Wednesday, May 4, 2016

China: The Winning Strategy of Copycatting Everything

Headline this week:

A Chinese company can use the name 'iPhone' for non-Apple products, court rules

This kind of thing has become par for the course in a country whose tight government control have--again and again--held back "foreign" companies in order to aid domestic business.

Let's look at some examples...

You're all familiar with Facebook, no doubt. As you probably know, Facebook is banned in China. If you attempt to access it you'll get a DNS error as if the site doesn't exist. 

This is RenRen. If you didn't notice, it is an exact copy of Facebook. Despite Mark Zuckerberg's repeated (and embarrassing) attempts to woo China by learning Chinese, and being snubbed by President Xi, Facebook has been held at bay while a local company copied everything about it, down to the thumbs-up "like" graphic.

Come get your new MiPhone at this "Apple Store"!

This is a gaming blog, let's take a look at some examples of this in gaming: 

Even indie games (copying is the highest form of flattery right?)

Or how about some of these great gaming consoles...

Check out the Chintendo Vi.

EDIT: A few peeps on Reddit pointed that there is a difference between cloning something ideologically, and violating IP law by directly stealing assets. Trust me, there's plenty of both.

Honestly the list could go on and on forever... 


There are a number of reasons...

First, it's probably important to note that Chinese companies often copy each-other, it's part of the culture. It's well known that the educational system in China does not foster creativity. When Chinese entrepreneurs see a successful idea, they copy it.

This is Helen's, a successful bar that opened here a few years ago. After a few months, 4 or 5 bars popped up nearby with the EXACT same decor, layout, lighting, cups, food items, drink items (including Helen's iconic "Buckets"), tables, chairs, ashtrays, lighting, products... and the same name (in Chinese).
Welcome to Savage 西餐吧!

Welcome to Helen's 西餐吧!

Welcome to another 西餐吧!

Copying is an artform here. The Chinese are quite masterful at it and look at it very different than we do. 

Second, China spent the last half century playing "catch up". Most of the recent technological development here was achieved by simply copying western designs. Modern day copy-catting is just a continuation of this trend, and nothing new.

Third, there is little legal recourse. Foreign companies would struggle enough trying to navigate a fair Chinese legal system, not to mention the system is ultimately biased against them in favor of locals. If you grew up in a place that stifled your creativity since childhood, and then entered a workforce where you could copy others with impunity: you'd be copying too.

To Conclude

It may seem that I've strayed from the topic of gaming, quite the contrary. The Chinese mobile market has become the most valuable in the world.  Chinese people are HUGE gamers. You should see the net-cafes. If we lived in a fair world, developing games for China would be at the top of every dev's priorities.

Unfortunately China is currently moving backwards--not forwards--when it comes to opening up its market to outsiders--see China bans foreign companies from online media business. They only want your business long enough to copy it and do it themselves. It might just be a winning strategy.