Keeping the whole world in game mode

Updated: 2017-03-24 07:11

By Evelyn Yu(HK Edition)

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Award-winning smartphone game founder Yat Siu says the HK market may be open and mature, but users' loyalty is still low. He tells Evelyn Yu his aim is to educate children via games.

For Yat Siu, founder and chief executive officer of Outblaze - Hong Kong's leading mobile game developer - creating fun for people is the central objective of his mission because it motivates them and helps them to perform well and win.

The entrepreneur, with the musical genes planted in him at a young age and now with a string of local and international accolades under his belt for his achievements in smartphone game business, has piloted the company for almost two decades, turning it into one of a handful of local companies whose games would have a far-reaching impact on the US, Japanese and other global markets.

Founded in 1998 in Hong Kong, Outblaze has since published more than 900 apps with a total download of 515 million. It was listed among the "Top 50 Mobile Games Developers" in 2013 and 2014 by games pundit Pocket Gamer - reputed to be a world authority on hand-held and mobile devices.

According to global researcher SuperData, the game industry raked in $91 billion in revenue worldwide last year, with the mobile-game segment being the star performer, winning the lion's share of $41 billion, followed by retail games on $26 billion and $19 billion for free-to-play online games.

"Mobile games have helped evangelize the whole gaming industry," Siu tells China Daily.

"The availability of smartphones has enabled everybody to play them any time. In Japan, many mobile games can be played single-handedly - commuters need to hold the loop with just one hand and can still enjoy the games."

"PC (personal computer) and console games are also growing very fast. They're not growing because more and more people now play the games - it's because all those who've been playing casual games like Candy Crush are wondering 'what else can I play' and are moving to more complicated games," he explains.

As the eminent pool of players evolves, Siu believes mobile-phone games need to be more complicated, go deeper and be presented with a better design.

The key to a good mobile game, he says, lies in its depth and content - a good level-balancing game that people can spend lots of hours on and are constantly engaged in.

One of Outblaze's greatest successes - Star Girl - is popular among fashion-conscious girls. Players can "dress up" the avatars and date virtual "boyfriends" in the play. It has so far garnered a download of 33 million across the globe. In 2014, the group sold 70 percent of the game's interests to Hong Kong-listed Crosby Capital Ltd for $9.6 million.

Predominant model

Siu says the game has thousands of pieces of cloth and plenty of levels to go into. It's aspirational and, unlike male gamers, the female players tend to be more loyal.

The predominant business model for mobile games is freemium, whereby games are downloaded for free, while additional contents will be charged for.

Running over 900 games, Siu says the idea is not that all of the titles are profitable, but the portfolio is.

Siu is candid, admitting he does not have the sense to tell which game would be a big hit before it's launched. The strategy is to keep trying and rely on the company's own distribution channel from existing customers.

According to Siu, marketing the products via the main platforms of Apple and Google is costly but, with apps in abundance, they can tell users to download one or the other of their apps.

Animoca Brands, a game developer and publisher affiliated with Outblaze that went public in Australia in 2015, posted revenue of HK$50 million last year, but Outblaze has yet to reveal theirs.

Compared with their operations in the United States, Siu says the Hong Kong and Chinese mainland markets are rather small. Game distribution channels on the mainland are currently dominated by a handful of key players.

Tencent's hit game King of Glory boasts a daily user base of 50 million. The online multi-player game is based on the world's most played PC game League of Legend.

"The ability to make it deep and intriguing in game play is not unique. If King of Glory wasn't published by Tencent, it would have been just a normal game," comments Siu.

Siu struck a cautious tone concerning the industry's development on the mainland, pointing to policy uncertainties.

In 2015, the mainland authorities lifted a 14-year ban on console games, and popular consoles like Playstations and Xboxes can now be sold there. However, stricter rules on mobile games have been enforced. The State Administration of Press, Publications, Radio, Film, and Television stipulated last year that foreign companies planning to launch mobile games on the mainland have to team up with a Chinese company, and rules are even stricter for "story-based" games.

Hong Kong offers an open and mature market, says Siu. But, the problem is how to circumvent local users' low degree of loyalty. Citing last year's hit game Pokmon GO as an example, he says Hong Kong gamers are willing to try and pay, but they tend to move on quickly to other games.

Thus, he sees a growing market in children players. Instead of just inundating them with fun, his aim is to educate kids through games.

One of Outblaze's latest education creations, Chord Hero, utilizes chord-recognition technology to provide real-time feedback for kids learning to play the guitar. Children follow the instructions to strum the chords, and the app determines the accuracy of the playing. The app transforms tedious repetitive practices into a fun game.

To Siu, the whole world is in game mode.

"Facebook is a game whereby by posting photos, you get 'likes'. School is also a game but a badly designed one. A good game should give people fun and, ultimately, motivate them to learn."

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(HK Edition 03/24/2017 page9)