Cy­ber cafe waiter turned en­tre­pre­neur Q+A

IDream­sky founder sees strong fu­ture for pub­lish­ing work of other gamers

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS - By MENG JING mengjing@chi­ JEFF LYN­DON

Jeff Lyn­don was a hard-core video game player when he was a child. His mother used to lec­ture him when­ever she saw him play­ing, ask­ing: “Can you make a liv­ing by play­ing games?”

Al­though Lyn­don re­garded his child­hood be­hav­ior as a “bad model”, the 31- year- old Hong Kong-born man has in­deed made a liv­ing in China’s mo­bile gam­ing in­dus­try. In fact he does much bet­ter than merely mak­ing a liv­ing.

Lyn­don is the co- founder and ex­ec­u­tive vice- pres­i­dent of Shen­zhen-based iDream­sky, a Chi­nese game pub­lisher that has es­tab­lished its lead­ing po­si­tion through pub­lish­ing some of the West’s best-known mo­bile games, such as Half­brick’s Fruit Ninja and Imangi’s Tem­ple Run series, in China.

Rid­ing the wave of China’s rapidly grow­ing smart­phone mar­ket, iDream­sky has nur­tured Tem­ple Run to the point that it has nearly 200 mil­lion gamers in China with about 7 mil­lion daily users. Fruit Ninja has ac­cu­mu­lated even more gamers than Tem­ple Run be­cause it was brought to China ear­lier than the lat­ter.

“They are prac­ti­cally na­tional games in China,” Lyn­don said proudly. Sta­tis­tics from China News Games Re­search Co showed that there were about 223 mil­lion mo­bile gamers in China as of the end of Septem­ber.

Get­ting China’s smart­phone own­ers to play mo­bile games is easy, but to get them to pay for those games is tough. It is also ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for for­eign game de­vel­op­ers to fight against game clon­ers and nav­i­gate the labyrinth of dif­fer­ent app stores in China. That is why some de­vel­op­ers look for a pub­lisher to help them run their games.

Un­like the ma­jor­ity of Chi­nese mo­bile game com­pa­nies, which both de­velop and pub­lish games, iDream­sky doesn’t have a dual role. “We only pub­lishes games and we don’t make our own ti­tles,” Lyn­don said, adding the strat­egy is one of the main rea­sons that helps the com­pany suc­ceed.

Hav­ing a dual model can some­times lead to con­flicts of in­ter­est if a stu­dio pro­motes its own games over a third-party ti­tle or even bor­rows ideas from a third-party stu­dio.

“We are like those par­ents who do not have their own chil­dren. We want them badly and peo­ple can trust us to treat them like our own,” said Lyn­don, who started his ca­reer as a waiter in a cy­ber cafe in Hong Kong af­ter grad­u­at­ing from high school and has since held many top po­si­tions in high­pro­file game com­pa­nies be­fore set­ting up his own in 2004.

Founded in 2009, IDream­sky, is the third com­pany Lyn­don has set up. Ac­cord­ing to him, both his first com­pany — a vir­tual cur­rency farm­ing com­pany — and the sec­ond one — a game con­sult­ing firm — were suc­cess­ful, thanks to all the games he played for years and es­pe­cially the one-and-a-half years of work ex­pe­ri­ence in the cy­ber cafe, which gave him a deep un­der­stand­ing about reg­u­lar gamers’ habits and be­hav­ior.

Start­ing as an out­sourc­ing de­vel­oper for smart­phone ap­pli­ca­tions and games, iDream­sky, the com­pany con­sist­ing of six staff de­cided to get in­volved in the mo­bile game in­dus­try in 2011. “The mar­ket was not vi­able in China at that time, but we all be­lieved that mo­bile gam­ing was the fu­ture, as the trend in the United States and other de­vel­oped coun­tries has shown,” Lyn­don said.

They de­cided the best way to help the startup com­pany to trans­form from noth­ing into some­thing in a short time was to get the con­tract to pub­lish one of the top Western mo­bile games in China. So iDream­sky set its eyes on the top four games at that time: An­gry Birds, Plants vs. Zom­bies, Talk­ing Tom Cat and Fruit Ninja.

