Game developers are, as one would expect, usually focused on developing the theme, user interface, and other essentials that go into making a game great.
It would also serve them well to consider ways to engage with the Asian market, where some 60% of the world's population lives.
As it happens, kids (and adults) in China, Japan, South Korea, and other Asian countries love to play games, especially on their devices. The continent is a major engine for the worldwide growth of mobilegaming. In 2016, the region was responsible for 47% of revenue in the $100 billion plus global gaming business (including PC, Console, and Mobile gaming) according to Newzoo's Global Games Market report. Asia is responsible for nearly half of the global gaming market - $46.6 billion, growing 10.7% since 2015; much of that growth has been in mobile. According to Newzoo, gamers players in China, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore played more games on mobile devices than on any other screen; in 2015, 36% of revenue in the $46.6 billion Asian game market came from games played on smartphones, for a total of $16 billion.
And Year over Year (YoY) growth has been blistering: in China alone, mobile accounted for just 5.4% of all gaming in the country in 2012, but by 2015, 36.6% of all gameplay in China took place on mobile devices. By 2018, more people will be playing games on their mobile devices than on any other screen, so growth will definitely continue. And there’s room for everyone in Asia, the numbers show. In 2015, non-Asian companies made $5.3 billion in the Asian market; 69% of that generated from mobile gaming.
But success is far from guaranteed. Before reaching out to a new market – any new market – game developers need to prepare themselves and their games for success; if they don't, they will fail, and the money and effort they expended on their move east will have gone to waste.
There are practical steps that need to be taken in order to deal with the many issues – linguistic, cultural, and financial – that will almost certainly come up. Here are some of them:
- Localization – Despite the ubiquitous presence of American TV shows and movies on their entertainment channels, most Asians don't have a real in-depth knowledge of the language so in order to get their attention, developers have to speak their language. Menus, landing pages, ads, web materials, dialog, texts, names, icons, characters, screenshots, and anything else in the game or associated with it needs to be in the language of the land, with the right slang.
It's one thing to know classical Mandarin, but unless one is a teenager that lives in China, it's unlikely that he or she will know the latest use of slang expressions. For example, in Mandarin, the tones at which each syllable is spoken can be critical to the meaning of a word. Developers must factor that in when building character dialog – otherwise, players might get the wrong idea about what is being discussed.
- Cultural Issues – If you want people to pay attention to your game, you have to respect not just their language, but their culture. In China, for example, the color white, represents gold and symbolizes brightness, purity, and fulfilment, but it can also be associated with death, so it should be used sparingly. Hugging is looked upon askance, and directness is often seen as rudeness.
Beyond the general cultural issues, there’s also gaming culture. Players in Japan like puzzle and RPG games, while in China and Southeast Asia, gamers prefer social games (many of them played on WeChat). The way a game is monetized (more on that below) could determine whether or not a game gets downloaded, let alone played. The point is that culture counts. A game that does not meet the cultural expectations of players – or violates cultural mores – is likely to be ignored, if not denigrated. To avoid that fate, developers need to be on the ball. Once again, some local expertise will come in very handy.
- Monetization – Few people anywhere in the world will agree to spend money downloading a game they know little about, from a publisher with whom they are not familiar. So, free, or more specifically, the freemium model, where players get the game which is then monetized via ads, upgrades, or in-app purchases (IAP), is a good way to start. Players in different countries have come to expect certain monetization approaches, and might “revolt” against a game if they are presented with an unfamiliar monetization strategy that they can’t relate to.
A market as vast as China's is going to include a wide range of monetization strategies, but experience and the markets show that some are more popular and successful than others. Ads, of course, are a perennially popular strategy in a country where many players don't have access to the kinds of funds Westerners or residents of more prosperous Asian countries like Japan and South Korea do. But several pay strategies – such as “pay to win” (where players hand over cash to get higher on a leaderboard) or VIP memberships (with special gaming rooms and extra benefits/functions) have worked well.
In Japan and Singapore, meanwhile, players are more familiar with the “classic” IAP system, with purchases made via credit cards (as they are in the US). But culture provides other paths as well, especially in Japan, where a system known as Gacha has proven to be a very popular IAP mechanism. Gacha allows players to purchase needed digital goods/characters, combining the thrill of gambling with the action of gameplay. In countries where the idea of credit cards for IAP is practically a non-starter, partnering with a platform - like WeChat in China provides a game with an imprimatur of approval by the local “mavens,” and provides a link directly to players.
The point to remember is that even though APAC is seen by statistic compilers as a single unit, each country – even regions within countries – have their own game monetization culture.
- Marketing – For developers who are making and selling Apple games, delivering games to users is rather straightforward (taking into consideration, of course, the language, culture, and advertising/marketing system) – it's done through the App Store. For Android game makers, the same could be said for places where there are Google Play stores.
China is not one of those places and, there, developers need to decide which of the 200 or so different Android download sites they want to work with (Google Play does not have a presence there). While that would seem to be a disadvantage, it could actually be a plus; each of those stores has its own distinct character. The right kind of ads, offers, and local partnerships in each region (WeChat in China, Kakao in South Korea, Line in Japan, etc.,) can do wonders for a game.
- Timing – Holidays, seasons, events and even the days of the week may be a factor in how or when to market a game; smartphones are a popular gift in China before holidays as many new models are launched at those times of year, which makes it an ideal time to launch a new game. Of course, all the other developers, including the local ones, will be doing the same, so Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV).
“Asia Rising” is a meme that has been in fashion for decades; first it was Japan that experienced a major economic expansion (in the 1980s), then it was the “Four Asian Tigers” (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan), and then it was China. And there's plenty more growth in store for Asia: in 2015, Vietnam was one of the region's best growing economies, termed an “Emerging Market Standout” by Bloomberg. It's also a rising gaming power, but that doesn't mean that Westerners aren't welcome. Just the opposite; but for developers to ensure that players are responsive they should remember to follow a few simple rules.