After attending quite a few conferences about tech start-ups in Beijing already, the topic of Chinese copying nearly always comes up and the Innovation Works Social Gaming talk on Monday was no exception. This topic is usually over-done but I heard one comment that struck me. The question about ‘How can boot strapped game developers earn money when competing against big companies with massive development budgets (as much as US$100m)?’ was directed at AJ Redmer, CEO of USA Inc., a huge game development company specializing in MMOG (Massively Multiplayer Online Games) such as the Legend of Mir series. AJ responded “IP”, meaning intellectual property. The Chinese audience almost went silent and chuckled as if to say “Are you kidding? There is no such thing as IP in China! Everything gets copied.” Most probably thought AJ was an American who didn’t know anything about China.
AJ went on to say that although people can copy things but they can’t copy your passion for something. He gave an example of a game his company developed which was copied exactly but never did as well as the original. I pondered upon this idea and to some degree, agree. For, all the Apple’s, Microsoft’s, Nike’s, Adidas’, Google’s, Twitter’s, Starbuck’s etc. that have been copied, the shanzhai versions never really do as well, at least on a world scale. But then again, do the Chinese copies ever need to do as well as the originals on a world scale? The Chinese market is already big and attractive for them to dominate and make significant money.
I think the point being made, aimed at passionate Chinese developers who fear others copying them and taking all the glory and some of the money, was not to give up. Even if someone is going to copy you exactly; do they have the same passion, drive and determination to see it succeed? Probably not. If it is your idea, creation and ultimately your baby you would do anything to protect it and see it flourish. If you believe in your product and know your target customers, they should respect your talent and want your quality product over the cheap imitation. This sounds a bit too idealistic, especially in China, but I hope passionate entrepreneurs and start-ups are not deterred by the likelihood of being copied.
Follow your passion.