In the time since Cheetah Global lab published its “Rankings of Chinese Apps and Games Abroad” in early 2016, how have Chinese game publishers fared in various overseas markets? What kind of Chinese games are able to find success abroad? What types of games are suitable for overseas markets? With data obtained from Cheetah Mobile’s big data platform libra, covering over 50 countries and regions, Cheetah Global Lab will provide answers to these questions from multiple perspectives.
I.Action Games Can Effectively Break Through Cultural Barriers
(Chinese Game Publishers: includes HK and Taiwan)
2016 was a year which saw Chinese games truly go abroad. A total of 84 games from Chinese publishers made it into the Top 1,000 rankings globally, compared with 47 ast year. This represents an increase of almost 80% year-over-year, and indicates that Chinese games are growing in popularity abroad.
In terms of overall volume, however, the number of Chinese games published abroad is relatively low. Overseas markets are dominated by European and American publishers, while the small but upward trending number of Chinese games abroad represents strong potential growth.
Cheetah Global Lab has ranked all games on the global top 1,000 list based on their active penetration rates worldwide.
Of the 15 categories of Chinese games which made it into the Top 1,000, action games have led the way, in large part because they do not require much effort to localize and translate, thereby bypassing cultural obstacles. The ease of transition to overseas markets signals that action games are relatively more suitable for exporting abroad, and that they possess a higher chance of success outside of China.
II.Going Abroad in Emerging Markets
Cheetah Global Lab has chosen Chinese games that made it into the top 100 leaderboard in the US, Russia, India, Indonesia, Brazil, and Vietnam in order to analyze the success of these games in relation to the unique characteristics of key global markets. This will hopefully help companies hoping to expand to these markets with their strategic planning.
According to the Cheetah Global Lab database, Chinese games are performing noticeably better in Indonesia, Brazil and India, and it’s easy to see the similarities between these markets.
First of all, all three are key emerging markets- Brazil and India are both BRIC nations, and Indonesia boasts the largest economy in Southeast Asia. India and Indonesia are still experiencing high rates of economic growth, and while Brazil’s GDP growth has slowed down in recent years, it is still the largest economy in Latin America. More importantly, the mobile internet industry is growing by leaps and bounds in all three countries, with a significant level of government investment and policy support. Firms looking to venture overseas will find these markets rife with opportunity and the potential for vast returns.
Also, these countries are currently in the midst of benefiting from a “demographic dividend”: India’s 1.27 billion people makes it the second largest population in the world, while Indonesia is 4th at 253 million, and Brazil is 5th at 202 million. The number of young mobile users in these countries is rapidly increasing. Companies entering these markets will be able to enjoy the fruits of investing in the future as well as the present.
Thus, for Chinese companies looking abroad, these emerging markets enjoying a “demographic dividend” should be their first choice.
Below, we’ll look at data which shows us how Chinese games are performing in the US, Russia, India, Indonesia, Brazil, and Vietnam.
The US is the First Choice for Casual Games Going Abroad
In 2015, the US mobile game market was valued at approximately USD 6.3 bln, the second largest in the world after China. Mobile data infrastructure is developed and smartphone penetration is relatively high, while the gaming market is sophisticated with excellent copyright protection. This makes the US one of the most mature mobile gaming markets in the world.
According to data from Baijing Apps, 50% of American gamers play between 1 to 4 hours of mobile games each week, averaging to about 10-30 minutes per day. Americans play games to kill time, which is why the US is the casual gaming capital of the world.
Five Chinese games made the US Top 100, two of which are representative of the casual gaming genre.
Rolling Sky Screenshots
Rolling Sky is a casual game from Cheetah Mobile which allows players to tap on the screen to direct the movement of a ball through various obstacles, thereby earning points and progressing to a variety of different levels.
Crossy Road Screenshots
Crossy Road is a similar game developed by Yodo1. Players direct pixelated cartoon characters through obstacles and cross busy roads to earn points.
