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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 Red Packet to Virtual Hongbao: Lucky Envelopes in China’s Digital Era

Raising virtual cows, shaking with phones – this is the Chinese New Year tradition of giving red envelopes in the digital era.

Things That Talk

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The custom of giving out red paper envelopes has evolved into a world of virtual lucky money and online games. This is the transformation of a Chinese New Year’s tradition, reported by Koen van der Lijn and Xiaojun Zhang.

 
When objects meet social media, two websites meet as well. This is a collaboration between What’s on Weibo and Things That Talk (follow on Insta @thingsthattalk).
 

Ever wanted to raise a digital cow? This year, you can raise your own lucky cow (福牛) for Chinese New Year on Weibo. Through maintaining and raising their virtual cow (or ox), users can participate in this online game to win red envelopes, a well-known and beloved tradition linked to Chinese New Year.

The hashtag “Lucky Cow’s New Year’s Travelogue” (#福牛新春旅行记#) is linked to Weibo’s celebration of Chinese Spring Festival and the Year of the Ox. Users are expected to be active on Weibo daily to raise their cow/ox, similar to the once so popular Tamagotchi. Whilst leveling up their cow, users get the possibility to earn digital red envelopes.

The online game is another development in the story of the red envelopes, known in China as hongbao (红包). Often given during Chinese New Year, the envelopes can also be given at other joyous occasions like weddings. These red envelopes are given to each other by friends and family members to wish each other a happy new year and are always filled with an amount of money.

Red envelopes for sale via Taobao.

The practice of giving money during Chinese New Year goes far back in Chinese history. The earliest form of the red envelope is said to be yasuiqian (压祟钱). In order to keep evil spirits away, called sui (祟), people put money underneath children’s pillow since the evil spirits were said to be warded off by coins.1 These coins were woven together using a string.

Yasuiqian

As time went by and paper money and envelopes became more widespread, string and coins were replaced and the red envelope was created.

Red envelopes are used by Chinese all over the world nowadays. The amount of money inside depends on many factors. Recently, the tradition has left behind its tangible form and entered the digital era.

 

“Adding the thrill of gambling to the practice of giving away red envelopes”

 

In 2014, the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat (微信) launched a new function that allowed users to send virtual red envelopes. Users could send an amount of money directly to another user, or an amount of red envelopes could be sent into a groupchat. When the function launched, users worldwide could shake their phones in order to receive free red envelopes. The amount of money that was given to users surpassed 500 million yuan ($77.5 million).

WeChat’s inventive idea put digital red envelopes on the map in China. During the peak of the event, 800 million shakes were recorded per minute. There were two types of envelopes introduced in 2014 by Tencent, the company that owns WeChat:

1. A regular red envelope that could be sent directly from one user to another.
2. A ‘group’ red envelope, with a limited number to be grabbed and a limited sum of money which can be grabbed by all users in a group if they are fast enough. The sum inside this envelope is randomized, adding the thrill of gambling to the practice of giving away red envelopes.

Other companies also wanted a piece of the digital red envelope cake: Weibo and AliPay combined their strengths a year after WeChat introduced its digital hongbao in order to promote their version of the digital red envelope.

A ‘war’ then broke out between the two companies. AliPay handed out 600 million renminbi ($93 million) worth of red envelopes as a response to WeChat’s 120 million envelopes sent out during the televised celebration of Chinese New Year.2

 

“Digital red envelopes can cross time and place, but cannot replace the method of face-to-face contact”

 

In the years after, the digital red envelope became more and more popular. Weibo and Alipay also came with their version of sending red envelopes online. The companies organized large-scale actions to make users make use of their form of digital red envelopes.

WeChat, for instance, gives users the option to make the red envelopes very personal through adding stickers and personal messages, making the digital red envelope an even more enjoyable experience.

Does this new development of the traditional red envelope make the tangible envelope obsolete?

When asked by the digital newspaper The Paper (澎湃新闻) about whether the digital red envelope might replace its tangible brother, scholar Tian Zhaoyuan (田兆元) of East China Normal University said that the digital red envelope can cross time and place, but cannot replace the method of face-to-face contact. Though friends and family may send one another digital red envelopes, it does not mean that it replaces the tangible red envelopes.3

The tradition of sending red envelopes is and will be inherently linked to Chinese New Year. Though both the paper and digital forms of the tradition remain incredibly popular, the virtual hongbao will definitely win territory once more this year as travel is restricted due to COVID-19. Especially in these times, the digital red envelope is the best digital way of wishing family and friends a happy new year.

Why are ‘lucky envelopes’ not just red, but sometimes also green or purple? Read more via Things That Talk here.

