The rise of the Taiwanese indie scene: why it deserves our attention

The rise of the Taiwanese indie scene: why it deserves our attention

The rise of the Taiwanese indie scene

Taiwanese indie gaming has come a long way in a short time. It's only been five years since Red Candle released Detention, a surreal and heartbreaking 'white terror' expedition of political punishment and martial law that dominated the 20th century of the island's history, and most likely the first game of origin. Taiwanese I've ever played. Since then, I have found that many indie games I have enjoyed were made in Taiwan. Detention thus acted as a fuse that led to a slow explosion of this market.

The growth was equally evident to anyone in the middle of that process. "When I first attended the indie section of the Taipei Game Show five years ago, there were only 15 Taiwanese booths, and this was the largest game show in all of Taiwan!" Explains Scott Chen, co-founder of Taiwanese developer SIGONO. "Now there are 50 local teams showing their work through 100 or more booths, and the quality of the productions has also grown a lot".

Red Candle has undoubtedly been the flagship for this new trend, with Detention and its sequel Devotion which had Taiwanese culture as the beating heart of the experience. But at the same time SIGONO has made progress with titles based on sci-fi adventures, with OPUS: Echo of Starsong, the third title released in 2021. And in recent years there have been several productions from various studios, including Carto, Vigil : The Longest Night, Behind the Frame, MO: Astray, and The Legend of Tianding, which exemplify this developer community's quest for distinctive experiences.

This turn was also noticed by Vlad Tsypljak, co-founder of the indie publisher Neon Doctrine, who decided to move his base of operations from China to Taiwan three years ago, and published both Vigil and The Legend of Tianding. "When we first came here, the only popular games were Detention and Devotion," he explains. "[Development] was still very mobile-oriented, especially MMOs or Gacha games." He also explains that many local talents and resources destined for education are channeled towards the creation of assets for large foreign publishers: the Uncharted games, the remakes of Resident Evil and Destiny 2 have in fact been partially made in Taiwan. "But we are seeing a growth of studios releasing in the PC market, making these games suited to the local culture or produced with their own identity, rather than reprising Western-style games"

The Detention Trailer.

Watch on YouTube. One reason the indie boom is relatively recent, Tsypljak says, is that those studios previously struggled to make money from their own productions. "Taiwanese investors are unfamiliar with the industry and how dynamics work," he explains, "so developers end up in difficult financial situations even when their games are doing well, due to unprofitable financial deals with investors. ". Another problem is the work culture, which is "very focused on overworking," Tsypljak says. "We've seen studios go so far into working hours near deadlines that they ended up hating each other and burnout."

There are now more resources to help developers make good deals and manage workloads. Events such as the Taipei Game Show, the Taipei Game Developers Forum and the IGDA conferences have made life easier for the studios, to design experiences both for their own territory and for the international one. There are also government-funded initiatives, Chen explains, "that are aimed at finding the right publisher for each team, or helping developers financially by allowing them to attend conventions." And although education resources are somewhat limited, "people are eager to help themselves, and those familiar with languages ​​are willing to help by spreading valuable knowledge from overseas".

This community spirit is shared by PP, one of the teams at CGCGC (Creative Games Computer Graphics Corporation), the studio responsible for the historic beat 'em up The Legend of Tianding. "We have very positive and active indie groups in Taiwan, of which the largest is IGD SHARE", they explain. Many talented game designers share their knowledge on the site and stream on Twitch every month. Overall, I think the resources are adequate for anyone who wants to start making games from scratch. "

These resources have helped CGCG find the right support for their work." It's not very easy [securing funding], "explains PP." After all, making games is a high-risk investment when compared to other types of businesses. But we found funding from a benevolent investor, DIT Startup and other government sponsors. "Neon Doctrine then made a difference in refining the process, managing localization, QA sessions and advertising." Finding a publisher and partnering with one is very important. , allows you to focus on what you do best ", explains PP.

The trailer for OPUS: Echo of Starsong.

Watch on YouTube. SIGONO has taken a different path, publishing from himself his first titles on mobile platforms. "When we started we were focused on producing small projects and using the proceeds from them to self finance and develop the next titles," explains Chen. Thanks to good feedback and positive reviews, the OPUS series now it has 10 million downloads globally. "These are the kinds of successes that have allowed us to develop new games."

And if it seems like a fairly straightforward process, Chef points out that he wasn't at all. "Six years ago we would have shown each of our games at each event to find companies interested in becoming our partners," he explains. "We would have even been lucky if we had a single deal with one of these companies." They also took risks with Echo of Starsong, which represented a first for simultaneous publishing on iOS and PC. "We have established good relationships with major app stores over the years, and feel confident in publishing our own. our games. But on PC this practice was more complex than we imagined, especially in the western market, "continues Chen.

In the future, however, the biggest problem could be releasing games in western China . Chinese players currently buy the titles on the global Steam store, and Tsypljak estimates that China accounts for 30-40% of Neon Doctrine title sales. The concern so far has been to make sure the games did not contain content related to political sensitive issues for China (something that Red Candle got burned about when he left a derogatory image in Devotion towards the ninth Chinese president Jinping, ending in the eye of the storm and being forced to withdraw the game from sale). Even a game like Legend of Tianding, which deals with Taiwanese resistance against Japanese occupation in the early 20th century, requires careful localization. "It is never easy to deal with the Chinese and Taiwanese markets," explains PP. "We make games the way they want and some item descriptions might be considered sensitive by the publisher of the Chinese team, so we also incorporate a Chinese version tailor-made for them."

Legend of Tianding trailer.

Watch on YouTube. The looming problem is rather the fact that China may soon be banning the global version of Steam, overnight. Should this happen, the games will be sold exclusively through China's restricted Steam and other platforms, with each title going through a tough government certification process to ensure that it is consistent with the guidelines for the content they have to deal with. dealing with politics, violence, sex and religion. For many developers, this practice would be too expensive, require too many changes in development routines, and slow down the system. "There are still huge, years-old backlogs dating back to when they arrested the whole process," Tsypljak explains. "When it comes to PC games, we're talking about three or four games that have to go through this process every quarter."

At the same time, Europe and North America remain markets that are difficult to attack, as games produced in Taiwan and small Asian territories struggle to attract media attention, even with the support of publishers like Neon Doctrine. Tsypljak explains that their recent releases have sold well, suggesting that Western players are open to experiences from Asia and not exclusively Japan. But he adds: "If publishers have the choice between an indie made in Europe and North America and an indie made in Indonesia, Malaysia or Taiwan, they will always choose the western product".

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"I've had several bad experiences," he continues. "A reporter approaches me and tells me: 'this game looks interesting, we would like to talk to the developers', and I ... ok, the developers ... in English is not good, but we can use an interpreter. But 99 % will say it's a lot of work. They say they want to support the development of Asian games, but when it comes to money there is little coverage. "

Chen has had similar problems, although speaks English fluently. "The years in which it had to break into the Western sphere were quite discouraging," he explains. "Selling a game without cultural barriers is already difficult. But when you present a game that doesn't come from the usual territories, people will ask: 'is it good? Ah, do they play games there too?'"

The latter years we should have been told that games are actually being played there, and more and more of them are very good too. "The key to success is getting people to give these games a chance, a practice we still have a lot to learn about," explains Chen. If the recent Taiwanese indie production is really good, we won't need to work hard on persuasion. This new and emerging scene deserves every possible chance.

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