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Publishing your mobile game in China, in a nutshell

China is on top of minds, and everyone wants to get in on the world's biggest gaming market. Yet it's challenging to figure out where to begin. Since this is what our company does, I'd like to offer an overview and a starting point for the Chinese Market.

Some of you might know me, some of you might not, so here is a brief overview for you. I've been involved in the gaming business for quite some time, ever since England won the World Cup...in Lego Soccer/Football Mania (1999). I spent many years as a Software Engineer and moved on to the Publishing side a few years ago. From console to PC to online to social to mobile, I've been on a long journey, transitioning from platform to platform, and generation to generation. This time around the biggest challenge isn't the platform, but the region: China.

China will soon be the world's largest gaming market by revenue, as predicted by many, including Newzoo, 2015. Everyone wants to get their game in on the action, but it's quite a difficult market and a tricky web to untangle. My company helps Western developers get into China, so I'd like to share a brief overview of the market and what it takes to get in.    

The Juggernaut of China is Inevitable

Google says there are 1.357 Billion people in China. The equivalent of 1 in every 5 people on this planet. According to Tech in Asia, there are more mobile gamers in China than the total U.S. population. There's no surprise that by the end of 2016 China will be the #1 mobile gaming market by revenue, and the #1 gaming market overall (Newzoo, 2015).

Top Mobile Revenues China vs .US

One reason fueling the mobile gaming dominance in China is the console ban that was recently lifted. For 15 years there have been no gaming consoles allowed in China, so gaming appetites were fulfilled with PC and mobile offerings. Over the years, Android has dominated mobile; currently at 72% of the market (Digital Trends, 2015). Apple did gain some market share recently, but Android still dominates; not to mention that the #1 smartphone, Xiaomi, is an Android-based iOS clone.

Android dominates

In the West, we're used to getting our apps from either the Apple App Store or Google Play, but in China, where Android is prevalent, 81% of Android downloads are from the dozens of 3rd party markets, not the Google Play Store (TalkingData 2014).

In simple terms, China is big on mobile, it's all Android, and everyone downloads from 3rd party app stores.

The Chinese Gamer

Chinese gamers mostly grew up on PC and mobile, which may be why Casual and Board games get the most downloads, with RPGs making the most money (SkyMobi, 2014). On average, every active mobile device has 5.6 games installed, 78% of which are Casual/Card/Board. Together, Card, RPGs and MMORPGs account for 70% of revenues; the popularity of RPGs likely originate from the strong PC roots.

Another point to keep in mind is the ban on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google in China. The top social sites are then QZone, Weibo, WeChat and many others that are only popular in Asia. In the USA 67% of the online population have Social Media accounts compared to a whopping 91% of Chinese online users (Tech in Asia, 2013). 

Despite being such a powerhouse, connectivity infrastructure isn't quite there yet; 28% are still on 2G and only 48% are on WiFi during gameplay. 4G roll-out is still slow, but should keep improving following the creation of China Tower in 2015, which is a tower sharing joint venture between China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom.

Pre-paid transactions also dominate, with online wallets such as AliPay, UniPay, and TenPay leading the way; together they make up 89% of mobile pre-paid transactions (TalkingData 2014).

Chinese Gamers grew up quite differently than Western gamers, and here are just some of the key points to keep in mind when optimizing and publishing your game in China. 

Publishing your mobile game in China

1. Basic Legal Requirements

High level: Get a Chinese publisher.

Most developers decide to work with Chinese publishers when entering China, and there are many good reasons why this makes sense. For various legal reasons, if you want to publish your game in China, by yourself, you will need to set up a local Chinese corporation. This corporation needs to be 100% Chinese owned in order to apply for the appropriate licenses, but there are reports of ways around this. There is also a major restriction where only Chinese corporations are able to receive payments from app stores. That's right, you need to have a presence in China to accept IAP revenue. Of course, you can always work with a local partner, such as a publisher, to help with this.

If you do still decide that self publshing is the right approach, remember that your corporation will also have to deal with the domestic mobile platforms and distribution channels, as well other local partners for payments, analytics, etc. Of course, you'll need to have the right licenses in place, from the right government agencies, which could take a considerable amount of time, especially if you don't know what, who and when to apply.

On top of all of this, you need to ensure that your game does not violate any of the government restrictions placed on video games in China. The list of restrictions is long, and varied, and is somewhat open to interpretation, so can be tricky.

Summary: Having a Chinese publisher will save you a world of headaches, and let you get paid.

2. Game Preparation

High level: Localize, localize, localize.

Localization is the first thing that comes to anyone's mind when preparing a game for another territory. Even so, proper localization is often over-looked. It's much more than mere translation, as it requires catering all game content to the local consumer. Keep in mind cultural references, ensure nothing is offensive, make the control system suit local expectations, simplify or amplify the user interface, whilst, at the same time, try to add game content that will resonate locally.

