Taiwan gaming pioneer on top of the world
If being successful in online gaming is as hard as going to the North Pole, Albert Liu, CEO of Taipei-based company Gamania, has nothing to worry about. He has already been to the top of the world.
Arctic exploration is a hobby now on the backburner for 40-year-old Liu, as he directs his gaming empire from the 18th floor in a suburb of Taiwan's capital, hoping to make westerners as mad about online gaming as Asians are.
"For every 100 Asians, 90 or 95 have heard about online gaming. For every 100 Europeans, it may be just 10 or 15," said Liu, sitting in a relaxed pose in his spacious office wearing a T-shirt and shorts.
The company, which has brought titles such as "Crusade", "Super Rich" and "Convenience Store" to the game-consuming public hopes soon to become a global player.
Taiwan currently makes up 70 to 80 percent of the company's revenue, while foreign markets, mainly Japan and Hong Kong, account for the rest, according to Liu.
Ideally China will account for 25 percent in a decade's time, Europe for 25 percent, the US for 25 percent, and Asia outside China for 25 percent, he said.
The company's rapid expansion has not met with undivided applause among analysts.
"I think the company needs to focus on enhancing its R and D skills to design more games rather than stretching itself thin in rapid overseas expansions," said an analyst at KGI Securities who asked not be named.
However, for Liu it is simply not feasible to ignore China, the world's most populous nation. His mainland staff, mostly employed in research and development, has grown from 60 to nearly 200 in just the past year.
"Right now, China is the most exciting market in the world," he said.
While China is a challenging and fiercely competitive place, it is at least very similar to Taiwan in a cultural sense, and a game that Taiwanese find amusing or scary will be amusing or scary to Chinese too.
Not so in the west.
"In Europe and the United States, you have to consider all kinds of details. Like if your game has a monster, you have to consider if it's going to be scary enough to westerners," Liu said.
It may be a worn-out cliche that Asians are more collectivist than westerners, but when it comes to games it is not entirely untrue.
"In Europe, people prefer to play their games on their own consoles. They're not so used to the online gaming experience, where it is much less of an individual pastime, and something you do with many people together," Liu said.
Gamania is little known in the west, but it is one of the most recognised brand names among young Internet-savvy Taiwanese.
Being successful had a lot to do with picking a market opportunity at the right time, and betting everything on it.
"In the year 2000, we first allocated 70 percent of our resources to online games," said Liu.
"By the end of the year, we were like, 'let's go for it', and we dropped all other projects to dedicate ourselves 100 percent to online games."
But the intellectual foundations of Gamania were laid as far back as the 1980s, when Liu was a typical Taiwanese teenager absorbed in video games for TV.
He nourished his interest by reading magazines, and one day came across an article which predicted that one day people would be able to play with each other using telephone networks. He was fascinated.
"That image stuck, and in the late 1990s when I was on a business trip in South Korea I saw a primitive version of exactly that," he said.
This was a time when technologies had matured to the stage where online gaming had become feasible, and Liu decided that this was worth a major bet.
"I don't remember who wrote that magazine article back in the 1980s, but if I could find him today and meet him, I would definitely thank him," said Liu.
(c) 2010 AFP