“I will return the money when I am older,” a 9-year-old mobile games fan told Chinese reporters from Pear Video this week.
The third grader from Guiyang, Guizhou, secretly spent over 20,000 RMB (±$3000) of his father’s money on mobile games, buying weapons and armor for his virtual warriors. The boy could effortlessly click from the mobile game to QQ Wallet, one of the Paypal-like online payment platforms by Chinese tech giant Tencent.
The unexpected financial setback is a big blow to the family. The father makes less than 100 RMB ($14.8) per day. To earn back the money his son spent on online games will cost him seven months of work. The 20,000 RMB was the family’s savings, much needed for their everyday life and their son’s school books.
The young boy started spending the money when he played a popular online mobile fighting game. He wanted to purchase additional in-game features to keep up with his friends, who also play the same game.
Since the boy knew his father’s QQ Wallet code, he was able to purchase dozens of items through the app without his father knowing.
“This is booming business for Tencent, as it can easily rope in its users across multiple platforms; making the step from WeChat friend groups to mobile games to online payment as small as possible.”
This story is just one among many. At the same time the story of the boy from Guiyang made its rounds on Chinese social media, there was also the story of a 13-year-old from Xianyang who spent 5697 RMB (±$850) in one day on a Tencent mobile game through WeChat Pay. Or that of a junior high school student from Guangzhou spending a staggering 50,000 RMB (±$7400) within one week, buying armor for a game.
In the Xianyang case, the parents of the boy noticed dozens of text messages on their phone when they returned home from work on July 28. They were all confirmation messages from WeChat for mobile payments. The father from Guangzhou told a similar story to Sina News. As many children in China have summer break from school, parents are often at work while the children are at home, and have less overview of what their children are doing.
The game many of these children spent money on is called Crossfire (穿越火线), published by Tencent in China. The game is free to play, but earns its revenues from microtransactions. Players are willing to pay large amounts of money to get better weapons and win territory.
The game is currently among the top downloaded games in the Tencent app store. Its most expensive in-app purchase is almost 616 RMB (±91$); an amount that was spent many times by the 9-year-old boy from Guiyang.
China has the largest mobile gaming market in the world – and it is a booming business. As China’s leading tech company, Tencent is a dominant player in various fields. It runs messaging platforms QQ and WeChat, online payments solutions Tenpay, QQ Wallet, and WeChat Pay, and also owns a big chunk of China’s online gaming market.
The combination is a golden one for Tencent, as it can easily rope in its users across multiple platforms; making the step from WeChat friend groups to mobile games with in-app purchases to online payment as small as possible.
This is not necessarily a problem when it concerns adult players, but when it concerns kids as young as 9, the game is a trickier one.
“My little brother is crazy about mobile games, and I told him that I will beat him up if he uses our parent’s money to play. Our relative’s son used up 20,000 RMB on mobile games.”
Why do these children know their parents’ payments code? The father from Guangzhou told media reporters he trusted his child and shared his code so they can top up their mobile phone credit if necessary. The 13-year-old boy from Xianyang told Chinese media that he just knew his father’s payment code because he had seen it before. But once he started playing the game, he just kept on going to the next level and lost track of the amount of money he had actually spent.
The game currently has no age restrictions for its players. Recently, however, various media reported that Tencent was limiting the play time for some of its mobile games, restricting players under 12 to play more than an hour per day, to avoid children becoming addicted to mobile gaming.
One Weibo user said: “Lately, there are a lot of mobile games and online games that have many methods to lure users into spending money. Of course, this is one of the main ways for these games to earn money from players, but the people who are running and operating these businesses are not stupid – they know that many of their players are young kids. But still, this is how unscrupulous they are. Doesn’t your conscience bother you?”
Another commenter wrote: “My little brother is crazy about mobile games, and I told him that I will beat him up if he uses our parent’s money to play. We’ve never had a problem. Our relative’s son used up 20,000 RMB on mobile games.”
Many users also stress that parents need to keep their payment identification codes a secret to their children: “Why on earth would you ever tell little kids who cannot control their urges your payment code?”
Some netizens also say that children under the age of 12 should not be allowed to play mobile games at all.
By now, the fathers from Guiyang and Xiangyang have both contacted Tencent to see if they can get some of their money back. In both cases, it is yet unclear if they will succeed in being reimbursed for their children’s games.
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China’s Top Mobile Gaming Apps
China has the largest mobile gaming market in the world. It’s an exciting market not just for game-lovers, but also for those into marketing and advertising.
