Behind the Scenes at the Taipei Game Show

Credit: Jules Quartly
Why you need to know

From big industry players to indie developers and twitchy live streamers, TGS had everything a dedicated follower of gaming could desire.

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After being immersed in the Taipei Game Show (TGS) for five days you slip into a kind of mirror world of imaginary landscapes populated by terrorists and monsters, nubile women, loud music and incessant explosions. It’s easy to think of the world outside as a pale and boring imitation.

Particularly so, when all the fun is being broadcast and dissected in real time on your phone. It’s all so meta, a self-reinforcing loop of gamers and IRL (In Real Life) streamers, who comment on the action as you watch both the event and its online version. For the surging population of zhainan (宅男), homebodies who typically sit in their comfy chairs and reach out to the world through a screen, TGS is life lived large.

It’s also big business and hence the large contingent of mega companies that attended the show. Sony gave gamers a preview of their latest offerings, including “Shadow of the Colossus” and “Detroit: Become Human,” plus the recently released “Monster Hunter”. The Japanese company also roped in sports anchor and celebrity Hsu Chan-yuan (徐展元) for the “NBA 2K18” finals. Sega Games set up consoles for its new releases, while Taiwan’s Bandai Namco was determined not to be outdone with its burgeoning product lineup. France’s Ubisoft, meanwhile, gave away a Harley-Davidson on the final day of the show.

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Credit: Jules Quartly
IRL (In Real Life) streamers get ready to start a show for Bandai Namco, the Japanese company with a Taiwan subsidiary, at TGS.

An estimated 80,000 people poured into the Taipei World Trade Center daily, many of them students looking for some light relief after the pressure of exams. They snapped up limited edition manga prints, fought over free eSports gear and lined up overnight for Butterfly Digital Entertainment’s new offering, “ARK: Survival Evolved”. There was sweat, there were tears and there was passion.

Taiwan’s zhainan culture is expanding at spectacular speed as gaming continues to make inroads on the time and wallets of millennials. Indie gaming was a big hit at this year’s edition of TGS. With 279 game companies (some of them one-man bands) interacting with 2,400 trade visitors, the B2B zone highlighted the febrile state of the market here.

It’s forecast that Taiwan will grow into a US$2.8 billion gaming market by 2021, according to market researcher Niko Partners. It’s already the 15th-biggest market for PC and mobile games worldwide, which is quite an achievement considering its size and population. Half of the population is projected to be playing mobile games in just over three years, while the popularity and importance of eSports is set to increase incrementally.

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Credit: Jules Quartly
Plentiful entertainment ensured huge crowds at TGS.

There’s no ignoring Taiwan, which has the largest games market revenue in the “Greater Southeast Asia” region, believes Niko Managing Partner Lisa Cosmas Hanson: “It’s imperative for companies in the global games industry ecosystem to understand the Taiwan market opportunity, consumer behaviors, growth factors and regulations.”

While last year’s TGS put an emphasis on the holistic virtual reality (VR) experience, it was the Indie House zone that went big with its VR Area this year. HTC’s Vive Pro demonstrated its wireless and high-resolution technology, while developers from Macao’s 4D Creativity and Technology Studio presented what it called an “ultra-immersive gaming experience.”

Another huge trend in Taiwan is YouTubers and live streaming. Ubisoft invited streamers to host tournaments at its booth; YouTubers teamed up for the mobile physics game “Monster Strike”, developed by Mixi; and the social media app Huboo invited streamer celebrities to compete with fans.

Once again TGS partnered with the live video platform Twitch (part of Amazon.com). Its striking booth featured mini golf, Jenga parties and multi-game broadcasts, plus a long list of local VIP streaming celebrities who did meet and greets with their fans.

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Credit: Jules Quartly
Three Twitch “partners” or live streamers mug for the camera and their audience, at Taipei Game Show.

One of the Twitch “partners” on site was the now notorious “CJayride” (aka American Chris James Robb) who earned the wrath of a nation with a steamy hot spring video in which he was accused of calling Taiwan girls “easy.” Never a good idea. It got him into huge trouble on social media and so profound was the reaction even traditional media got in on the action.

He was doxed, chased out of the country and banned by Twitch. The ban was lifted and he was banned again, but there he was, as large as life in the Twitch booth – which, incidentally, banned all journalists, myself included … eventually.

CJayride has now launched a GoFundMe fundraiser “to make the living situation of all people involved safer, healthier, and free of harassment.” Twitch too is running a series of webinars to talk about changes to its community guidelines, which are expected to focus on “overtly sexual content,” racism and bullying. To be fair, this is fairly new territory for everyone involved, so it’s a learn as you go process.

While Facebook and Twitter in the West have been doing live streaming for some time now, it’s quickly become a money spinner in Asia. Taiwan leads the way partly because it’s not China and doesn’t have anywhere near the same level of censorship. It also has a strong track record of social media activism, as shown by the role of the PTT Bulletin Board System (PTT) and Facebook in organizing the Sunflower Student Movement of 2014.

Broadly speaking, local live streaming sites like M17 are focused on reality TV and variety shows, while LangLive (浪Live) is an outlet for cosplayers and competitions. They are all trying to tap into the huge market of savvy Taiwanese who are always online and searching for new forms of entertainment.

But, as the case of CJayride makes clear, there is much work to be done to iron out the creases when cultural norms clash. CJayride claims his videos are intended to be fun and are similar to YouTube pranking, but a culture of respect in Taiwan sees it differently. The point is, when the streamer or YouTube personality will do anything (and I mean anything) to get hits, there are going to be accidents and fallout. This keeps the medium fresh since but presents a headache for companies and regulators when the action really is live.

Expect IRL and other live adventures to feature even more strongly in future editions of TGS, as Taiwan’s zhainan army turns streaming into a form of mainstream media.

Read Next: Taiwan E-Sports: More than Just a Game

Editor: David Green

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