon Ports. The technical resources available here are enormous, and unlike other technology areas, China was there from the start.
Another issue is the passion that Chinese have for mobile content and games in particular. This improves their abilities dramatically, especially in anything related to QA. Some will naturally point to the large mobile market in China as the main advantage for Dragon Ports, but things are not as straightforward as they seem, and especially the mobile content market is still far from where the industry wants it to be.
What are some challenges in operating your business in China?
There are many books written about the challenges of operating or doing business in China, so I'm not going to get into those aspects. There are operational complications of setting your office in China, and there are business threats we need to take into consideration.
From the business aspect, our main challenge comes from the small and medium size Chinese SPs, who are currently willing to take on porting and localization work as part of a revenue share agreement. Their being an SP naturally also means they can launch the application with China Mobile or China Unicom. International content providers who are looking to minimize their risk will see this option as a preferred way to launch their applications in China, and will not use our services for local projects.
This challenge will change gradually as small SPs will not be able to survive on the China turf, and international content providers will realize they might do better taking a bit more risk to work with a partner they can trust and can deliver results.
In a nutshell, when you get a new client, what sort of services do you provide?
Dragon Ports is a straightforward outsourcing house for porting, testing of mobile applications. When engaging in any new project, we first evaluate the application taking into consideration the level of difficulty of the application, as well as the target handset list required by the client. We then come up with a timetable to have the application run smoothly on each of the requested handset list provided to us. We also take stand alone testing assignments of mobile apps.
In China, we are well positioned to leverage our existing relations to help companies launch their applications locally, but this is not part of our business model and done more as an added value to our existing services. In some cases, we might take it upon ourselves to manage local partnerships established by our clients, and make sure things go smoothly.
What are your competitive advantages over other firms operating in China?
Outsourcing work is all about service and delivery. Dragon Ports is a rare mix of top-notch service and integrity, together with a highly experienced team of engineers and QA professionals.
In my view, one of the difficult parts in service related projects is developing trust relations with partners and clients. We put that at the top of our list, and I believe it will be extremely hard to find another company in China–and in many ways outside of China as well–with the same level of integrity as ours.
What is your favorite computer game of all time and what games are you currently playing? What's your favorite mobile game?
I am a sucker for Dungeon and Dragons RPG games, and will always have a warm spot for the old "Eye of the Beholder" series. A bit more difficult to point out to a favorite mobile game, as funny enough I don't really play much of that yet. It is kind of fun to have all those games in-house and load one on my handset at will, but I still don't do that so much.