Lyn­don, who speaks flu­ent English and is in charge of all the com­pany’s over­seas busi­ness, tried the first three studios but all failed ini­tially. “Fruit Ninja be­came our last and only chance,” he said.

Al­though there were many Chi­nese com­pa­nies want­ing to bring Fruit Ninja to China, iDream­sky stood out be­cause of its unique pitch. “Many com­peti­tors promised them money and high re­turns As a small com­pany, which didn’t have much in the way of cap­i­tal re­sources, we promised them that we would help build up the game’s brand in China and, sur­pris­ingly, they bought it,” Lyn­don said, adding that his com­pany was the only Chi­nese com­pany that flew to Aus­tralia to do a face-to-face pro­posal, which also proved to be a valu­able tac­tic.

It turned out that it was a wise de­ci­sion for Western mo­bile game de­vel­op­ers to tap into the Chi­nese mar­ket in 2011 be­cause it was not ma­ture and there­fore there was not much com­pe­ti­tion. The good tim­ing made Fruit Ninja a big hit in China in 2012 and its suc­cess of Fruit Ninja led to the suc­cess of iDream­sky.

The days that it courted game de­vel­op­ers and begged for their ex­clu­sive deal­er­ship rights in China are over for iDream­sky. About 600 mo­biles games turn to the com­pany ev­ery month, hop­ing to be pub­lished by them.

Com­pared with two years ago, the Chi­nese mo­bile game mar­ket has now taken off to an ex­traor­di­nary de­gree. With China be­ing the largest smart­phone mar­ket in the world, iRe­search Con­sult­ing Group, an In­ter­net mar­ket con­sul­tancy, pre­dictes rev­enues from mo­bile games would reach 9.19 bil­lion yuan ($1.5 bil­lion), this year, up 371.1 per­cent from 2012.

Ac­cord­ing to Niko Part­ners’ 2013 Chi­nese Mo­bile Games Mar­ket Re­port, the num­ber of gamers in China is ex­pected to jump to 288 mil­lion in 2013 from 192 mil­lion in 2012. In 2014 there will be 390 mil­lion — more than the to­tal pop­u­la­tion of the US.

Lyn­don said that China’s mo­bile game mar­ket will con­tinue its boom in the com­ing three years with the in­creas­ing pen­e­tra­tion of smart­phones in the coun­try, the build­ing of the fourth-gen­er­a­tion net­work and the fall­ing prices of high speed mo­bile data pack­ages.

How­ever, he also pre­dicted that the win­dow for Western game de­vel­op­ers to break into China’s mar­ket is clos­ing be­cause of the rise of South Korean and Ja­panese game de­vel­op­ers.

“The qual­ity of (South) Korean, Ja­panese and Chi­nese mo­bile games has been in­creas­ing rapidly. And be­cause of the prox­im­ity of cul­tures, (South) Korean and Ja­panese games are more suit­able for the tastes of Chi­nese play­ers,” Lyn­don said.

To pre­pare for the change, iDream­sky has al­ready signed Cookie Run, a top game in Korea and Son­ico Dash, one of the most pop­u­lar game brands in Ja­pan. Lyn­don said that his com­pany has worked on the lo­cal­iza­tion of the two games and plans to launch them in China in 2014.

De­spite the fact most of the games iDream­sky has brought into China are big in their home coun­tries, it doesn’t mean the com­pany makes easy money.

Lyn­don said in Fruit Ninja, iDream­sky added Chi­nese blades for cut­ting the fruit and lo­cal­ized back­grounds. In Tem­ple Run, the com­pany had to op­ti­mize the Western mon­e­ti­za­tion strat­egy, which asked play­ers to buy vir­tual gems to re­vive their char­ac­ter.

In the Chi­nese ver­sion, play­ers can re­vive their char­ac­ter ei­ther by buy­ing vir­tual gems or di­rectly pay­ing two yuan. Lyn­don said it is all about im­pul­sive buy­ing be­hav­ior.

