Makings of a Perfect Storm: China, FUZE, and Comcept’s RED ASH

Yesterday, the RED ASH: The Indelible Legend Kickstarter page was updated to say that its production was a “go” thanks to the backing and partnership of a Chinese tech company, FUZE Entertainment. Fans were generally happy about this, since the project had only achieved $487,000 of its $800,000 goal — with less than a week until deadline, it would have been near-impossible to raise the rest of the funds. RED ASH is still slated for release on the Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC (not Wii U though, as Comcept stated they wanted to develop the game with Unreal Engine 4). Additional crowdfunding will go to new content based on the stretch goals reached — these have yet to be detailed by Comcept. News of this backing have led some to lash out at Comcept, citing it as “a disaster,” with some fans alleging the company was deceptive although the Kickstarter clearly stated:

This story has always been planned as a key jumping-on point for the universe, and we hope to use this small, but dense taste of the RED ASH universe as a foundation on which to build future content. Whether it’s through additional funding, revenue from “The KalKanon Incident” sales, or teaming up with a publisher, this is a story we are determined to tell, and we want all of our backers to be on the ground floor for the creation of this new game universe. We have a vision of a story and universe that we feel deserves to be told, and we need your support to make it a reality!

Those quick enough to catch the news dismissed this backing, laughing off Comcept’s new partner. But they might not have looked closely enough at this mysterious backer.

FUZE Entertainment is a Chinese tech company with some of the best and brightest minds behind it — ex-employees of NVIDIA, Tencent, and Huawei with years of experience. Their product: an Android-based gaming console, one with an NVIDIA graphics card and full OpenGL 4.4 support, boldly stating a “better GPU performance than the Xbox360/PS3.” Their company website doesn’t beat around the bush to bash on other consoles, either — the Ouya, XboxOne, FunBox, and what looks like the TCL T2 are blatantly dismissed for their flaws. Go figure; Ouya was just bought out by Razer, and its console was discontinued this week. In spite of this, those who have looked into the company balk at FUZE’s mystery console, which had an estimated release of June 2015. But don’t count them out just yet.

FUZE roster

The FUZE Entertainment core team

The Chinese Ministry of Culture recently ended its 15-year ban on the manufacture and domestic sale of video games after testing the waters in 2014, in an area in Shanghai known as the Free Trade Zone. The nationwide ban, with an original intent to shut down illegally-run arcades (which were also hotbeds for Triads), also stopped companies like Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft from selling their products in the country — in the case of Special Administrative Regions (SAR) like Hong Kong and Macau, excessively high import tariffs were placed on consoles and software, making it extremely difficult for the working and middle class to afford a PS2 or Xbox. And while these rules weren’t necessarily enforced — bootleggers could still sell game copies and the black market supplied consoles to hole-in-the-wall tech shops — none of the profits were going back to the manufacturers.

arcade shenzhen cory doctorow

Arcade in Shenzhen, photo credit: Cory Doctorow

More importantly, the ban also allowed the Chinese PC games sector to thrive — in 2011, IDC reported that China overtook the US as the largest PC market. The Nico Partners latest market analysis, reported by VentureBeat, shows China’s online PC gaming revenue jumping to $14.5 billion this year. Excerpts from analyst firm NewZoo’s market report show that by the end of 2015 China’s buying power will surpass the US’s by $200 million, and that gap is predicted to widen in the coming years. That spells good news for Chinese companies like Tencent and Perfect World, whose international outlooks resulted in the acquisition of several key US developers  — more revenue means more opportunities to buy up smaller studios stuck between a rock and a hard place, which means greater backing to experiment with titles.

But saturation in the PC and mobile gaming markets have left some Chinese gamers pining for an alternative, and many entrepreneurs have tried to capitalize on this. So far all have fallen short of controlling a dominant position, including Nintendo, but FUZE Entertainment’s partnership strategy coupled with the timing might be the winning ticket, and this isn’t even its first move — earlier this month, FUZE signed a loan contract with Linekong for a total of $9 million. Not only is Linekong a diversified Chinese game developer and publisher; it also has its own distribution platform 8864 (similar to Steampowered), development software OKSDK, and payment solutions. Oh yeah: the company also owns a 37.78% share of FUZE.

Keiji Inafune’s departure from Capcom has led to ambitious projects like the two-day crowdfunded Mighty No. 9 to the newest announced collaboration with Armature Studio: ReCore. His desire to produce innovative games falls in line with the Chinese console manufacturer’s dream, albeit driven by displeasure for Japanese publisher trends and the international decline of Japanese games’ popularity. But amidst gamer disillusionment in Kickstarters, and with retailers pulling back on Mighty No. 9 a month away from official release, Inafune’s certainly asking for a lot of trust (and money) from fans. And right now fans are wondering if they have any more to give.

Meanwhile, China’s lift on console sales puts foreign manufacturers on an uneven playing field, faced with the prospect of marketing to a generation of teenagers and young adults who have played games by and large on their computers or smart phones, and have been shut off to Western gaming trends. Of course, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo will take what they can get as physical game sales in the US have fallen 13% since last year, down to only $507.9 million from retailers, according to VentureBeat. But with such a powerful backing, it would be an understatement to say that FUZE has a home court advantage. We likely won’t see anything come to fruition in the next few months, but this partnership has all the makings of a perfect storm.

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We’ve reached out to both FUZE Entertainment and Comcept for confirmation and further information. This feature will be updated as soon as we receive a response from either company.

Ryan Mo
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Ryan Mo refers to himself in the third-person perspective because he is uncomfortable with directly writing to readers. His writing voice takes after that of John Barth, one of his influences while studying English Literature in college (but he’ll also settle for Christopher Walken). Growing up, he took an interest in Magic: The Gathering for its card artwork and names, the latter of which expanded his vocabulary and contributed to nearly every horrible deck he’s ever made. Ryan has never played a Zelda game, and the only Pokemon installment he’s touched is Sapphire Version. He’s not sorry for that. He believes Castlevania: Symphony of the Night has the best OST of all time, and hopes for Baldur’s Gate III to be completed and released. If he could have any pet Ryan would choose an Ultralisk, but recently settled for a Mackerel tabby who he affectionately named Milktea.Ryan is simultaneously amused and perplexed by the micro-aggressive tendencies of the Tumblr community, and is constantly warned to never go on Reddit. When he is not dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, he might be writing about music, making (little) headway through his queue of books, or stripping Tyria to craft that piece of Ascended Gear on Guild Wars 2. He is Honey Boy’s #1 fan and always insists on adding more lens flare.

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