Chinese students aspiring to be high-tech legend

Updated: 2012-06-06 13:44


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LOS ANGELES - In no more than two weeks after the launch of "City King," an iPhone game recently developed by a group of Chinese student entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, it received thousands of reviews and tweets, topping the list of most popular location-based games on iPhone.

The adventure game transforms neighborhood hot spots into manga-like battlefields by creating game maps out of the city around the players using iPhone's GPS.

The game challenges iPhone users "why be the mayor of your city when you can be the king" with the location check function integrated into the game scenes, which is very innovative and unique. And this idea comes from a 25-year-old student entrepreneur Shuang Wu.

"Life is a game," as the old proverb says. But for people like Wu who treats game design as his life-time passion and pursuit, game is life.

The young CEO graduated from University of Southern California just in May and had become the CEO of his own company before graduation.

It was in May 2011 when he was still a freshman studying Computer Science with specialization in Game Development at USC that he met several other game fanatics from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), which is prestigious for its Entertainment Technology program. Those young people clicked with each other right away: they were all young students passionate about games, craving to build up a game kingdom of their own.

"We came together for one thing: the passion for game; and we stayed together for one belief: we are gonna make something special and innovative in this industry," said Xiao Lan, also a 25-year-old CEO.

Like Wu, Lan has had a fervent interest in computer game since a very early age. That's why she chose the Entertainment Technology program at CMU, where there are a rare number of female students.

Thanks to the flourishing of social games such as Zynga and Instagram, start-ups boom incredibly fast. After honing technical skills from top tier programs and exposed to a world of new ideas and innovations every day, these young people could hardly sit still and itched to have a try.

And that came the company, Funton, founded at Los Angeles after over a month's discussion about the name. "There are two major connotations of the name: first of all, Funton means 'tons of fun, ' explained Lan, "our game company's No. 1 principle is to deliver fun, and we are in the commitment of delivering tons of fun!"

Also, Funton is the name of a legendary creature in ancient Chinese stories, which was one of the earliest creatures born right after the formation of the world and it followed dark and evilness.

"Isn't that interesting? Well, we don't mean to be evil, we just want to show a little bit difference, unconventional, and perhaps, rebellion," said Lan.

Maybe that set up the genes of the company. From the very beginning, the company was daring enough to not follow the proven successful models but stuck to its own: a location based social game in which players could not only have fun with the game itself, but also be able to interact with other players who are in the same "building" or "location" - a combination of virtual game experiences and real life interaction.

"The inspiration came from both observation and instinct: we noticed the popularity of location-based apps - these apps are so popular among iPhone users yet some of them are so simple - they are not difficult at all in terms of technical operability. What if we incorporate this idea to the game?" said Lan.

They did it. And they made their biggest breakthrough one year after the company's establishment. Their first game, "City King," was launched on May 2 and received plenty of positive feedbacks from players and critics immediately after its launch.

Transforming the local hot spots into battlegrounds by creating a game map based on players' actual geographic locations, "City King" enables players to check into nearby locations using their iPhone's location-based services to do battle with in-game monsters and compete against other local players for the highest score to earn the title of "King," which is quite a unique spin on location-based gaming.

"It was almost midnight when we set up everything and made the game app available on iPhone. No one closed eyes that night. We were all sitting at the front of the screens waiting for the first downloader, the first player and the first reviewer.

An hour later, the first review came out. It was a breath-taking moment," said Wu. It was not a bad one. "This game is pretty cool. And really innovative - playing/fighting in your real neighborhood! I'm hooked after just a day."

Till the moment the review was read, Wu and Lan knew that they got repaid for all those sleepless nights.

After the successful launch of its first product, the company is now at the second round of financing and is moving from Los Angeles to San Francisco to keep abreast of the most cutting-edge technologies.

"San Francisco is the paradise for high-tech start-ups like us. It does not only keep us at the forefront of technologies and industrial trends, but also helps us maintain the vitality and aggressiveness as a start-up.

"There are so many legends about how ideas change the world on this land that we are aspiring to be one of them, one day eventually," said Wu, the passionate young Chinese entrepreneur in LA.