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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 founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Show-Inspired Journeys: Chinese Netizens Explore Next Travel Destination Through Favorite TV Series

The rising influence of Chinese TV dramas on tourism highlights the synergy between entertainment & social media in China, serving as a powerful tool for travel promotion.

Wendy Huang

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The Chinese TV series Meet Yourself has significantly boosted the popularity of Dali in Yunnan. The series’ success, coupled with the official funding behind it, not only underscores the impactful role of Chinese dramas in tourism but also illustrates how Chinese travel destination promotional strategies are being reshaped in a competitive post-Covid era.

On December 25th, the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture’s Culture and Tourism Bureau in Yunnan Province, Southwest China, announced a proposed subsidy of 2 million yuan ($282k) for the Chinese TV series Meet Yourself (去有风的地方).

The news soon went trending on Weibo (#去有风的地方获200万元补助#). Many found it noteworthy, especially since the announcement clarified that this funding is part of the prefecture’s special fund for cultural and tourism industry development, and the TV series was the only project under consideration.

There are several reasons why Dali might consider this strategy.

Firstly, Dali plays a pivotal role in Meet Yourself. Launched in January 2023, the TV series quickly became an online sensation, achieving an impressive rating of 8.7 out of 10 on Douban—a platform in China similar to IMDb. Spanning 40 episodes, the series features actress Liu Yifei (刘亦菲), renowned for her role in Disney’s live-action Mulan, and Chinese actor Li Xian (李现).

Promotional image for Meet Yourself (去有风的地方).

The narrative follows a white-collar worker in her mid-30s who, following her best friend’s unexpected cancer diagnosis and subsequent passing, embarks on a quest to understand the true meaning and purpose of life.

The TV series not only captivated audiences because of its soothing narrative about life and interpersonal relationships, but the show was also a hit because most of its scenes were filmed in Dali and showed picturesque rural landscapes and portrayed a slow-paced, idyllic lifestyle.

The show accumulated more than 3 billion views on the streaming platform Mango TV by the time its final episode aired on February 2, 2023. It also sparked numerous trending topics on Weibo during that time. For instance, one snapshot from the drama, “Liu Yifei Holding Flowers” (刘亦菲捧花), also went viral, with many netizens even changing their profile pictures to this image. Captivated by Liu’s beauty and charm, they believed that the image possessed some sort of magical power, like the symbolic significance of koi fish in Chinese culture and how they’re believed to bring good luck.

The ‘lucky’ Liu Yifei holding flowers image.

The lucky Liu Yifei holding flowers meme spread across social media in various ways.

Benefiting directly from the popularity generated by the TV series, Yunnan experienced a surge in visitors during the 2023 Spring Festival holiday. This influx significantly boosted its tourism revenue to an impressive 38.4 billion yuan (approximately US$5.4 billion), surpassing all other provinces and regions in the country.

The primary filming location of the drama, the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, welcomed over 4.2 million visitors, marking a significant year-on-year increase. Within the first six days of the holiday, Dali boasted the highest room occupancy rate nationwide, and became the fifth most visited tourist destination across the country.

 
TV Series Inspiring Real-Life Travel to Featured Destination
 

Dali is not the only city or travel destination that has become popular because of Chinese dramas or TV shows. The recent Chinese TV series There Will Be Ample Time (故乡,别来无恙), in which Chengdu plays a major role, has also come to be seen as a promotion for the Sichuan Province capital city.

The series revolves around four women who grew up together, chose different paths in life, and then reconnect in Chengdu. The series showcases the city’s laid-back lifestyle, especially in contrast to the fast-paced metropolises like Beijing and Shanghai where the featured women return from.

Scene from There Will be Ample Time (故乡,别来无恙).

Back in 2003, the TV series Lost Time (似水年华), which was filmed in the historic scenic town of Wuzhen, also became popular. Lost Time was written, directed, and starred by the renowned Chinese actor and director Huang Lei (黄磊). The series narrates a poignant love story of a couple in their thirties who meet in Wuzhen, only to be separated by the vast distance between Wuzhen and Taipei.

The TV series successfully showcased the timeless beauty of the Wuzhen water town to a broader Chinese audience and, indirectly, promoted the town’s unique artistic and cultural atmosphere. This later led to the establishment of the Wuzhen Theatre Festival, a celebration of performing arts and a center for cultural exchange. The festival has since become one of the premier events in China and Asia. Each year, as the festival unfolds, there is a significant increase in business, with tourists flocking to the area.

On social media today, Lost Time is still seen as one of the major reasons why Wuzhen became so popular among Chinese travelers.

Wuzhen featured in Lost Time (似水年华).

