Last night I had dinner with five individuals in Beijing. Except for me, all of them had real hands-on experience in the gaming industry in China. (My experience in gaming is limited to the business side; not programming and production.) All of them were Americans, or had extensive experience in the US.
Long story short: China has become a boomtown for gaming companies doing development. There are several reasons for this:
- A large Chinese gaming population
- Smart programmers and artists
- A large cheap labor pool which is eager to work, and more importantly, learn
Significantly, most of the group had started, or were starting, their own companies in China. The president of one company, Gage Galinger, had been working in stealth mode for three years, quietly hiring and developing its own title for his company, Possibility Space.
Most of them were former Microsoft employees.
Gage was from Texas, and had come to Beijing to start his own game development studio. He is not Chinese, or Chinese-American, but Caucasian. I always admire someone who is not of Chinese extraction, and is willing just to jump on a plane to Beijing or Shanghai, learn, and start a company. More than anything else, that is what starting a business is all about in this age of globalization. This is the mark of a true entrepreneur.
After arriving in Beijing, he started hiring for his own studio where he is lead programmer and president.
I’m sure many of my readers may be wondering how someone who does not know Chinese could possibly function in an environment where many people do not speak a common language. How could he add value?
This is where his background at Microsoft came in handy, and the American style of collaboration for game development really shines. In Chinese gaming companies, the artists and programmers are just worker bees, performing repetitive tasks. They are not asked, and do not offer their opinions about the games they are developing; they are told what to do, and just do it. In his company, employees are required to show their day’s work to everyone else in the company, and others are encouraged to critique the work. Of course, most Chinese are reluctant to say bad things about other peoples’ work, afraid that it will hurt their colleagues’ feelings. For Americans, it is more natural to critique other peoples’ work because Americans are able to separate the work from the person.
Most of the time anyway.
Gage said that the path was not entirely smooth; he had to fire people who did not fit. But all in all, he was encouraged by the experience, and he had a very clear idea about how he added value to his company. He was very optimistic about his experience, and said that for him, living in China was about realizing the American dream of having his own company and making his own title, and launching it worldwide.
The economics of the gaming industry in the US is broken; developments costs are high, and game developers are always in debt and losing their IP to investors. But development costs in China are low, and Gage claims that his developers in China are better than any team he has worked with in the US by an exponential factor, or anywhere else.
He said that he has tried to get other game developers to come to China to partner with him, but while they have expressed interest, none have made the move. He has just opened an office in Austin, Texas.
If America had more entrepreneurs like Gage, who don’t overthink, overplan, have a solid core skill, and just get on a plane to China and start their company, and are humble and willing to learn, the US would be in a much better place.
America used to be a much more entrepreneurial country, now it is overly regulated, overly expensive, overly specialized, overly structured and overly corporate. In order to be competitive again, the entire society and culture will have to make major adjustments. The road will not be a smooth one.
That is why the smart entrepreneurs, like Gage, start their businesses in China.
In this new globalized world, China has become what America used to be.