To Shakespeare, the question is “to be or not to be”.  To game developers in China, the questions is “to copy or not to copy”…

Yesterday, I was at an event at Lee Kai Fu’s Innovation Works in Beijing.  It is a round table discussion about games (social,  mobile and tablet ).  Beijing based ECitySky, which makes a very cool 3D social game, organised it.  And many industry veterans are there, including AJ Redmer,CEO of WeMade (U.S.), Andy Tian, general manager of  Zynga China, Edwin Chen of Ismole and Richard Wu of Wistone.

One of key discussion is whether game developers should copy a hit title in the market.  Some of us later have dinner together and the discussion continued.

While the ideal is that people develop their own original games, the reality is just the opposite.  Popular games titles are cloned overall over the social networks.  For example, there are over 70 farm games in Facebook alone.  Similarly for mobile games – numerous version of Chinese poker.

The reason is simple: it is much easier to develop a copy of an existing popular game, than to think of a complete new one.  And even if you have a new idea, someone will copy it very quickly, when it gets popular.

This is especially true in China, where IP rights are not protected and competition is severe.  To an individual game developer, he would rather copy than innovate.

But, the end result is: game developers as a group lack bargaining power against platform operators in China.  AJ Redmer pointed out in the rest of world, the content developers (e.g. Zynga) would have 70% of the total revenue, while the platform operator (e.g. Facebook) would have 30%.    This is the same for music, and other products which required creativity.

But in China, the platform’s share of revenue is much higher.  For example, Renren and Kaixin take 50%.  For QQ, as it is much more powerful, it takes 70% of the total revenue.    AJ suggested, one of the reason can be attributed to the tendency for developers to copy each other.  As there are multiple source of the same content, their value decrease and the platform operators can have a much bigger bargaining power.

To an individual developer, not respecting other people’s intellectual property might bring him immediate easy money.  But to all the developers as a whole, the tendency to copy each other makes them lose out in long term.