But it’s not only the television series that portray a slower-paced and romantic lifestyle that motivate viewers to visit the showcased destinations. In 2020, the filming locations of the popular Chinese crime and suspense drama The Bad Kids (隐秘的角落) not only entertained its audience but also boosted tourism in the actual places where it was shot.

Much of the filming for the TV thriller took place in Chikan, an old township located in Zhanjiang in Guangdong. As a result, Zhanjiang’s popularity as a tourist destination skyrocketed by 261 percent in a single week.

Earlier in 2023, Jiangmen in Guangdong Province also gained popularity after it was featured in the popular crime TV drama The Knockout (狂飙). As a result, it became a sought-after destination during the May Day holiday, drawing numerous TV enthusiasts to the city. Jiangmen reportedly received over 765,200 visitors in the first two days of the May Day holiday alone, generating a revenue of approximately 439 million yuan (US$62.2 million).

Jiangmen’s popularity went beyond the May Day holiday. The Knockout caused a steady influx of visitors to the Guangdong city. From January to October of 2023, the city saw a total of 20,278,200 tourists, a reported year-on-year increase of 85.36%. This resulted in a tourism revenue of 19.649 billion yuan, representing an impressive increase of 133.77%.

 
Beyond the TV Screen: Social Media Creating Travel Hits
 

Over the past few years, we’ve seen how there are always unpredictable factors that help Chinese destinations suddenly become a hit among travelers. For instance, in late 2021, a song titled “Mohe Ballroom” (漠河舞厅) gained popularity across various social media platforms in China. This song narrates the story of a man who, for thirty years, danced alone in the Mohe Ballroom following the death of his beloved wife.

Prior to the song’s release, many Chinese netizens were familiar with Mohe as it is the northernmost point of China, and it is extremely cold. As the song gained traction on social media, the local government seized the opportunity to promote the city’s ice and snow tourism. Now, Mohe has emerged as a new destination for tourists seeking a unique, chilly experience.

Another example is Zibo, an ancient industrial city, which treated students well during their Covid quarantine period. So, when China lifted all Covid restrictions in the spring of 2023, these students returned to express their gratitude and celebrate the city. Their contagious enthusiasm, coupled with their social media posts about the city, sparked nationwide interest and people soon flocked to Zibo to enjoy the vibe and the local BBQ (read more here).

During the summer of 2023, the city of Tianjin became online hit due to a group of energetic seniors who transformed a local bridge into a stage for their remarkable water acrobatics. Tianjin’s so-called “diving grandpas” attracted attention for their daring dives into the river from the Stone Lion Forest Bridge (狮子林桥). Videos of their dives quickly went viral on China’s social media, drawing tourists, including many foreign residents in China, to witness the spectacle firsthand. Some people even joined to dive, including He Chong (何冲), the 2008 Olympic Champion in the 3m springboard.

Tianjin’s diving grandpas had to stop their diving activities after rising to internet fame, causing too many people to dive into the river.

In a playful twist, some visitors created their own scorecards, acting as judges and rating the divers’ performances. However, this spontaneous event eventually had to be toned down due to safety concerns. Despite this, the event kept Tianjin in the spotlight for quite a while as a tourist destination.

Social media has become a vital tool for cities and tourist destinations aiming to attract potential visitors. While some destinations organically become online sensations due to a combination of factors, other efforts are more deliberate and strategic. For instance, in spring of 2023, Chinese local government officials went all out to promote their hometowns via online channels, going viral on Weibo, Douyin, and beyond for dressing up in traditional outfits and creating original videos about their hometowns with low to zero budget.

However, when an article by Xinhua News criticized this approach, suggesting that local officials should prioritize improving service quality in their hometowns rather than striving for internet fame, the online trend appeared to wane.

Over the last year, different regions and industries in China made significant efforts to boost their local economies through tourism to recover from the impact of the pandemic. The China Tourism Academy recently published a report that forecasts that the number of China’s domestic tourists in 2023 has hit 5.407 billion, and domestic tourism revenue will amount to 5.2 trillion yuan. This figure allegedly represents a recovery to 90% compared to pre-Covid year 2019.

The upcoming Chinese New Year’s holiday is expected to kick off a promising start for the Chinese tourism industry in 2024. According to Trip.com data, bookings for the 2024 New Year’s holiday have surged by over threefold compared to the corresponding period last year. Furthermore, Tongcheng Travel highlights skiing, hot springs, Northern Lights viewing, music events, outdoor activities, island retreats, cruises, staycations, and firework displays as the top domestic travel preferences during this holiday season.

As China has significantly relaxed several travel and visa policies for both Chinese and international travelers, the number of outbound travel bookings for the New Year’s holiday on Trip.com has also seen a nearly fivefold increase compared to the same period last year while inbound tourism is on the rise.

