Kaohsiung's Entertainment Software Cluster
Taking Fun Global
Kaohsiung's once drab harbor area is teeming with creativity and entrepreneurial spirit, as a number of gaming software and entertainment industry companies have moved their R&D centers to the city's blue waterfront.
Taking Fun GlobalBy Elaine Huang
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 541 )
On both sides of the road, 32-foot shipping containers are stacked high, creating a desolate, industrial atmosphere.
"It's definitely here," the taxi driver is quick to reassure his passengers as he points out a lone, towering office-cum-factory building on one side of the road.
Huddled away in this nondescript building are the headquarters of Soft-World International Entertainment, a major publicly listed Taiwanese gaming company.
Soft-World President Wang Chun-po decided to place his headquarters in his home town of Kaohsiung to escape the crowded conditions in northern Taiwan.
Wang also put the offices of subsidiary Zealot Digital International Corp., an online game developer, on the wind-swept harbor waterfront.
Founded five years ago, Zealot specializes in the development of online and mobile games. Wang's eldest son Weng Hsuan-tse, who currently serves as Zealot's R&D chief, is rumored to be his anointed successor. As Wang takes the reporter on a tour of the offices, Weng is in the midst of an intense discussion with his 150-strong developer team, barely acknowledging the presence of his father.
Wang silently continues his inspection tour, eager not to disturb his son at work.
Last year, Zealot finally posted its first-ever profit after four years in the red, raking in NT$100 million with the online game Pili Shen Zhou.
University Orchestra Plays Soundtrack
"We had already invested NT$500 million or NT$600 million but kept making losses, so the board of directors wanted me to deal with the situation. I promised that Pili was the last attempt and if it wasn't successful I would cut half of the staff," says Wang, who doubles as Zealot chairman, in recalling his inner struggle at the time.
For this final battle, Zealot relied on the huge popularity of Pili puppet shows, the modern multimedia version of Taiwan's traditional puppet theater created by Pili Multimedia Inc. Wang took a huge gamble by doing everything in-house, from game design to artistic realization, sales and distribution. But his gamble paid off. He secured the jobs of 150 local artists and programmers, and opened up the possibility of a homegrown best-selling online game.
"A newly founded company needs to find its direction, its position. It needs to find its own values in a changing environment," remarks Wang, who looks back on a 25-year-long career in the gaming industry.
Wang has a knack for using local resources and strengths. He set up a simulation room and asked drama and dance students from nearby universities to pose as real-life models for the animation artists. He also had a top-notch recording studio put in and asked the symphony orchestra of Tainan National University of the Arts to create the soundtrack for the game.
"Isn't it really good to give local talent a stage for development?" says Wang. "These kids play the violin just as well as a professional orchestra," he enthuses as he watches the performing students on the computer screen in the studio.
Soft-World and Zealot are representative of an entertainment industry cluster in the Kaohsiung harbor area that is just about to blossom into an "entertainment bay." Its biggest backup is the south's vast professional talent pool in the arts and animation.
In the area between Tainan and Kaohsiung alone there are at least 16 higher education institutions including Kunshan University, Kao Yuan University, Shu-te University, Far East University, and Tainan University of Technology. Over a thousand graduates of visual design, applied arts, and animation departments in the area enter the job market every year.
"Compared to Taipei and even China, employees in southern Taiwan are quite stable and have a high degree of loyalty," observes Sam Lien, director general of the Southern Industry Service Division of the Institute for Information Industry. Lien thinks that Wang had good foresight when picking Kaohsiung for the Soft-World head office.
A ten-minute car ride away from the Soft-World and Zealot headquarters in Kaohsiung's Qianzhen District is the Kaohsiung Software Technology Park, another hot address for the entertainment and software industries in the Kaohsiung Harbor Area.
The Kaohsiung Software Technology Park is only one third the size of the Nankang Software Park in Taipei. But since the park is in the vicinity of other landmarks such as the Tuntex Sky Tower, the China Steel headquarters and the Kaohsiung Exhibition Center, it has become a sought-after location.
"Occupancy stands at 80 percent to 90 percent," notes Lee Jun-min, director of the Kaohsiung Software Park Service Center under the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
For instance, the headquarters of Moregeek Entertainment, which specializes in multi-platform content and cloud-based video games, are located in the park. Su Yu-cheng, the founder of Moregeek, used to work for Electronic Arts (EA Games), a leading global interactive entertainment software company. Like Soft-World he picked Kaohsiung for his company headquarters and began to develop Taiwan's first multi-platform game product. From Kaohsiung the company expanded to Taipei and Shanghai.
But it's not only Kaohsiung natives who swear by the city's talent. Over the past two years, large entertainment companies such as KKbox, Asia's digital music leader, and leading animation studio CGCG Inc. were lured to Kaohsiung by the software park's location and local talent. Both have established R&D centers there.
And the creative talent being nurtured along the docks of this blue harbor has set its sights high, eyeing the global market.
On the empty lot across from the offices of the Kaohsiung Software Park Service Center stands the research and testing center of simulator ride maker Brogent Technologies Inc., which opened early last year. Right next door is Taiwanese electronics giant Hon Hai's just-completed cloud computing data center.
"In the north, how could you ever find so much space with such a view?" remarks Brogent Chairman Huang Chung-ming as he gestures toward the breathtaking ocean view outside the office window. The employees on the factory floors below all hail from the south. It is their dedication and creativity that has helped Brogent – which listed on Taiwan's over-the-counter market in late 2012 – to break Disney's monopoly on theme park simulation rides with the i-Ride dynamic flight theater.
The creative breeze has brought a qualitative change to the harbor bay area. Life on the Kaohsiung waterfront no longer revolves only around shipping containers, crude oil and steel. For the younger generation the revitalized "entertainment bay" opens up new opportunities for careers and entrepreneurship.
Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz