Sony held a press conference on the 27th of July in Shanghai at the ChinaJoy Expo. At this press conference they announced a number of new things for the China market, including PlayStation VR and new games due to launch this year. However there was one announcement that somewhat flew under the radar, but could end up being very important in the future. The announcement I’m talking about is the creation of the ‘China Hero Project’ by Sony China.
Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan/Asia (SIEJA) executive vice president, Hiroyuki Oda, introduced the ‘China Hero Project’ live on stage as an initiative that plans to strongly support the development of Chinese domestic games and developers, and bring their games to Chinese and worldwide gamers. Sony noted that this is a collaborative effort with a number of companies to produce AAA ‘Hero’ titles that can contribute to the growth of the Chinese domestic console market as well as influence the global gaming market.
Below is a basic overview of the roles of Sony and each partner:
- Develop global standard blockbuster titles through the PlayStation® platform
- Contribute to the Chinese gaming industry’s growth and development
- Release worldwide to spread influence
Role of each respective partner
- Screening of potential game titles and enterprises with global standards
- PlayStation® platform technical support
- Overall business operational support
Tools & middleware, quality/UX service providers
- Utilize advanced technologies and services development tools on the PlayStation® platform
- Promote quality assurance and user experience services on the PlayStation® platform
- Provide support and improve the overall standard of China’s game developers on the PlayStation® platform
- Capital fund raising and financial support
- Business and management support
Sony’s Role – The “China Hero Project” primarily targets start-up ventures and Chinese domestic enterprises. Sony will be taking registrations between August 15th and September 15th. The registration requires companies to already have a project name, game idea, synopsis and research that shows how they can complete the project. Companies that are successful in having their project approved will be able to take advantage of full support from Sony which includes-
- PS4/PS VR dev kits
- Technical support
- Special License & Service Package (Explained below)
- Full training and support
The standard of quality required for family entertainment console games are significantly higher than mobile games, and thus the production and development budget are much larger in scale. Therefore, Sony have partnered with the best companies who will be able to carry out the above tasks.
In terms of Middleware- Epic Games will providing Unreal Engine 4 support for those who are accepted into the project. CRI middleware will provide support for audio and video services. Hearts United Group will provide a debugging and game testing/quality service. Silicon Studio will provide advanced post processing effects. Unity are also involved, but they will only be supporting games that are being developed for PlayStation VR.
In terms of funding- Sony and middleware companies will provide the technical support, but start ups will require capital funding, resource allocation and management training which will be critical aspects to ensure the success of the team. Therefore Whiz Partners will provide the support in the areas of business and financial management to allow the successful companies to have access to initial and subsequent rounds of funding and guidance to management expertise to increase their overall success in creating a ‘Hero’ title.
There are of course a few concessions that need to be made if you are successful in this process. The main one being that your game will need to be exclusive to Sony’s platform for the first 12 months. Overall however, this is an excellent initiative that Sony have started in order to bring new titles to their platform in China and worldwide. The PlayStation platform is well known in China but the console itself has struggled to sell in big numbers in the country. This is due to the nature of gamers in the country who are not used to paying upfront for games consoles and games, especially just to play games they’ve never heard of before or have no interest in playing. The situation isn’t helped by the fact that the government censors any game that is deemed to go against China or Chinese law. It means that many games never launch on PS4 in China, and those that do have to go through a lengthy localisation and approval process.
It’s become increasingly clear that both Sony and Microsoft need local Chinese games on their system to improve the desirability of consoles in China, and also because they will have higher chances of approval and lower associated costs. It’s a similar strategy to Tencent’s console which aims to bring over Chinese gamers by providing them with familiar Chinese gaming experiences on the console. Sony have tried this by launching King of Wushu, however one game can only do so much. Funding local developers to bring games to PlayStation will allow the console market to grow in China as many consumers see new, but familiar, experiences that they can play on these devices. It also provides a future for Chinese console game development both domestically and worldwide.
If you’d like to read more on the challenges that Sony are facing in China’s console market and why they’re turning to indie devs and projects like this, please see this article I wrote on the subject a while back-
‘Project Boundary’ from Studio Surgical Scalpals, a studio based in Guangdong, will be the first title to take advantage of the ‘China Hero Project’. The game is a first person shooter that is set in space and runs on Unreal Engine 4 for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR. No release date has been announced yet but the trailer below shows a very polished and impressive looking game that looks on par with Western AAA titles.
Of course not everyone will be eligible for the main option of the China Hero Project, and there is only so much funding that Sony and Whiz Partners can provide. So there are two other options available to local Chinese developers. The second option is the ‘PlayStation VR – Unity Masterclass’. This is for developers who are planning to or currently developing a PlayStation VR game. Sony will once again provide dev kits, technical support, training & funds. Unity & SIE will then provide on site training and support to help the developers complete the PS VR game. The third option is basically the same as the first but without the support from middleware companies. Instead, Sony will just help out with dev kits and tech support/training/funding in order to get the game on PS4. So it looks like Sony has Chinese devs covered, whether they are using Unreal Engine 4, Unity, or another engine.
Overall, I expect that we’ll start to see the full effect of the China Hero Project in around 1 to 2 years. Local Chinese games on PlayStation 4 will increase consumer awareness in China and the lower price of the console at that time will drive additional sell through so gamers can play these familiar feeling games as well as experience new Western style AAA games that they don’t usually play on PC/Mobile. TV Gaming is a growing sector in China and an abundance of local software could really help PS4 become the absolute leader in the market.
These games will also make their way overseas to Western markets as well and will be able to spread Chinese cultural experiences and ways of gameplay. This could have a hugely positive effect on China’s games industry if these games are received well outside of the country and we could start to see China become a successful country for console game development, like Japan was a while back. However, it’s important to note that more local games doesn’t solve the bigger issue of upfront costs + game costs in the TV Gaming market. Therefore, the impact of this may be limited and the number of companies applying for this fund may also be limited. Especially when there are some other big indie game funds for the more lucrative Mobile & PC markets.
If you’d like to learn more, then please don’t hesitate to contact me on Twitter, or using the Form here.
I also post on the Niko Partners blog which can be accessed here. We recently released our July 2016 TV Gaming Report which has more information on the TV Gaming landscape in China.