One of the most interesting topics in the gaming industry this year has been China’s place in the market. From the incredibly lucrative nature of the Chinese market, to government intervention in gaming content, there is always something to be said when it comes to mobile gaming in the far east.
This year, China will generate almost $40B in game revenue. Mobile games will generate $23B of this number. The Chinese market is no longer one that publishers and developers can ignore.
At this year’s Gamefest, Jeff Lyndon, founder and president of iDreamSky - the largest independent mobile game publishing platform in China - gave a presentation on everything you need to know on how to break into the Chinese mobile game market. iDreamSky has brought hits like Gardenscapes, Subway Surfers, and Temple Run to Chinese audiences.
A competitive market
Jeff opened his presentation and asked the audience: “How many of you have tried to do business in China?”
A number of people raised their hand.
He followed up and asked: “And how many of you have actually succeeded?”
The number of raised hands drastically dropped.
In 2010, 6 of the 10 top free games, and 10 of the top 10 paid games were foreign titles. Today, there is only 1 foreign title on the top charts in China. It’s been increasingly difficult for foreign mobile games to succeed in China.
For local publishers, the market in China is extremely saturated and super competitive. For foreign publishers, there are far more challenges: the Chinese government, competition amongst publishers, the growing number of Android channels, and the fast and ever changing nature of the market.
Chinese app distribution is changing all the time, so for foreign publishers to succeed, they need to either have their own team on the ground, or they need to find a local publisher who understands the Chinese market and knows the most effective way to distribute.
Localization, localization, localization
User behavior in China is a completely different ballgame than in the west. Games that succeeded in China are ones that are not gender or age specific, and can be played by anyone.
To the western eye, as Jeff put it, games in China look “not elegant and complicated”. They are packed with buttons and their UX is completely different. Why? Chinese users have very specific behavior when it comes to games.
When you launch your game in China, you need to prepare yourself for this new kind of user behavior - especially when it comes to IAPs and ad monetization. Reconsider where you place your IAP entry and ads, where users click on a rewarded video, and how to design your monetization loop (read more about user acquisition).
When iDreamSky launched Subway Surfers in 2014, they noticed that Chinese users weren’t using skateboards (IAPs) while playing. After investigating, they realized that the Chinese market didn’t understand that they needed to double tap to activate the feature. At first iDreamSky added a tutorial to educate their Chinese users - but it didn’t work. Finally, they ended up adding a button, which resulted in Chinese users purchasing the IAP skateboard 20% more than international users.
This anecdote is key in understanding the importance of localization.
Offline and brand marketing are a must if you really want to succeed in China. Why? Gaming in China is a lifestyle. According to Lyndon, games report 40% higher retention rates for users that participate in offline activities.
Going forward, when international developers look at their business in China, they need to consider how your game or product can be marketed offline. Meetups, merchandise, and events are all ways to grow your business at scale in China.
While the Chinese market may seem like an intimidating one to break into, it is the market that is experiencing the most growth. Having your game reach the top of the charts in China may seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools and resources you’ll be able to rise to the top.