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As expats fled China’s zero-COVID, this developer built a sci-fi game for NetEase • TechCrunch


Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, foreigners leaving China in droves to escape the country’s strict “no COVID” restrictions, which restricted people’s inbound and outbound travel for nearly three years until regulations started to relax recently. So when NetEase, the second largest game company in China, said it had a foreign-led studio that had been working on developing a game outside of Shanghai for the past three years, I was a bit nervous. surprised.

Backed by lead producer Oscar Lopez and creative director Eve Jobse, Miaozi launched the first title globally on Steam last Friday. Call Cygnus Enterprisethe game, in the studio’s own words, is a “multi-genre single-player sci-fi game for PC that puts the player in charge of an outpost on an alien planet” and “alternates the planet” Action and small-scale city management RPG gameplay.”

Both NetEase and rival Tencent focus more on overseas expansion as regulations tighten hinder their domestic success. Besides acquisition of small Western studios, two Chinese giants have been recruiting international talent. Tencent’s Most Profitable TiMi Studio commencing operations in North America in early 2020 and its internal competitor (the company is known for encouraging internal competition) similar Lightspeed set up shop in LA this year. NetEase also opened the first studio in the US in Austin this May.

While the months-long blockade in Shanghai this spring caused many foreigners to leave China, Miaozi’s international staff remained and found the situation had little impact on their work. surname.

“Luckily for us, it worked really well,” Lopez said in an interview with TechCrunch. “We are not leaving China during COVID. China is a really safe environment and we are basically focused on our development. The company and our team have all the infrastructure needed to grow at home in case it’s needed at some point.”

“You can thrive anywhere in the world,” he continued. “Of course face-to-face is better; It’s always easier to engage in communication and problem solving. But that’s the truth [the pandemic] It doesn’t affect us much.”

The studio’s naming speaks to the group’s relationship with China. Miaozi stands for cat meow, “meow” and “baozi,” a soft, fluffy, filling dumpling popular in China — two things that the team of 50 employees love.

“Around the office downstairs, there’s a FamilyMart convenience store, and what people usually buy during lunchtime are these baozi, and everyone loves these baozi,” Jobse explained. affectionately about the daily routine familiar to those who had worked in Shanghai. “But they also love cats. There are a lot of cats roaming outside and people are patting them and feeding them.”

“We wanted something that was cross-cultural and loved by everyone, and something that the Chinese and the rest of the team would understand,” Jobse added.

When designing the game, the creative director looked to Chinese science fictionoften conveyed more uplifting messages than their Western counterparts — the government encouraged “positive energy” in news, art and culture rather than the cynical, negative sentiments of recent years.

“We were able to create a sci-fi game that was both creative and positive,” Jobse noted. “The current sci-fi IPs are very, very focused on the negative side and the dangers of space or the dangers of alien beings.”

She goes on to mention the influence of The Wandering Earth, a blockbuster Chinese sci-fi movie Based on a short story by Liu Cixin, author of The Three-Body Problem.

“It’s actually quite a few inspiring little details [we] can be taken from For example, The Wandering Earth really has the whole spirit of cooperation and working together [to] overcome this obstacle… Even if they come from different cultures or come from different backgrounds, they still want to work together to achieve a common goal.”

Like many other industries, the growth of China’s gaming sector has been shaped by foreign investments and partnerships. International game publishers covet China’s rapidly growing internet population, and Chinese game companies eager to learn from their older Western counterparts. NetEase itself has a long history of collaborating with foreign publishers — last month marked the end of 14-year license agreement with Blizzard Activision to operate later games in China.

Fierce competition in the Chinese market has created a generation of internet companies that focus on short-term earnings rather than long-term innovation. It’s a delicate balance. Lopez thinks his team has a high degree of creative freedom as long as certain expectations are met. “In our studio, where we produce games, we work towards goals. We plan to produce a game in time and on budget. Within those boundaries is where our freedom lies, he said.

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