 
By Koen van der Lijn and Xiaojun Zhang

Koen van der Lijn (China Studies, BA) is a ResMa student Asian Studies at Leiden University focused on Chinese history and its international relations. He is a student ambassador at Things That Talk.

Xiaojun Zhang (China Studies, BA) is an MA student Asian Studies at Leiden University focused on contemporary Chinese culture, symbolism and food. For Things That Talk, she currently works on a project about Chinese-Indonesian restaurants in the Netherlands.

This story was made in collaboration with ThingsThatTalk.net – exploring humanities through the life of objects. Things That Talk is an educational digital project where staff and students produce narratives and metadata about objects in Leiden collections and beyond. Check out the story “Hongbao: from paper envelope to digital gift” on Things That Talk here!

 
Footnotes (other sources hyperlinked within the article)

1 Kin Wai Michael Siu. 2001. “Red Packet: a Traditional Object in the Modern World.” Journal of Popular Culture 35 (3), 103.
2 Chen, Liyan. 2015. “Red Envelope War: How Alibaba and Tencent Fight Over Chinese New Year.” Forbes, Feb 19 https://www.forbes.com/sites/liyanchen/2015/02/19/red-envelope-war-how-alibaba-and-tencent-fight-over-chinese-new-year/?sh=1b88bccccddd.
3 The Paper, Zuowei yi zhong “xinnian su”, weixin hongbao hui qudai zhizhi hongbao ma? 作为一种“新年俗”,微信红包会取代纸质红包吗?, https://cul.qq.com/a/20160208/012888.htm.

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©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Digital

Conversations Behind the Wall: Clubhouse App Now Blocked in China

While the Clubhouse app is no longer accessible from within the PRC, conversations continue behind the wall.

Manya Koetse

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The Clubhouse app became a hot topic among web users in mainland China this weekend. On Monday, the platform was no longer accessible from within the PRC.

On Saturday, we posted an article about the surge in popularity of American ‘drop-in audio chat’ social media platform Clubhouse in mainland China.

As conversations about the popular app continued throughout the weekend, the app was no longer accessible from within mainland China on Monday.

Clubhouse describes itself as “a space for casual, drop-in audio conversations—with friends and other interesting people around the world” where you can “go online anytime to chat with the people you follow, or hop in as a listener and hear what others are talking about.”

The app has virtual rooms and events themed around various topics – anything from politics to music – and lets hundreds of members join conversations as moderators, speakers, or listeners.

The Clubhouse app was developed by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Paul Davison and ex-Google employee Rohan Seth. It was first launched in April 2020 on iOS only, and is still only accessible through iPhone for users who have an invite.

Before Monday, the Clubhouse app was freely accessible from within China for those people who had an invite, but only if they had access to the non-Chinese Apple store to download the app.

The app was a hot topic on various Chinese social media platforms this weekend. On Weibo, the civilized and open character of the Clubhouse conversations were praised, allowing a broader understanding of issues that otherwise remain untouched or are limited within the Chinese social media sphere.

One Chinese-language virtual room about the Xinjiang camps was joined by hundreds of people on Saturday. But besides the room focused on Xinjiang, there were also other rooms where discussions took place about the status of Hong Kong and about issues such as whether or not (overseas) Chinese are willing to return to the mainland and why.

“It is like a small crack in a window,” one person on Weibo said about Clubhouse, while others already predicted the app would become unavailable from within mainland China soon.

When it finally happened on Monday, the responses on Weibo were mainly those of disappointment. “Bye bye Clubhouse,” some Weibo users wrote, with others expressing their surprise: “What?! It was just popular for two days and it’s already blocked? They move so fast it’s scary.”

“I was active on Clubhouse for two days. I didn’t expect it to be shut down so soon already.”

Although many commenters previously expressed that they expected the app to become unavailable within the PRC, the fact that it was shutdown while it was just exploding online comes as a surprise to some, as various commenters write.

The term ‘Clubhouse’ was also temporarily blocked on Weibo by Monday night Beijing time; over the weekend various hashtags relating to the app made their rounds on Chinese social media, but the hashtag pages were no longer online by Monday evening.

‘Clubhouse’ no longer shows results on social media platform Weibo. Screenshot by What’s on Weibo.

Meanwhile, various Chinese-language rooms on Clubhouse discussed the topic of its disappearance in China.

A room titled “Clubhouse is blocked, and now?” was joined by over a hundred people on Monday night. The room “Clubhouse is blocked” attracted over 3000 participants. These conversations are likely to continue for the time to come, but now they must continue behind the Great Firewall of China.

By Manya Koetse

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.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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