Since “Legend of the King” hit shelves, Linekong has been showered with almost unanimous praise. Not only has the Beijing-based company been able to bring innovative gameplay to mobile, but has also given the company a strong foothold in the domestic industry as well. Linekong CEO Wang Feng said that 2013 will be a decisive, make-or-break year for mobile gaming, and the opportunities seized (and lost) in this short window of time will shape the playing field for the forseeable future. Voice of Game was fortunate enough to catch Wang Feng for our first exclusive interview, where we discussed market development in China, promotion in overseas markets and what makes a game successful.
We met Wang Feng at his Beijing studio. He invited us to sit down and provided us drinks before leaving the room to wrap up a preceding engagement. Despite the initial absence of the CEO himself, the office itself painted a vivid picture of the creative mind that inhabited it.
All around the office were boxes of some successful PC games, some Chinese, others from well-known Western developers (Diablo III and Civilization V jumped out at me, for example). Wang is clearly not only a businessman, but a connoisseur of high-quality video games: During the interview, he mentioned “Somebody who is not a hardcore gamer doesn’t really have any business working at Linekong.”
Other notable things around the office include a small (but impressive) collection of medieval warrior figurines, which he later told me he picked up on a trip to France, a neatly organized fitness space, and a work/play station which included a beefy-looking gaming rig, a big 27” screen iMac, and a sound system with a subwoofer that looked capable of interrupting business meetings at least three floors in either direction. This is clearly a man who takes his entertainment seriously; after all, entertainment is his business.
Wang enters, offering us some ice coffee (Which happens to be my favorite, how did he know?) and we begin:
Voice of Game: The general industry vibe has been that 2013 is to be a breakout year for mobile gaming, and the trend in mobile is going to be super rapid development. Mr. Wang, what are your thoughts?
Wang Feng: Based on what was going on last year, it looks like this year is going to be a decisive year in terms of quality and innovation for mobile gaming. The user base is growing, branding is becoming more competitive and R&D is having to deal with serious challenges. The domestic market has experienced explosive growth, and even games that you would call more “hardcore” have grown into the mainstream faster than anyone could have expected.
It took Client-based PC games 10 years to mature. It took browser based games 5. Linekong’s “maturity” in mobile comes from a solid base of experience in both of these types of games, and that’s what allows us to be competitive.
What really worries me is that the industry is going to turn into a maze of copycats and one-uppers. Companies will see an opportunity to capitalize on others’ innovation to make a buck, and that will not only stifle the spirit of the original work, but it will also suppress further innovation in the industry.
Although my outlook on the domestic market is not optimistic, that doesn’t mean the Chinese market is not big. It’s the gaming method that scares me. After all, the current gaming method doesn’t do much to encourage new products to innovate. I’m afraid the runaway growth of the industry is going to turn the competition dynamic into a low-brow slugfest, which will be profitable for a short time, but will ultimately cause the industry to stagnate.
Voice of Game: Domestic mobile gaming has always been haunted by imitators and rip-offs, trends being blindly followed and the market flooded. How can “Legend of the King” break out of that deadly pattern and stay ahead of the competition?
Wang Feng: Linekong independently produced and designed every aspect of “Legend of the King.” From the art style to the combat mechanics, everything was created with innovation in mind. Copycat gaming companies are exploding in the domestic market, and they’re actually succeeding, but Linekong has always wanted our games to be rooted in creativity and ingenuity.
Voice of Game: Since “Legend of the King” came out of beta, it’s been gaining nonstop popularity. What is the consumer data saying?
Wang Feng: “Legend of the King” has been getting about 4-5 million downloads a day pretty consistently, and has gone as high as 10 million on weekends. The total number of downloads (excluding Tencent platform) is expected to reach 600-700 million a month. On Android, the game has broken the CNY 15 million mark, although it hasn’t yet been added to our catalogue on iOS. When the iOS version launches though, we believe a conservative monthly earning projection would be 25-30 million per month. Right now, our retention rate is between 70-72%. Compared to that, 52-55% was what we were getting for PC games. “Legend of the King” is blowing those numbers out of the water.
Voice of Game: We’ve seen that “Legend of the King,” as well as other Linekong games, have taken to a more Western kind of art style and mythos. Does this indicate a desire by Linekong to popularize the games in the West?
Wang Feng: Yes. In the last three years, we have been in overseas markets. Linekong’s income overseas has exceeded 3 million already, and we expect to double that number by next year, largely because of our already dominant influence in software- and browser-based gaming. Because the App Store and Google Play are such natural distribution methods abroad though, our success is going to largely depend on the distribution dynamic of that. We are concerned with foreign markets. “Legend of the King” has the capacity to be competitive in the mainstream English market, and can be successful in Europe and the United States. It is a pretty high-quality game by any standard, so there is no reason for it to not be successful abroad.
Voice of Game: We know that “Legend of the King” is partnering with 91, 360, UC, Xiaomi and the Dang Le network platforms. Is Linekong interested in supporting more platforms? What are the things you require from a new platform?
Wang Feng: We already have 20-30 prospective new platforms for “Legend of the King.” Some platforms have a user-sharing agreement with us, others have revenue-sharing, but of course every platform we partner with is naturally for the users. Right now, we’re doing tests with the Tencent platform.
Voice of Game: Linekong is recognized as an innovative company with a close relationship to its users, and the success of “Legend of the King” has reinforced the company’s reputation of putting out quality products. How does Linekong plan to take advantage of this momentum?
Wang Feng: Our original plan was to put out 6 new mobile games this year, but we’re taking it one step at a time. Right now, the plan is to put out two new games in the first quarter. We’re also testing a 3D action game that we’re pretty excited about… But if you want more information about that, you’ll just have to wait!
Voice of Game: Thank you again to Linekong CEO Wang Feng for an informative look at your company’s recent goings-on.