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Virtual Reality, E-sports and Live-streaming Score High at ChinaJoy

This year's Digital Entertainment Expo & Conference – better known to attendees as ChinaJoy – saw some 325,000 keen young visitors set out to boldly explore the worlds of virtual reality, global e-sports tournaments and live-streaming.

Photo: E-sports: Online tournaments offering real-life rewards.
E-sports: Online tournaments offering real-life rewards.
Photo: E-sports: Online tournaments offering real-life rewards.
E-sports: Online tournaments offering real-life rewards.

Virtual reality, e-sports tournaments, and live-streaming platforms proved front-of-house of at the recent Digital Entertainment Expo & Conference in Shanghai. While massed ranks of avid computer games fans thronged the event – best known as ChinaJoy to true believers – industry professionals also managed to negotiate some US$400 million of business over course of the four-day event.

If attendance at the relevant trade event is any indicator, then China's gaming industry is, indeed, in fine fettle. Long queues formed every day as soon as the doors opened, with gaming fans keen to get sneak previews of up-and-coming games or purchase limited edition spin-offs. Queues of two hours just for a photo opportunity were far from uncommon, while some players stood in line for up to three hours just for the chance to preview the latest gameplay.

According to the China Gaming Industry Report January-June 2016, which was released at the fair, more than 489 million mainlanders regularly played computer games in the first half of 2016, a 6.7% year-on-year increase. Across the same period, China's games market was valued at in excess of RMB78.75 billion, a year-on-year growth of some 30.1%.

Overall, China's gaming industry is seen as having entered a period of steady growth, while the mainland's home-grown titles are also making increasing inroads abroad. Additionally, e-sports tournaments and games are seen as increasingly complementing one another, creating a host of new business opportunities. Against this backdrop, VR (virtual reality) games are now seen as the likely engine for future growth.

Virtual Reality Set to Take Off

Fittingly then, this year's ChinaJoy proved something of a showcase for the latest developments in VR technology across the mainland. This saw many of the leading games companies using the event as a platform to launch their latest innovations in the sector, including a number of experiential projects and even a VR theme park. Almost every VR stand was jam-packed with players wearing the headsets required to roam a variety of virtual reality worlds. One would-be player awaiting his own turn said: "I really want to have a go and discover what the latest technology is all about. I am very curious."

According to the China Gaming Industry Report, many games companies have recently been accelerating their involvement in the VR games sector. This has seen many of them investing heavily in new immersive games, while also developing the required headsets and consoles.

Photo: Virtually irresistible: Virtual reality.
Virtually irresistible: Virtual reality.
Photo: Virtually irresistible: Virtual reality.
Virtually irresistible: Virtual reality.
Photo: Gamers riding the VR rollercoaster.
Gamers riding the VR rollercoaster.
Photo: Gamers riding the VR rollercoaster.
Gamers riding the VR rollercoaster.

Acknowledging the wave of enthusiasm sweeping the industry, Mr Zhang, the Global Vice-President of one renowned game console chip design company, said: "Currently, there are more than 600 large-scale companies involved in the VR sector. In terms of their role within the VR industry chain, a number of them are engaged in producing display devices, some are involved with interactive equipment, others in computer equipment, while a certain number of them are specialising in content".

Overall, products offering the VR experience were available in variety of different forms at the event. One such example was the PS VR Farpoint Aim Controller, which makes use of a motion-tracked light gun to allow the user to aim and walk around in virtual reality. Then there was a VR motion seat that came in the shape of a flying saucer. This can support up to four players and allow them to simultaneously experience different adventures. A little more off-the-wall was HyBuilder, a building block game that uses a double handle and a positioning device to allow players to roams streets they have created, experiencing them by both day and night.

Compared with other forms of games, VR offers a totally immersive format, adding a unique depth to the player experience. According to industry experts on the mainland, as new VR hardware continues to enter the market, the related games will offer a host of new development opportunities, with the sector becoming a distinct niche in its own right. With regard to the current problems relating to portability and performance, the authors of the China Gaming Industry Report projects believe that these will soon be resolved.

E-sports Tournaments

This year's ChinaJoy played host to a number of e-sports events. The standard equipment required for these tournaments included a huge central LED screen, inevitably flanked on either side by the computers and seats of the competing teams. Tournaments such as WCA and campus e-sports, as well as those focussing on the StarCraft and League of Legends games, attracted large crowds with few empty seats in evidence.

Photo: E-sporting enthusiasts assemble.
E-sporting enthusiasts assemble.
Photo: E-sporting enthusiasts assemble.
E-sporting enthusiasts assemble.
Photo: Live-streaming: A global experience.
Live-streaming: A global experience.
Photo: Live-streaming: A global experience.
Live-streaming: A global experience.

Commenting on the rise of such tournaments, Zhang said: "Over the last two years, games companies have launched fewer and fewer traditional large-scale games and have, instead, concentrated on creating e-sports events. The cash prizes offered by some of them are higher than those offered by their more traditional counterparts.

"I think one of the important factors in the success of e-sports has been the access to a huge pool of global players. This has seen tournaments take place on an international basis."

According to the China Gaming Industry Report, e-sports are now set to develop into an important force in the gaming business. This is largely down to their effectiveness in maintaining the active participation of a high number of users over an extended period.

Live Game Streaming

Aside from VR and e-sports tournaments, live-streaming was the other high-profile element of this year's ChinaJoy. Apart from the main stages set up the larger gaming companies to showcase their live-streaming capabilities, many smaller stands also featured a live-streaming facility.

The stand of one well-known first-person shooter game, for instance, boasted its own 'bullet curtain' facility – a system that allows other users to live-stream comment and advice directly onto the screen from their smartphones. Overall, some 30,000 viewers logged on to watch the live stream of this particular game in real time, frequently interacting with the player and the on-screen action.

Photo: VR-mania comes to ChinaJoy.
VR-mania comes to ChinaJoy.
Photo: VR-mania comes to ChinaJoy.
VR-mania comes to ChinaJoy.
Photo: Gaming: A cultural nexus for young mainlanders.
Gaming: A cultural nexus for young mainlanders.
Photo: Gaming: A cultural nexus for young mainlanders.
Gaming: A cultural nexus for young mainlanders.

Across the four major game zones, there was a total of 11 live-streams, allowing options for single players, online gaming, e-sports and mobile gaming. On a main screen featuring the top 10 live-streams, nine were devoted to games.

Across the mainland, live-streaming of games represents a huge percentage of the output of all streaming websites. Such is their popularity that investment into the sector has boomed over the last six months.

The sharp rise in the number of would-be users has also contributed hugely to the growth of live-streaming. As a result, many gaming platforms now use live-streaming as key way of attracting new players and subscribers.

The 2016 Digital Entertainment Expo & Conference (ChinaJoy) was held at the Shanghai New International Expo Centre from 28-31 July. The event attracted a total of 325,500 visitors, representing year-on-year growth of 19.2%.

Wang Ji, Special Correspondent, Shanghai

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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