Chi­nese startup scratches vir­tual re­al­ity gam­ing

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - Xiao­tian Zhang in New York con­trib­uted to this story. By CHINA DAILY in New York

Vir­tual re­al­ity play­ers were look­ing for some “sushi” in one game on dis­play at New York Comic Con over the week­end.

In this case, though, Sushi is the name of a VR cat.

The game, Kitty in the Box, was de­signed and de­vel­oped by Mokuni Games, a New York-based startup where a group of young Chi­nese video game en­thu­si­asts strike to cre­ate ex­pe­ri­ences that fit the new­est tech­nol­ogy and plat­forms.

Their game fea­tures seven dif­fer­ent set­tings rang­ing from grass­land and desert to uni­verse and dun­geon. Play­ers try to lo­cate a cat named Sushi and toss it into pa­per boxes hid­den some­where nearby.

“We’ve al­ways been try­ing to do a VR project,” said Kurt Young, the com­pany’s founder and cre­ative di­rec­tor. “We’ve been keen to learn what can we do in terms of in­ter­ac­tive sto­ry­telling ever since we started in the gam­ing busi­ness.”

Young and his busi­ness part­ners quickly saw the po­ten­tial in the nascent medium.

Ac­cord­ing to Bloomberg News, the vir­tual re­al­ity mar­ket in China is ex­pected to reach $8.5 bil­lion by 2020, fu­eled by the fa­mous BAT: Baidu Inc, Alibaba Group Hold­ing Ltd and Ten­cent Hold­ings Ltd.

In­stead of in­vest­ing in head­set hard­ware like Face­book’s Ocu­lus or HTC’s Vive, the three web gi­ants in China are seed­ing dozens of star­tups to de­velop orig­i­nal con­tent.

“There isn’t a clear leader for VR con­tent in China,” Ja­son Low, a Shang­hai-based an­a­lyst with Canalys, told Bloomberg. “Lo­cal con­tent providers, game pub­lish­ers and ser­vice providers are rac­ing to ex­er­cise their in­flu­ence on the devel­op­ment of VR be­yond hard­ware.”

For Mokuni, the chal­lenges are quite sim­i­lar in the US.

“I would say the first and fore­most (chal­lenge) for us would be the orig­i­nal­ity,” said Young. “It’s easy to make some­thing that’s al­ready suc­cess­ful — just take a look at what Bl­iz­zard is do­ing and copy it. But from our per­spec­tive as a startup, we want to be more cre­ative.”

Born and raised in China, Young said he has a “Shang­hai mind­set”. He said that the en­trepreneur­ship spirit in him re­fused to be qui­eted, but that start­ing a cre­ative com­pany in the US is “not an easy task”.

“The qual­ity of the art­work pro­duced by Chi­nese com­pa­nies is def­i­nitely among the top in the in­dus­try,” said Young, “but there cer­tainly are some is­sues for us to deal with if we want to break into the main­stream busi­ness. The sto­ries we want to tell tend to be so nar­row, and our cul­tural back­ground is the main con­straint.”

Both Young and Wengu Hu, chief de­signer of Kitty in the Box, agreed that it would be best if their game could play in China. They are plan­ning to en­ter the Chi­nese mar­ket in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Guangzhou Junze Kinder­garten, hop­ing to res­onate with the younger gen­er­a­tion.

When 13-year-old Sofia took off her head­set and fin­ished her ad­ven­ture with Sushi, she seemed en­thused.

“That was awe­some,” said the youth. “I felt like I was ac­tu­ally there in the candy land, and I loved the way the cute cat jumped. It was re­ally cool.”

ZHANG XIAO­TIAN / CHINA DAILY

A New York Comic Con at­tendee play­ing the Kit­tyintheBox vir­tual re­al­ity game, Satur­day af­ter­noon at the Jav­its Cen­ter in New York.

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