Hong Kong video game and cartoon designers fail to make impression overseas

The creations of the city's video game and cartoon artists are accused of being "too local" to make a big impression abroad

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 January, 2013, 5:44am

While overseas video game and animation icons such as Angry Birds have successfully blended into Hong Kong products - from T-shirts to mooncakes - homegrown designers are struggling to make an impression abroad because their creations are "too local", according to licensing agents.

Ivan Chan Wah-chun, of Promotional Partners Group, a licensing agent for Angry Birds in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and the mainland, and other characters such as the Smurfs in the region, said that global brands understood the importance of respecting local markets and are open to innovative ideas.

The furry cast from the Finnish mobile phone game has been a successful example.

Chan said his company also assisted Rovio, Angry Birds' developer, to seek permission on the mainland to operate an Angry Birds theme park near Hangzhou as well as a themed restaurant - both scheduled for construction later this year.

Conversely, only a few local creations have made it outside Hong Kong; cartoon piglet McDull and his gang created by Alice Mak Ka-bik and Brian Tse Lap-man, characters from Chocolate Rain, and the satirical comic Maggiology and Mandycat.

Jacky Lee Chi-fat, managing director of Tobyhk Workshop, said many homegrown designs fail to appeal to an international audience. Foreigners do not understand the culture-specific humour and cannot relate to the characters.

"Successful designs need an international appeal. Licensees want products to break into international markets," said Lee.

Stanley Yeung Chee-tat, president of Yeung's Group, said he has licensed the characters of Maggiology and Mandycat because the comic strip is popular on the mainland, Taiwan and Macau, despite it telling a very local story.

Ivan Chan, now working on local designer Dorophy Tang's Baby Bao, said China fever has helped him market a character with Chinese elements overseas.

But illustrator Mandy Kwong, who designs Mandycat, stressed the potential hazards of striking a balance between two disparate ambitions: producing unique works for fans at home, while exploring new markets elsewhere.

"If you change too much [to cater to a market], you will lose your character," she said.

But while producing licensed goods can bring more income, they won't make her rich, the illustrator added.

Government statistics show royalties and licence fees in Hong Kong grew from US$379 million in 2008 to US$399 million in 2010. The Trade Development Council said Hong Kong's per capita spending on licensed products was US$37.14, ranking it second highest in Asia after Japan.

The mainland appetite for licensed goods demonstrated an astonishing 250 per cent growth, from US$1.1 billion in 2005 to US$3.9 billion in 2010, according to the council's statistics.

North America, however, with 60 per cent global share, dropped 4 per cent in 2010.

China's share accounted for 2.4 per cent in the global market of US$146.5 billion.

The 11th Hong Kong International Licensing Show opens today at Wan Chai's Convention and Exhibition Centre.