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Game Time: 5 Must-Knows About China’s Mobile Gaming Market

China has the largest mobile gaming market in the world – an exciting market not just for game-lovers, but also for those into marketing and advertising. Shanshan Cao, Senior market analyst China at Newzoo, recently shared the ins and out of China’s hot gaming world. What’s on Weibo was there to take note.

Manya Koetse

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China has the largest mobile gaming market in the world – an exciting market not just for game-lovers, but also for those into marketing and advertising. Shanshan Cao, senior market analyst China at Newzoo, recently shared the ins and out of China’s hot gaming world. What’s on Weibo joined the event, that was hosted by Digital China.

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.

Shanshan Cao, Sr. Market Analyst China of Newzoo.

Shanshan Cao, Sr. Market Analyst China of Newzoo.

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.

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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).

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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.

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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’.

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There are also companies, including Tencent and Alibaba, that are all about buying; they enter the western market and buy up local companies like Miniclip or Pocket Gems.

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.

– By Manya Koetse

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©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Digital

From Tea Farmer to Online Influencer: Uncle Huang and China’s Rural Live Streamers

‘Cunbo’ aka ‘rural livestreaming’ is all the rage. A win-win situation for farmers, viewers, and Alibaba.

Manya Koetse

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This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, originally published in German by Goethe Institut China on Goethe.de: “VOM TEEBAUERN ZUM INFLUENCER: ONKEL HUANG UND CHINAS LÄNDLICHE LIVESTREAMER.” 

The past year has been super tumultuous when it comes to the topics that have been dominating Chinese social media. The Coronavirus crisis was preceded by other big issues that were all the talk online, from the US-China trade war to the protests in Hong-Kong, the swine flu, and heightened censorship and surveillance.

Despite the darker side to China’s online environment, however, there were also positive developments. One of the online trends that became popular this year comes with a term of its own, namely cūnbō (村播): rural livestreaming.  Chinese farmers using livestreaming as a way to sell their products and promote their business have become a more common occurrence on China’s e-commerce and social media platforms. 

mage via Phoenix News (iFeng Finance).

The social media + e-commerce mix, also called ‘social shopping,’ is booming in the PRC. Online platforms where the lines between social media and e-commerce have disappeared are now more popular than ever. There’s the thriving Xiaohongshu (小红书Little Red Book) platform, for example, but apps such as TikTok (known as Douyin in China) also integrate shopping in the social media experience.

Over recent years, China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba has contributed to the rising popularity of ‘social shopping.’ Its Taobao Live unit (also a separate app), which falls under the umbrella of China’s biggest online marketplace Taobao, is solely dedicated to shopping + social media, mainly mobile-centered. It’s a recipe for success: Chinese mobile users spend over six hours online per day, approximately 72% of them shop online, and nearly 65% of mobile internet users watch livestreaming.

Every minute of every day, thousands of online shoppers tune in to dozens of different channels where sellers promote anything from food products to makeup or pet accessories. The sellers, also called ‘hosts’ or ‘presenters,’ make their channels attractive by incorporating makeup tutorials, cooking classes, giving tips and tricks, chatting away and joking, and promising their buyers the best deal or extra presents when purchasing their products.                

Livestreaming on Taobao goes on 24/7 (screenshots from Taobao app by author).

Sometimes thousands of viewers tune in to one channel at the same. They can ‘follow’ their favorite hosts and can interact with them directly by leaving comments on the livestreams. They can compliment the hosts (“You’re so funny!”), ask questions about products (“Does this also come in red?”), or leave practical advice (“You should zoom in when demonstrating this product!”). The product promoted in the livestreams can be directly purchased through the Taobao system.

Over the past year, Alibaba has increased its focus on rural sellers within the livestreaming e-commerce business. Countryside sellers even have their own category highlighted on the Taobao Live app. Chinese tech giant Alibaba launched its ‘cūnbō project’ in the spring of 2019 to promote the use of its Taobao Live app amongst farmers. The most influential livestreaming farmers get signed by Alibaba to elevate Taobao Live’s rural business to a higher level.

One of these influential Chinese farmers who has made a name for himself through livestreaming is Huang Wensheng, a tea farmer from the mountainous Lichuan area in Hunan Province.

Uncle Huang livestreaming from the tea fields (image via Sohu.com)

Huang, who is nicknamed ‘Uncle Farmer,’ sells tea through his channel, where he shows viewers his work and shares stories and songs from his village. He is also known to talk about what he learned throughout his life and will say things such as: “It is important to work hard; not necessarily so much to change the world , but to make sure the world does not change you.”

With just three to five livestreaming sessions per week, ‘Uncle’ Huang reaches up to twenty million viewers per month, and, according to Chinese media reports, has seen a significant increase in his income, earning some 10,000 yuan (€1300) per week.

