Game guru Dominic Chan

Turning technology into marketing power

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LOS ANGELES--Millions of online game players in China have never heard of Dominic Chan, but the 56-year-old Hong Kong native has transformed their lives. Mr. Chan, who lives in Los Angeles but commutes frequently to his company’s China headquarters in Guangzhou, is the architect of WKC Group. The letters stand for “We Know China,” and he’s not just referring to geography and key demographics.

This computer engineer predicted early in China’s economic and social development that its vast population, who love to play games, would quickly latch on to the Internet. Today, his holding company’s various branches have a finger, or a whole arm in some cases, in every aspect of the Internet cafe phenomenon that has swept through China.

One of the holding company’s largest branches is Univessence Digital Studios, developer of interactive entertainment products including games, Web sites, and e-learning materials. Univessence also owns the largest distribution channel in interactive entertainment and application software in Greater China--the platform on which his own games operate as well as those created by other companies like the ultra-popular World of Warcraft.

$100 million in revenue
WKC also owns Broadband Alliance, the second-largest micro pre-payment system in China, through which more than 90% of China’s registered 110,000 Internet cafes sell smart cards that gamers buy for about $25 to pay for their online time. The electronic payment system generated $100 million in revenue this year, and the company’s business grows about 50% annually.

The kids who buy those cards often access China’s online game world through Univessence’s intranet portal, run by his Integrated Cyber Media (ICM) division, and often play the company’s own games, which range from simple puzzles to a type of chess recently created by Mr. Chan himself, an avid fan of that game.

As they play and win those games, they accumulate points that can be redeemed for prizes after completing a registration process that has built up a database with tens of thousands of names.

Games provide link to young consumers
Now, the group’s sales and marketing arm, Market China, Inc., hope to bring together the company’s intranet portal, the content of the games themselves and that valuable database into a non-traditional media platform for marketers like Wrigley and MasterCard, who find it difficult to gain traction for their brands among young adult consumers in urban areas.

“Our company enables sponsors to form a direct link with a targeted audience through devices such as answering a question about a company like, ‘How many stripes are there in an adidas logo, two, three or five?,’ to win something, usually a hint to solve the next level of the game,” he added.

That marketing device, in turn, has led to development of new game ideas: “It’s a lovely model, in playing games, to think about what kinds of hidden powers would help me play the game better, such as having the ability to reset the clock, or obtain aids and virtual tools. The idea really came from Marvel comics,” said Mr. Chan, who then, in a brainstorm, called his longtime friend, Spiderman creator Stan Lee.

The 82-year-old animator is now working with Mr. Chan in the development of games featuring a new set of super heroes based on the Chinese zodiac.

Before founding Univessence Digital Studios in 2000, Mr. Chan was one of the founders of Idealflow Fund, a technology investment fund. Earlier, he held technical and product development positions at companies such as Bell Laboratories, Gould, Inc., Apollo Computer Corporation and Bull HN Information Systems.

Cheat Sheet

Who? Dominic Chan, founder of WKC Group, the holding company for an array of enterprises capitalizing on China's growing online game market.

Age? 56

Size of China’s online game market? Up to 50 million young adults in the 18-28 age group

Future goal? “Growing the business into a powerhouse, by expanding into other online content areas like music, sports, and other forms of audio/visual entertainment.”

Biggest challenge? “Finding good people for middle management with a Western level of business operating experience. You can find them here and there, but it’s hard to find in bulk, it’s not like the U.S.”

Favorite online game? “Cyber Chess, a game I created in which players make simultaneous moves on the board, so you have to predict the psychology of your opponent.”

Favorite restaurant in China? Vong at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Hong Kong

Favorite hangout? Guangzhou’s Pearl River night cruise
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