You've all seen it, Chinese game studios copying and stealing from Western studios and profiting from the act. While this may seem to be norm, there is a single blade of hope growing out from heaps of fertilizer. Small Chinese indies such as Coconut Island Studios are looking to create something that is their own, something original.
Best known, if known at all, for their 2009 iOS game called iDrag Paper, Coconut Island Studios has been trying to make their way in the furiously unkind world of Chinese game developing. So far the studio has six games under their belt all of which are what they call "one-tap games", games which only require the use of one button. Unbiasedly I can say all of their games have a certain charm to them that is indeed different from the copy cats usually found in China.
Wesley Bao, Co-founder and CEO of Coconut Island Studios, says that the studio is looking to make original and creative games. Bao says the studio makes loads of playable prototypes before they decide what kind of game they develop. So far it looks like most of their games are one-tap games.
According to Bao, the original purpose of the one-tap games was to reach the light users to play.
"The games were designed to be accessible across all platforms to all users because it only requires one button," Bao said.
Their first game, iDrag Paper is a testament to the one-tap philosophy of the studio. The whole point of iDrag Paper is to unravel a roll of toilet paper as fast as possible. Their latest game, One Tap Hero is their take on the platformer genre, where the hero runs left and right, back and forth, and the player's only interaction is timing jumps. While deceptively simple at first glance, the game is much more.
One Tap Hero is very much reminiscent of Mario, where there is a damsel in distress. However unlike a regular platformer, the player's only interaction with the Hero is by timing his jumps. While it might look kiddy and childish because of it's colors, the game is deceptively hard as the later levels require mind warping focus.
Bao and his partner Ye Feng, originally met at Konami Shanghai. After leaving Konami Bao and Wen both went onto work at other game studios in Shanghai but eventually the two would decide to create their own studio, Coconut Island. The Studio was then named after Bao's then girlfriend, now wife's blog. All together Coconut Island was a small four man team, now they are nine.
Interestingly enough, for a Chinese game developer, and a mobile dev at that, Coconut Island's audience isn't so much the Chinese market but instead the western market.
"The Chinese market isn't our main focus; many Chinese devs use various means to get ahead, and we don't want to," said Bao. "The Chinese market makes up a very little number of our downloads, for instance iDrag paper, our best selling game only has 5 percent of its downloads coming from China."
To Bao and his Coconut Island team, the idea of stealing and copying from other developers is harmful to the development of the Chinese gaming industry. Bao says that he knows about all the bad practices found in the Chinese gaming industry but he hopes that developers in his generation produce something that can change the industry for the better.
Ultimately for Bao and Coconut Island, the end goal is to explore the possibilities of games as a medium of self expression.
"Right now our games are very much for the mass market, but we want to walk closer to the artistic line kind of Jenova Chen's Journey," said Bao. "However a lot of these artistic games aren't very fun, they are great, but they're not fun so the first goal is to make a fun game."
Coconut Island Studio games are available online in Google Play and the Apple iOS Appstore.