Chinese startup scratches virtual reality gaming

Updated: 2016-10-13 11:38

By China Daily in New York(China Daily USA)

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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."

Xiaotian Zhang in New York contributed to this story.