He is con­fi­dent the launch of Cookie Run and Son­ico Dash will help iDream­sky con­tinue to se­cure its lead­ing po­si­tion in the mo­bile game in­dus­try in 2014.

Lyn­don re­fused to re­veal iDream­sky’s rev­enue, but he said that the com­bined monthly rev­enues of Fruit Ninja and Tem­ple Run ex­ceed 50 mil­lion yuan. Ac­cord­ing to China Mo­bile Games and En­ter­tain­ment Group Ltd’s most re­cent fi­nan­cial re­port, the Nas­daq-listed com­pany re­ported rev­enue of about 98 mil­lion yuan be­tween July and Septem­ber.

Lyn­don said money is not a big is­sue for iDream­sky, while ad­mit­ting that the mo­bile game mar­ket in China is chang­ing rapidly with a new batch of com­peti­tors.

Apart from com­pa­nies such as China Mo­bile Games and En­ter­tain­ment Group Ltd, which both de­vel­ops and pub­lishes games, Ten­cent Inc, whose mo­bile chat­ting app WeChat has more than 400 mil­lion users, has also de­vel­oped its own games and gained an in­creas­ing share of gamers on its ser­vice.

Lyn­don said there will al­ways be room for chan­nel op­er­a­tors, for ex­am­ple Ten­cent, in China’s in­creas­ingly crowded mo­bile game mar­ket. But it doesn’t mean that there will be no room for in­de­pen­dent pub­lish­ers such as iDream­sky, he added.

There were more than 600 mo­bile game pub­lish­ers in China at the last count. Lyn­don pre­dicted that in another year or so, there will be con­sol­i­da­tion, which will leave two to two dozen play­ers in the mo­bile game pub­lish­ing sec­tor.

“We started to in­vest in game studios in 2012 to off­set the risk of not de­vel­op­ing games our­selves. Now we just need to fo­cus on what we do best,” he said. How do you spend your week­ends amid your busy sched­ule?

I have a very tight sched­ule dur­ing work­days. If I have time at week­ends, I spend it with fam­ily. How of­ten do you play games?

When I was a kid, I spent all my time play­ing all sorts of games. I was a bad model. I seized all the op­por­tu­ni­ties to play games on school nights when my par­ents were not around. I don’t have that much time to play now but I still man­age to try as many games as I can be­cause I need the ex­pe­ri­ence for my busi­ness. What’s your fa­vorite game?

8 Ball Pool from Mini­clip (SA) and Star Wars: Tiny Death Star from Dis­ney (The Walt Dis­ney Co) are the games that I play most at the mo­ment. What are the most im­por­tant el­e­ments to make a suc­cess­ful mo­bile game?

Qual­ity, theme and cul­ture. What are your most trea­sured pos­ses­sions?

My fam­ily. What do you con­sider to be your great­est achieve­ment?

Pro­fes­sion­ally speaking, we’ve suc­cess­fully grown a six- man com­pany into a leader in the mo­bile game in­dus­try. But, per­son­ally speaking, to be able to sup­port my fam­ily to have a bet­ter and hap­pier life is a big­ger achieve­ment than my pro­fes­sional gain. What’s the best way to break the ice with a Western busi­ness­man you’ve met for the first time?

The most im­por­tant way to break the ice with a po­ten­tial for­eign part­ner is to un­der­stand their con­cerns about the Chi­nese mar­ket. I be­lieve a lot of for­eign busi­ness­peo­ple have heard some hor­ror sto­ries about do­ing busi­ness in China. You need to see whether or not you can help with their con­cerns. If not, they can never trust you the way you want them to.


Mo­bile game de­vel­op­ers and pub­lish­ers pro­mote games at an in­ter­na­tional In­ter­net ex­hi­bi­tion in Nant­ing, Jiangsu prov­ince. The num­ber of mo­bile gamers in China is ex­pected to jump to 288 mil­lion in 2013 from 192 mil­lion in 2012.

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