Thinking of the Chinese Gamer tastes, your game might also benefit by catering to a more casual audience, or adding RPG elements. Changing social hooks and payment methods, as well as ensuring file-sizes and online bandwidth are kept to a minimum are essential. 

Then of course there's monetization. The Chinese market is completely dominated by the Free-to-Play model, and has been for a long time now, so a much more aggressive stance on monetization is completely acceptable, and even expected. A paid-game just will not cut it. 

In-game ads are a helpful monetization tool, but can be problematic due to connectivity issues. In-app purchases (IAPs) are the main money maker that should be focused on, so try to make them special and culturally relevant if possible. Have different IAP items for different app stores (they like this type of thing). To ensure the purchase is possible at all, integrating 3rd party payment methods is essential.

Summary: Localize well and utilize all forms of monetization, aggressively.

3. Choose the right Android App Store(s)

High level: Go Android or go home.

First off, if you're iOS only you are missing out on 72% of the smartphone market. Get on Android, now! Pretty please, you'll thank me later. Once on Android, you need to make sure you are on at least one of the top 3rd-Party app stores, since they dominate the Chinese marketplace with 81% of Android downloads. Don't forget that mobile carriers also have their own app stores too. Oh, and then there are handset manufacturer app stores to consider. So you see, things can get pretty complicated pretty quickly. 

Top Android Stores

Even after getting your game on an app store (or multiple app stores), much like with Apple or Google in the West, getting featured is the key to unlocking your game's potential, drastically increasing your games chance for success. Competition is extremely fierce in China, so take every advantage you can.

Summary: Access the right app stores, get featured, and maximize your returns.

4. Partner with someone in China

High level: Choose your partner wisely.

It's easy to waste a lot of time and effort (and therefore resources) trying to figure out the complexities of China and the gaming landscape. I myself have been involved in the Chinese games industry since 2011, and I helped establish a publishing company in Beijing in 2012, which is not recommended for the fainthearted, trust me.

My unbiased point of view is to definitely partner with an established company in China. Look for one that can jump through all the legal hoops for you, one that can help prepare the game for the Chinese consumer, and most importantly, one that can distribute and get promotional support for your game. With such a fierce market, exposure is everything. Connections and relationships in China can make the difference between success and failure. Your relationship with your Chinese publisher will alleviate your efforts, time and resources and allow you to concentrate on the development of your game, as well as on the markets that you already know well. 

As for my slightly biased point of view, partner with E-Link Entertainment today! Most Chinese publishers offer support to Western game companies to help get your game set up, but few can get direct promotional support from the top 3rd party app stores. My company, E-Link Entertainment, is uniquely structured as our parent company, in China, gives us direct access to the very top 3rd Party Android app stores through personal relationships built up over many years. We actually get direct feedback about your game from the top distribution channels, and assess the potential market performance of your game in China before diving in. This feedback helps guide localization and game preparation efforts in a very efficient manner. We operate in a very transparent way and share all information with our partners at every step along the way.

Summary: Work with a partner you trust, build a close relationship and get your game published in China. All the better with E-Link of course.

Bottom line

There's no doubt, China will take over the gaming world. It's all Android, all the time, with 3rd Party App stores ruling the roost. To launch your mobile game in China, partner with a publisher (like us!) that will help you jump through hoops, prepare your game, and work towards getting you featured. 

About myself and E-Link Entertainment

E-Link Entertainment is a subsidiary of a partner company in China (founded in 2003), so we can get games published with ease. We also have relationships with top 3rd party app stores who can provide feedback about your game directly before committing any resources. 

I started E-Link Entertainment when the right partner from China came along. I've established publishing companies in the past, but, like many other Chinese publishers, each one was missing the key relationships necessary to help games rise to the top and prevent them from drowning in the sea of competition in China. I'm extremely proud to be part of the E-Link family, and look forward to helping many developers publish their games in China and allowing them to reap the rewards. 

With my developer hat on, I've also worked on Egg Zag, Rainbow Submarine, Warhammer 40K: Carnage, Elemental Power, Shooting Cows (unreleased) WWE Showdown (Facebook - unreleased), Karma Farm, UFC Undisputed Fight Nation (Facebook), NBA Elite 11 (unreleased), FIFA Online, Grandslam Tennis, SSX V concept, NBA Street 5 concept, FIFA Street 3, FIFA 07, FIFA World Cup 2006, FIFA 06 Road to the World Cup, FIFA 06, UEFA Champions League 2004 – 2005, FIFA Japan (Total Football), UEFA Euro Cup 2004, Army Men: Squad Leader (unreleased), Urban Freestyle, UEFA Dream Soccer, Sega World Wide Soccer 2000 Euro Edition, UEFA Champions League 1999/2000, Asylum (Quake 3 mod – unreleased), and Lego Soccer/Football Mania

My direct email, drop me a line!
[email protected]

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