Huang is not the only farmer from his hometown using Taobao Live to increase their income; there are some hundred rural livestreamers in Lichuan doing the same.

Some random screenshots by author from rural livestreaming channels, where online shoppers get a glimpse of countryside life

The rural livestreaming category is significantly different from the urban fashionistas selling brand makeup and the latest must-haves: these hosts do not have the polished look, glamorous clothes, or stylish backgrounds. They usually film outside while doing their work or offer a glimpse into their often humble rooms or kitchens.

Viewers get to see the source of the products sold by these rural sellers; they often literally go to the fields to show where their agricultural products grow, or film themselves getting the eggs from their chickens or the oranges from the trees. From fruits to potatoes and flowers, and from fresh tea to home-made chili sauce – a wide range of products is promoted and sold through Taobao Live these days.

Some rural livestreamers are trying to stay ahead of their competition by coming up with novel concepts. A young farmer from Sichuan, for example, recently offered viewers the opportunity to “adopt” a rooster from his farm, allowing them to interact with ‘their’ rooster through social media and even throwing the occasional birthday party for some lucky roosters.

Image via sina.com.

Examples such as these show that although the countryside livestreamers usually lack glitter and glam, they can be just as entertaining – or perhaps even more so – than their urban counterparts.

Who benefits from the recent ‘cūnbōboom? One could argue that the rising popularity of livestreaming farmers is a win-win situation from which all participants can profit in some way. The commercial interests are big for Alibaba. The company has been targeting China’s countryside for years, as it’s where China’s biggest consumption growth will happen while mobile internet penetration is still on the rise. Alibaba earns profits from an increasing number of rural e-commerce buyers, as well as e-commerce sellers.

Alibaba’s early focus on the countryside as a new home for e-commerce has previously also led to the phenomenon of so-called ‘Taobao Villages,’ where a certain percentage of rural residents are selling local specialties, farm products or other things via the Taobao platform with relatively little transaction costs.

Many Chinese villages and farmers are profiting from the further spread of Taobao in the countryside. Not only does Alibaba invest in logistics and e-commerce trainings in rural areas, these e-commerce channels are also a way to directly boost sales and income for struggling farmers.

Chinese media predict that the rural livestreaming trend will only become more popular in the years to come, bringing forth many more influential farmers like Huang.

But besides the commercial and financial gains that come from the rising popularity of rural livestreamers, there is also a significant and noteworthy social impact.  At  a time in which China’s rapidly changing society sees a widening gap between urban and rural areas, these rural channels serve as a digital bridge between countryside sellers and urban consumers, offering netizens a real and unpolished look into the lives of farmers in others parts of the country, and gives online buyers more insight and understanding of where their online products came from.

Taobao Live is actually like a traditional “farmers’ market,” but now it is digital, open 24/7, and accessible to anyone with a mobile phone. It’s the Chinese farmers’ market of the 21st century.

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

This text was first published by Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.

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China Digital

WeChat’s New Emoji Are Here (Including a Watermelon-Eating and Doge One)

WeChat’s new emoji are based on popular memes.

Manya Koetse

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On January 14, Tencent’s Wechat introduced new emoji to its existing emoji set. The new emoji include, among others, a watermelon-eating emoji and a smiling Shiba Inu.

On Weibo, the new emoji have become a topic of discussion under the hashtags “WeChat’s New Emoji” (#微信上线新表情#), “WeChat’s Watermelon Eating Emoji” (#微信上线吃瓜表情#), and “WeChat’s Dog Emoji” (#微信上线狗头表情#).

Different from the Unicode emoji (see Emojipedia), WeChat and Weibo have their own sets of emoji, although there is overlap.

The reason why especially the watermelon-eating and dog emoji are being discussed on social media, is because these emoji are based on popular internet memes.

“Eating watermelon” (吃瓜 chī guā) is an online expression that comes from “watermelon-eating masses” (吃瓜群众 chī guā qúnzhòng), which describes a common mentality of Internet users who have no idea what is actually going on but are still commenting or following online stories for their enjoyment – perhaps comparable to the “popcorn memes” that are ubiquitous on Western social media platforms.

The smiling dog has been around since 2013 and is known as the doge meme, based on a photo of a Shiba inu. The meme was originally spread on social media platforms such as Reddit, but then also became hugely popular in China, where it became a symbol of sarcasm (also read this Abacus article on this topic).

Other new emoji are the “wow” emoji, and others to express “ok,” “add oil,” “emm,” “oh!”

There’s also a “shehui shehui” (社会社会, lit. “society society”) emoji, which also comes from online culture and is a way among friends to (self-mockingly) talk about being ‘gangsters,’ ‘brothers.’ or ‘scoundrels.’

As the new emoji are still in their testing phase, not all WeChat users can use the new emoji yet, so you might have to wait a bit before being able to try them out.

By Manya Koetse, with thanks to @caaatchina
Follow @whatsonweibo

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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