5 Sept 2018
Taipei Game Show Expands as Developers Woo Chinese-Language Players
Now in its 16th year, the Taipei Game Show is looking to consolidate its role as one of the most important events in the sector in Asia and beyond, with its 2018 innovations including a Girl Gamer Zone and a focus on indy developers.
The annual Taipei Game Show (TGS), now in its 16th year, continues to grow in size and significance. Taiwan's liberal environment has made it the ideal shop window for many major international publishers, including Sony, Ubisoft and Bandai Namco, all of which are keen to expand their Chinese-language content game offerings. On top of that, it also provides a major opportunity for indie game developers and streamers.
This year's show, held over four days in January, saw a daily average of 80,000 people pour through the doors of the Taipei World Trade Centre. The weekend was even busier, with the heaving, often frenetic crowds making it hard to move at more than a shuffle.
On the sidelines of this melee was the Asia Pacific Game Summit, where industry experts discussed all the latest in the world of eSports, marketing and promotion, indie games, augmented and virtual reality, and game development. Running concurrently, a two-day B2B and B2C Zone featured 279 game companies and teams from 27 countries, all showing off their latest wares to 2,400 trade visitors.
This year, TGS also launched its own Indie House area, with 88 independent game developers from around the world showcasing their latest games on a variety of platforms. It was a big hit among gaming-industry insiders, many of whom were keen to check out the exciting work being produced by alternatives to the major publishers.
The biggest indie awards show in Asia, Indie Game Festa, presented eight main prizes for the best games. The big winner was Old Man's Journey – from Austria's Broken Rules Interactive Media – with a narrative that includes shaping the environment and a range of puzzles. The game also won the Best Visual Arts prize, and was rewarded with strong media coverage and the chance to secure international distribution.
Show attendee Jun Ushizawa, an indie game developer and self-confessed otaku (stay-at-home nerd), was impressed with the atmosphere, saying: "It's my first time here and it's been really good. I've met some kind people and I prefer it to Tokyo Game Show, which is big and dark."
Ushizawa, who left Sony five years ago to strike out on his own, is currently working on a game called Multask, for which he is creating all the programming and art himself.
Summing up life as an independent developer, he said: "It's quite tough being on your own. There's little money but I have enough to live on and so I keep going. It's a huge passion for me to make my own game. I've had 21 game companies talk to me and they all liked it and have been very encouraging. So, I still believe I can develop my own game."
Searching for Partners
Hong Kong-based Stephen Chan is the Programmer and Co-founder of the Cornerpuz indie game development team. Keen to promote his company's new puzzle game, he said he was tempted to attend the show because of Taiwan's proximity to Hong Kong and also because TGS helped fund the trip by providing free accommodation.
Explaining why companies like his enjoy coming to TGS, he said: "For indie developers, it's like a family reunion. We started in September last year and have been learning the ropes. We've met a lot of people here and are looking for game publishers to co-operate with. We've learned quite a lot about monetisation, placement of ads, that kind of thing. It's been really useful."
While there were plenty of games on display that were a hit with attendees, one games developer who particularly impressed was Donghyun Kim, the Chief Executive of Seoul-based BC Con. He was in Taipei to showcase what he called a "brain cognitive AR/VR/MR game", which seemed to be great fun to play but would be a nightmare for arachnophobes. BC Con is one of the more sophisticated indie operations and has undertaken mixed reality (MR) work for Audi, but even so the company was, like many others, looking for partners at TGS.
Thankfully, there were plenty of potential partners and publishers on hand, including WeBackers, a crowd-funding platform funded by Taiwan media industry giant Gamania Digital. According to WeBackers' Director of Operations, Yoyo Dai, it was particularly on the lookout for independent games suitable for a variety of devices that have "special elements".
Another significant trend at TGS was the preponderance of YouTubers and live streaming. It seemed at times that anyone with a selfie stick was live streaming the event to their fans or doing meet-and-greets with them.
Amazon's live streaming video platform subsidiary, Twitch, occupied a lot of exhibition space in order to showcase its expanding operation, which has about 15 million daily active users. It primarily hosts video-game broadcasts but has also branched out into "real life" streams. This has caused a few ructions in markets like Taiwan, when streamers "crossed the line" on a number of issues, such as nudity, questionable taste and free speech.
Benjamin Novotny is one of Twitch's leading content providers. Originally from Oklahoma, he broadcasts eSports under the handle Bin Ge ( 賓哥 ) and live streams events and festivals in Taipei. He says that, as a platform of choice for streamers, Twitch is replacing YouTube, which he says has had problems with people putting up "illegal" videos (for example, a live broadcast of a reporter being executed). Novotny claims that Twitch can provide a different kind of service, saying: "Twitch has the potential to be more family-friendly and I think they want to be."
The Taiwan market is a good test bed for Twitch as it is just so engaged. Despite its small size, it is the world's 15th biggest PC and mobile games market, according to Niko Partners. The local gaming market is expected to be worth US$2.8 billion (HK$21.98 billion) by 2021, when it's anticipated that half the 23.5 million population will be playing games on their mobile devices. Furthermore, as Taiwan has fewer regulations than mainland China, it is an easier option for game publishers that want to push the envelope.
While most Twitch partners are young, male "shoutcasters", the platform is also home to many young women, several of whom live stream shows offering beauty and fashion tips or feature the hosts dancing or singing. This relatively new platform for talent has quickly been seized upon as an entrée into mainstream entertainment.
Among the many Twitch fans at TGS was Willie Lin, from the Taipei suburb of Linkou. The show is an annual pilgrimage for Lin, who works as a bus-boy on minimum wage at a steak and spaghetti restaurant. At 25 years old and still living with his parents, he is the archetypal zhainan ( 宅男 , an online gamer who lives at home).
Outlining his taste in games, he said: "I really like games, but don't have enough money to buy all the ones I want. I like Monster Hunter, Resident Evil and GTA [Grand Theft Auto] best. I want to be a YouTuber, but I need a good computer and more games first. No money, no games, no life."
Like many other visitors, Lin was wowed by the big guns at TGS – notably Sega, Bandai Namco and PlayStation – which pulled out all the stops to highlight their game catalogues. For its part, Sony previewed Shadow of the Colossus and Detroit: Become Human, while there were overnight queues for limited editions of Giant Bomb's Richman Fight.
The Sweet Town area, introduced this year for female game players, also made a splash with several loud and colourful stage performances, while big-name teams and players also competed for cash prizes. There were auctions for original manga posters, and gaming products and peripherals on sale. Even old-fashioned board-game producers got in on the action, selling their latest offerings in the Board Game Wonderland zone.
Capping all the excitement off was the announcement that TGS had signed a partnership agreement with Tokyo Game Show. This deal should underscore TGS's position as the second-biggest game show in Asia and boost its international recognition.
Taipei Game Show 2018 took place from 25-26 January at the Taipei World Trade Centre.
Jules Quartly, Special Correspondent, Taipei