Meanwhile, the way in which the TV drama Meet Yourself (去有风的地方) has boosted the tourism industry of Dali, which already was a popular tourist destination, is generating ongoing discussions on Chinese social media as it is a good example of how the integration of destination themes can captivate viewers’ attention, inspiring them to visit and discover the real-life locations.

In this way, TV shows serve as powerful platforms for local tourism authorities across China. First, utilizing television series provides them with a higher level of control compared to other methods of online promotion, including more fleeting trends. The show’s narratives, vibe, and filming locations can precisely showcase a destination’s unique features, attractions, and local culture.

Second, featuring destinations in TV series effectively accomplishes two goals at once, as Chinese TV dramas and online communities have become strongly intertwined. This amplifies the influence and reach of such productions, as fans engage, share, discuss, and promote the series and associated destinations across various social media platforms. And so, a featured scene or image, such as the one with Liu Yifei, can transcend the series itself and become an entire trend of its own on Chinese social media channels.

For travelers, visiting a destination featured in a beloved TV drama is not just about exploring a new location—it’s about experiencing a feeling and and immersing oneself in a fantasy. This trend won’t end with Meet Yourself, as new dramas inspire viewers to visit new locations again. As fans are binge watching the TV series Love Me, Love My Voice (很想很想你), Guangxi’s Guilin is the next hotspot attracting attention online for its portrayal in the show. “I finished watching the show,” one viewer wrote, “Now I want to start traveling.”

By Wendy Huang

Edited for clarity by Manya Koetse

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©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Tick, Tock, Time to Pay Up? Douyin Is Testing Out Paywalled Short Videos

Is content payment a new beginning for the popular short video app Douyin (China’s TikTok) or would it be the end?

Manya Koetse

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The introduction of a Douyin novel feature, that would enable content creators to impose a fee for accessing their short video content, has sparked discussions across Chinese social media. Although the feature would benefit creators, many Douyin users are skeptical.

News that Chinese social media app Douyin is rolling out a new feature which allows creators to introduce a paywall for their short video content has triggered online discussions in China this week.

The feature, which made headlines on November 16, is presently in the testing phase. A number of influential content creators are now allowed to ‘paywall’ part of their video content.

Douyin is the hugely popular app by Chinese tech giant Bytedance. TikTok is the international version of the Chinese successful short video app, and although they’re often presented as being the same product, Douyin and Tiktok are actually two separate entities.

In addition to variations in content management and general usage, Douyin differs from TikTok in terms of features. Douyin previously experimented with functionalities such as charging users for accessing mini-dramas on the platform or the ability to tip content creators.

The pay-to-view feature on Douyin would require users to pay a certain fee in Douyin coins (抖币) in order to view paywalled content. One Douyin coin is equivalent to 0.1 yuan ($0,014). The platform itself takes 30% of the income as a service charge.

According to China Securities Times or STCN (证券时报网), Douyin insiders said that any short video content meeting Douyin’s requirements could be set as “pay-per-view.”

Creators, who can set their own paywall prices, should reportedly meet three criteria to qualify for the pay-to-view feature: their account cannot have any violation records for a period of 90 days, they should have at least 100,000 followers, and they have to have completed the real-name authentication process.

On Douyin and Weibo, Chinese netizens express various views on the feature. Many people do not think it would be a good idea to charge money for short videos. One video blogger (@小片片说大片) pointed out the existing challenge of persuading netizens to pay for longer videos, let alone expecting them to pay for shorter ones.

“The moment I’d need to pay money for it, I’ll delete the app,” some commenters write.

This statement appears to capture the prevailing sentiment among most internet users regarding a subscription-based Douyin environment. According to a survey conducted by the media platform Pear Video, more than 93% of respondents expressed they would not be willing to pay for short videos.

An online poll by Pear Video showed that the majority of respondents would not be willing to pay for short videos on Douyin.

“This could be a breaking point for Douyin,” one person predicts: “Other platforms could replace it.” There are more people who think it would be the end of Douyin and that other (free) short video platforms might take its place.

Some commenters, however, had their own reasons for supporting a pay-per-view function on the platform, suggesting it would help them solve their Douyin addiction. One commenter remarked, “Fantastic, this might finally help me break free from watching short videos!” Another individual responded, “Perhaps this could serve as a remedy for my procrastination.”

As discussions about the new feature trended, Douyin’s customer service responded, stating that it would eventually be up to content creators whether or not they want to activate the paid feature for their videos, and that it would be up to users whether or not they would be interested in such content – otherwise they can just swipe away.

Another social media user wrote: “There’s only one kind of video I’m willing to pay for, and it’s not on Douyin.”

By Manya Koetse

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