China has the largest gaming market in the world – and it is booming business. During the Digital China event (中国数码), a Sino-Dutch initiative focused on Chinese digital innovation, Shanshan Cao, senior market analyst at Newzoo, recently discussed the latest developments and opportunities in China’s gaming market, that is more and more focused on mobile gaming.
China’s Mobile Gaming Industry
“I love to play games,” Shanshan Cao smilingly starts her talk. Every day after work, she comes home to her favorite PC games. The rise of mobile gaming has now also made it possible to enjoy her games outside of the house. Not many people are that familiar with ‘mobile gaming’, but without realizing, she says, many of us already are mobile gamers. The great success of mobile games like Candy Crush or Angry Birds has proved that mobile gaming is quickly taking over a huge chunk of the international gaming market.
The US currently has around 139 million mobile gamers. The numbers vary, but according to Cao, China now has approximately 183 million gamers, and it is believed that 71% of the online population of China is an (occasional) online gamer, making it the largest online game market in the world.
One of the key drivers behind this online gaming environment is the fact that China is a mobile-first country. China’s average mobile user owns a relatively cheap but high-performance mobile phone, which enables them to play mobile games. As the quality of China’s smartphones keeps on rising, so are the possibilities and developments within China’s mobile gaming market.
What makes the market so interesting for companies, Cao explains, is their audience: China’s mobile gamers are young, mainly living in the first and second-tier cities of China, and half of them are female. Most importantly, they generally are fervent users of QQ, WeChat, and other social media, and like to spend money online as digital consumers who do not mind paying for movies, music, or games.
There are many different ways in which mobile games can bring revenue. There are paid games, or games with in-game payment options where users can generate a new life after they are game over by paying for it.
But the commercial power of free mobile games also should not be underestimated, Cao says: in-game advertising could earn money in various ways. The social-media-loving audiences of mobile games make them very interesting for brands who can advertise through precise targeting and crossover cooperations.
For example, Cao mentions, brands could make their products extra appealing by giving away in-game rewards. In this way, one would not only buy a L’Oreal shampoo, but also get ‘extra lives’ or other in-game rewards with it, making both a product and a game more attractive for gamers.
China’s Mobile Gaming Market: 5 Things You Need to Know
By now, China’s mobile games market has risen to 41% of the total Chinese games market. Shanshan Cao names the 5 main characteristics of this market; the must-know facts for anyone interested in being part of it.
1. Highly Competitive Market
China’s mobile games market is a highly competitive one. Right now, it is dominated by big players Netease and Tencent, that, amongst many others, produced the hugely popular Kāixīn Xiāo Xiāo Lè 开心消消乐 (see image).
Besides these giants, there are also many other big players – such as independent mobile game company iDreamsky. This makes it challenging for smaller companies to enter the market.
It is especially difficult for non-Chinese companies to enter China’s mobile gaming market, but there are also many opportunities for marketers and gaming companies that make it worthwhile. China has the world’s largest gaming market that is still continuing to grow; an exciting and booming place to be for companies that are not afraid of a challenge.
2. Restrictions & Censorship
Even without the big players, the Chinese gaming market is somewhat hard to enter for non-Chinese companies due to local restrictions and censorship. There is no Google Play Store, for example, as all Google products including Gmail, Google search, and the app store have been blocked since 2010.
This is just one of the many local restrictions foreign companies would have to deal with. But, Shanshan notes, one major possibility for foreign companies to tap into the market is to establish an own company in China or to work with a local partner that has a thorough understanding of the market and its restrictions and possibilities.
Swedish gaming company Mojang recently opted for the latter, as it teamed up with Chinese game giant Netease to develop a China-tailored version of their hugely popular Minecraft game. It currently holds the number one spot in the popular mobile games rank in China under the name of ‘My World’ (我的世界).
3. Fan Economy
Many of China’s popular online game are based on popular Chinese literature, comics, anime or reality TV shows – this ‘crossover success’ is an important part of China’s mobile gaming market.
Star Wars is a good example of how ’fan economy’ can benefit multiple markets, including the gaming one; the Star Wars: Commander game became a number one hit in China earlier this year, generating more than 1 million downloads in just four days within its release.
Shanshan encourages foreign companies to use mobile big data to help them understand Chinese consumers and their preferences.
4. Going Global
The competitive domestic gaming market has led to an increasing internationalization of China’s gaming companies. One of these companies is Snail Games, that was established in Suzhou, China, in 2000, and set up its LA-based USA company in 2010.
Going global poses a challenge for these companies, as they have to adjust their design to a more western taste, which often means making it less ‘cute’ or adding some game elements and promotion methods that speaks to a western audience. For the USA launch of the game Taichi Panda, for example, Snail Games hired famous American martial artist, judoka and actress Ronda Rousey to be their spokesman to make the game more ‘American’.
Shanshan notes that the internationalisation of China’s mobile gaming market also forms an opportunity for foreign gaming companies; if they do not have a strategy to enter China themselves, it is also commercially interesting to help Chinese games to do localisation in countries outside of China.
5. Mobile E-Sport Games
Mobile e-sport is bigger in China than it is in the West. Many bestseller games have proven that e-sport can make much money on console – but it is even more interesting when people can play it on their phone whenever they want to play it. Adding a competitive feature, like is done in Hero Pro League, makes it even more appealing to players.
One of the people who have made this market bigger is e-sports lunatic Wang Sicong, who also happens to be the son of the richest man in China.
Shanshan stresses that e-sports are important within China’s mobile gaming, but that it is not necessarily the dominant genre: “At this moment, China’s mobile gaming market has so much potential – anything is possible,” she says – again reaffirming that China’s mobile gaming market is anything but game over.
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