Shanghai is not a stranger to the world. Being the biggest city in China, and the largest commercial and financial centre in the mainland of the country, it has long been regarded as one of the most international cities in the Asian region, and the gateway to China. However, these days, Shanghai is getting a new reputation – the Gaming City of China.
To feel the hype of the gaming industry, you just need to come to the city in July when ChinaJoy, the China Digital Entertainment Expo & Conference, is happening. Starting from 2003, this gaming expo has expanded at an amazing rate, and is developing into a world-class game event.
This year, ChinaJoy was held in Shanghai New International Expo Centre in July. It drew nearly 200 game developers, publishers and operators both local and international, with 110,000 visitors over 3 days. Participating publishers included those international big names such as EA, Ubisoft, Blizzard, and Epic, and local giants like Shanda and The 9.
“China’s gaming industry started with outsourcing,” comments Yang Xue Fei, the senior editor of the TV Game magazine, China’s biggest publication for console games.
As Yan observes, outsourcing in China began in the early ‘90s when overseas developers, mainly Japanese, tapped into local talents. The whole ‘90s witnessed China’s gaming industry developing slowly and gradually.
Then the industry experienced a new era in 21st Century. Since 2000, more than 300 overseas gaming companies have established studios or offices in Shanghai.
The coming of international gaming giants such as Ubisoft, EA, Konami and Blizzard has not only levelled up the whole Chinese gaming industry, but also created a favorable environment for the growth of local game developers.
Today, Shanghai has become the headquarters and development base for those biggest local Chinese gaming companies, such as Shanda, The 9, and Giant, which have paved the way for online gaming in the country.
The buzz surrounding the gaming industry goes hand-in-hand with the rapid-development of educational programs targeting future industry talents. In 2002, Shanghai University initiated the country’s first game-related course, followed by others including those at the East China Normal University. At the same time, collaborations between international major developers and local universities have been established. A noticeable example is the close relationship between Ubisoft Shanghai studio and Jiao Tong University, the nation’s top university.
According to Corinne Le Roy, the managing director of Ubisoft Shanghai, the studio has established a strategic partnership with Jiao Tong University for years. In addition to welcoming over 20 interns from the university each year, the studio organises workshops and lectures on campuses on a regular basis, and works with educators to develop practical and relevant curricula. Company visits and training forums are also held in the studio for students from the university. Currently, a professor from the university is also conducting a research project in the studio.
“We see the importance and necessity of shaping the industry and our own development through close collaboration with universities. Through this collaboration, we maintain and further strengthen our leading position in the Chinese gaming industry and are able to tap into the huge talent pools of top universities, and benefit from this relationship.
“At the same time, we believe it is crucial and meaningful for a company to contribute to academic research with real applications and we are confident about the prospect of applying the latest high-tech research achievements to the projects in Ubisoft,” Le Roy tells me.
According to TV Game’s Yang, Ubisoft Shanghai’s opening in 1996 – when Chinese people knew very little about console games, and it was even impossible for them to find an experienced local game developer – has been key to transforming the region around him. The result has been an importing of international development practices and expertise to its Shanghai games studio.
“Ubisoft Shanghai is the West Point of the Chinese gaming industry,” he says. “It is the first world-class gaming studio with complete creation and production capacity in China. It is still the only one in Shanghai today, even in China.
“The Chinese gaming landscape would be completely different today without Ubisoft setting up a studio in Shanghai.”
Yang says that now a while new generation of developers have been raised by Ubisoft. One of those is Yuan Pei Sheng, the career development director at Ubisoft Shanghai. He joined Ubisoft in 1998 as a level designer, and then became producer in 2001. He has released six titles, including Splinter Cell Double Agent (Xbox 360), Ghost Recon 1 & 2 (PS2) and Rainbow Six 3 (PS2).
“Game development is driven by creativity and talent; the foundation of competition between studios is basically about people,” says Yuan, who is now concentrating on refining the training and career development system in the company.
“Ubiosft started in outsourcing with three people; now we have nearly 400 in the development team.”
And after over a decade co-developing titles for sister Ubisoft studios or working on established-franchises, the Shanghai team is now planning to put its name on the map with the development of new title EndWar.
Most recently the title, part of the Tom Clancy range, has won an E3 Game Critics Award for Best Strategy Game. It’s not only the first time a console game has won in this category, but it is the first time ever a development studio in China has won any such award.
Says TV Game’s Yang: “The development of the Ubisoft Shanghai studio is a reflection of how the Chinese gaming industry has evolved.
“The country’s games industry has carved out a spot on the international game production scene. And it is there to stay.”