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.
The Chinese gaming industry is flourishing, but also highly controlled. Online games are allowed to be imported
To gain more insights in this enormous market, we list five of the mobile apps that currently play an important role in the mobile gaming industry. We made our selection based on the data from the Android app stores Tencent, Baidu, Huawei, and Zhushou360. We tried our best to give you a representative overview of a variety of apps that are currently most used in China, but want to remind you that these lists are by no official “top 5” charts.
This article is part of a series of five articles, listing popular Chinese apps in the categories of short video & live streaming, news, health & sports, and knowledge & education. We’ll list the other categories for you below this article, but let’s move over to review these popular mobile gaming apps now.
#1 PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds 绝地求生
PlayersUnknown’s Battleground (PUGB) is a so-called ‘sandbox style’ survival game, which basically means that gamers are allowed to freely roam and change the game, that does not have a set storyline, and that they are required to do all they can to survive as long as possible by eliminating its competitors.
In this online multiplayer game, that is called a Fortnite rival, players are placed together with up to 100 other players on an island. As the game proceeds, the battlefield gradually shrinks, putting more pressure on its players. The users have to assemble weapons and other necessities, and in doing so, need to kill their competitors and take their possessions. The last person left is the winner.
PUBG, which is currently the most popular mobile phone game app in China, was created by the South Korean Bluehole. In 2017, Chinese gaming giant Tencent launched the mobile app version of the game. The Chinese version is not entirely the same: it has been adapted to make sure it aligns with ‘socialist values.’
At the moment, there are two versions of PUGB games: Exciting Battlefield (刺激战场) and Full Ahead (全军出击). The games Exciting Battlefield and Full Ahead subsequently ranked most and third most popular game app in the Chinese Apple stores in 2018, with Exciting Battlefield reaching 14,9 million daily active users at the end of 2018. Currently, Exciting Battlefield still ranks the most popular game app in both the Tencent and Zhushou360 app stores.
#2 Honor of Kings or Kings of Glory 王者荣耀
Honor of Kings is a game developed and published by Tencent which was first launched in 2015. The game is a multiplayer online battle arena game, where players have to team up for a five-to-five battle.
Every user can personally assemble their hero and equip it with certain features such as appearance, powers, etc. The goal of the game is to destroy the opponent’s base.
In 2018, Honor of Kings was the second most popular game app in the Chinese Apple store with 53,8 million daily active users in the last quarter. This year, the game especially rose in popularity during the Chinese Lunar New Year: in the week from 4-10 February, Honor of Kings reached 92 million daily active users.
But the game’s popularity isn’t limited to China. In 2017, Tencent launched an international adaption of the game called Arena of Valor. The game was adopted as one of the games at the eSport Demonstration Event at the 2018 Asian Games, where the Chinese team won the gold medal.
#3 Speed QQ / QQ飞车
Speed QQ is a 3D game that combines both casual and competitive racing. The game has three kingdoms: wind, fire, and fantasy.
In each kingdom, there are different kinds of races, and players can move up levels if they beat other players. In the end, the strongest player of all will be crowned ‘king.’ To prove their skills, the best players of each kingdom can also race against each other in races played on racetracks on the border of the several kingdoms.
The game can be played by either a single player or multiplayer, with a maximum of six players.
Speed QQ, just as Honor of Kings and PUBG, is a game by Tencent – it is the world’s largest game distributor by revenue. Speed QQ was first launched in January 2008 as a PC version, and it was not until 2017 that the mobile app version was released.
#4 Identity V 第5人格
Identity V is a so-called asymmetric warfare game, meaning that the game is a wargame between individuals or a group of players and their hostile opponent.
The horror game, designed in gothic art style, is a one-versus-four multiplayer game. Later in the game, players can decide whether they want to play either the hunter or one of the four survivors.
However, the game is mainly a survivor-based game. The player first enters the game as a detective who receives a mysterious letter inviting the player to investigate an abandoned estate and search for a missing girl. As the player is searching for clues about the missing girl, a hunter will try to catch the player and strap it to a rocket ready for blast off. This is where the three other survivors come in; those are the ones who can free their fellow-survivor from the racket. But if they are too late, the player will be fired off and lose.
Identity V is the newest game app in our selection as it was launched in April of last year by NetEase. Despite its short period on the market, the game gained significant success. The app was the fifth most popular game app in Chinese Apple stores in 2018, with over 26 million downloads.
