America’s Number one video game, “Call of Duty” is set to take-over the Chinese market. Activision Bilzzard has now officially released “Call of Duty Online” in China as a free to play title. The move is an attempt to gain a major share of the Chinese video game market which until now has gone largely untapped by the American video game industry. Companies like Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts are nothing if not pragmatic, and you can guarantee the emergence of this colossal market will in some way effect the current gaming landscape by altering how games are created and marketed.
Now that the average console game title takes several years to produce and with the cost of game development rocketing up into $100-million territory, the majority of studios are growing increasingly risk adverse. Game developers are well aware that investing resources in one unsuccessful title is enough to bankrupt a company.In much the same fashion as the film industry, the video game industry seems to have reached a point where companies only wish to invest in blockbusters (with almost guaranteed high returns) or small indie titles (requiring lower budgets and less development time). As a result, the high production cost of video game development directly effects current lack of innovation in gaming. Major studios would much rather push out games based on established intellectual properties, sequels and annual titles than take the financial risk that goes along with creating a new intellectual property.
The burgeoning Chinese market may be able to subsidize the financial risks that today’s game studios face. The increasing Chinese middle class combined with their government reducing sanctions on the import of game consoles is creating a gigantic market for the video game industry to tap into. Hollywood has been keeping tabs on the lucrative Chinese market for several years. American studios frequently include Chinese film stars in American movies in order to increase the marketability of the movie overseas. The most egregious example being Transformers: Age of Extinction not only including Chinese singer/actress Bingbing Li in the movie, but also setting the third act of the film in China. Call of Duty Online is currently running an ad exclusive to China that stars Captain America himself, Chris Evans. It seems like only a matter of time before American audiences begin to see call of Duty ads including Gong Li and Chow Yun Fat and games featuring Andy Lau alongside Kevin Spacey.
The lingering question is, will American game studios have multiple production teams; each dedicated to either the American or Chinese market or like the movie studios, decide to create only one game that contains content that appeals to both markets? The best case scenario is that the studios put the additional revenue generated by the Chinese market back into their development budgets so that they can create a fresh crop of unique and innovative titles. Sadly, the cynic in me doesn’t see that happening any time soon. What do you think? Leave a comment below.