#5 Mini World 迷你世界
Mini World is a 3D sandbox style game, allowing its users to roam around in the virtual world of the game.
Mini World, also called a block art game, allows its players to build their world by moving around blocks and placing other elements. They can do this alone, but they can also invite friends and create a dream world together. The game closely resembles the Swedish game Minecraft (我的世界), which is also available in China.
Mini World was first launched in December 2015 by a Shenzhen based company. A couple of years later, the game was available in both Android and Apple stores. In 2018, Mini World became the fourth most popular game app in China with 3.7 million daily active users in the third quarter.
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UPDATE: Taiwanese ‘Devotion’ Game Taken down in Mainland China amid Discussions over “Hidden Insults”
The super popular Devotion game is being blocked in the PRC after users discovered hidden messages insulting President Xi.
Yesterday, we covered how Chinese gamers were going crazy over the first-person atmospheric horror game Devotion (还愿). The popular game took social media by storm this week, triggering discussions all over Weibo; the hashtag #Devotion (#还愿) received over 120 million views on Weibo within no time.
But today the game has been taken offline in mainland China, with discussions focusing on the game allegedly containing hidden insults directed at Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The Devotion game has certain so-called ‘Easter Eggs’ (小彩蛋) which are hidden jokes and secrets that are concealed throughout games that would only be noticeable to people searching for them or paying extreme attention to the details of the game.
Some of these ‘Easter Eggs’ in the Devotion game seem to be highly political. One obscure detail on an evil talisman in the game shows an indirect insult of Xi Jinping (featured image and see image below), with four characters on the side of the object (呢嘛叭淇) representing a curse in Hakka while the stamp in the middle of the image showing the characters for ‘Winnie,’ which refers to Winnie the Pooh – the Chinese President is often compared to the bear for various reasons. The ‘curse’ would then mean something along the lines of “Xi Winnie the Pooh Moron.”
As explained by Spieltimes here, the seal in the middle of the talisman, which is considered evil in traditional Chinese culture, shows the name of the President next to the characters for Winnie.
One of the persons to expose the so-called “Easter Egg” is a well-known Weibo blogger from Shanxi, who is a secretary of the Daoist Society (@全真道士梁兴扬). He wrote that he had stopped playing the game after noticing the insults to the Chinese leader. His post has since been deleted.
In another part of the game, there allegedly is a newspaper segment that is showing what is believed to be a blurred picture of a younger Xi, with the headline saying that ‘Baozi’ (also used as a nickname) has been sentenced to prison, even suggesting he has been given “capital punishment.” People believe that the blurred image is that of the President. Please keep in mind that this image is being spread online but we have not been able to verify yet if it actually comes up in the game, and consider the fact that it may have been photoshopped (we’ll update if more facts surface). Updated later: although this was suggested, it turns out that this is not true.
At time of writing, the live-streaming videos of the game through the online platform Billibili seem to be taken down, or at least, a search for the game now comes up with zero results. When searching for the Chinese name of the game on the Chinese version of online platform Steam, we also found no results at time of writing. The game is still available for international users. For Chinese users, only the soundtrack of the game is available now.
Meanwhile, the Taiwanese developer of the game, Red Candle, has issued an apology through Facebook, stating that the “insults,” that were allegedly referring to “internet sub cultures,” were already removed from the version released on Thursday night.
The Chinese publisher of the game, Indevient, has also issued an apology and stated it would end its cooperation with the game.
Various discussions across several online platforms show that Chinese netizens are outraged. On Weibo, some commenters said that they felt they were being insulted while the developer was also taking their money. On Steam, Chinese commenters also said that the game was “sh*t” for using its platform as a “political tool.”
Hashtags such as “Devotion Game Insults China” (#还愿游戏辱华#), “Reject/Boycott the Devotion Game” (#抵制游戏还愿#), and “Devotion Gate Brings Disaster to Steam” (#游戏《还愿》事件或殃及steam#), are quickly spreading on Weibo.
On the news site Spieltimes, which is focused on reporting on video games and more, the current Devotion scandal is being described as possibly “disastrous” and “a matter of utmost importance for Chinese players and the entire Chinese gaming community,” suggesting that this matter might possibly lead to a Chinese ban on the Steam site, which is a leading multi-player platform and game distributor.
As the game is now no longer available in mainland China, some commenters on Weibo are asking for their money back, an issue that Red Candle has not responded to yet.
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