The two games are both casual in nature, and appeal to a mass market demographic. Therefore, Cheetah Global Lab believes that if Chinese game publishers want to enter the US market, the casual gaming segment should be prioritized.
In Russia, Games that Induce Excitement Perform Better
As a country spanning Europe and Asia, the Russia mobile gaming market has certain unique characteristics. According to data from mobile analytics platform Flurry, the Russian mobile gaming market will reach USD 707 mln by the end of 2016, with average daily gaming time reaching 40.8 minutes per user.
In Russia, 8 Chinese titles reached the Top 100. Whether or not due to cultural reasons related to a history of warfare, [This seems highly speculative. Can we simply say “Games with exciting and thrilling elements tend to perform better in Russia, like these two Chinese games.” Do we have to speculate on the reason?]games with exciting and thrilling elements tend to perform better in Russia, like these two Chinese games.
Castle Clash Screenshots
Castle Clash is a strategy game developed by IGG that is similar to Clash of Clans, with stylistic differences. There have been players who have summed up the top 10 strengths and weaknesses of each of the two games, which indicate that Castle Clash and Clash of Clans are targeting the same demographic. Currently, Clash of Clans sits at 3rd place on the Russian Top 100 leaderboard, while Castle Clash ranks 25th, the second strategy game to be well-received by Russian gamers.
Badland 2 Screenshot
Badland 2 is an adventure game with puzzle game features designed by Frogmind and published by Cheetah Mobile. Players fly around a little black creature through the woods, exploring the beautiful yet perilous world of the game, while trying to dodge obstacles, and survive as long as possible. The excitement and thrill afforded by this experience is comparable to games with a fighting or military theme.
If Chinese game publishers want to enter the Russian market, they may consider stimulating the Russian gamer by adding in elements of warfare or other exciting aspects to the gaming experience in order to achieve success.
Indians Love Sports
In India, internet penetration has essentially been brought about by mobile internet penetration. This means that the Indian mobile gaming market is full of opportunities. There are 11 Chinese games in India’s Top 100.
India boasts the world’s most fervent cricket fans, but this love of sports is not just confined to cricket. According to data from Cheetah Global Lab, of the 10 sports games in India’s Top 100, two are from Chinese publishers.
Archery Master Screenshots
Archery Master is an archery-themed game from Doodle Mobile, allowing players to control the direction and power of the bow when shooting at a target. The realism of the game extends to wind and other factors, which provides an immersive experience for the player.
Pool Billiards Pro Screenshots
Another game from Doodle Mobile is the pool-themed Pool Billiards Pro. Players control the angle and power of the cue, simulating a real pool game. Pool Billiards Pro features realistic 3D graphics with both PVP and PVE modes, as well as multiplayer online play.
From Left: Racing Moto, City Racing 3D, and Bike Racing 3D
Sports games are very popular in India, and this is reflected in other categories as well. India’s Top 100 includes three racing titles: Racing Moto, City Racing 3D, and Bike Racing 3D, which can be considered sports games as well.
All 5 titles are united in the ease and simplicity of gameplay. Local Indian game publishers explain that, because Indians have skipped over the eras of console, PC, and browser-based games straight to mobile, Indian gamers are unable to understand sophisticated gameplay, such as that found in many Chinese ARPGs, with their detailed character customization.[This is also highly speculative, and frankly, pretty offensive. It sounds like you are calling Indians stupid. Consider re-wording.] The diversity of ethnicities, languages, and religions in India mean that relatively complicated games will find it
Thus, Chinese game publishers looking to India should simplify gameplay[See above comment] and add in sports elements in order to do well.
Beautiful Visuals Can Attract the Brazilian Gamer
According to data from eMarketer, there are nearly 48.6 million mobile gamers in Brazil, almost a quarter of the total population, with female gamers (52.6%) outnumbering male gamers (47.4%). As of 2015, the mobile gaming market reached USD 330 mln, ranking 11th globally and 1st in Latin America. Brazilian gamers have shown a willingness to spend money on games, with ARPU reaching USD 70, as the country represents a potential gold mine for gaming companies.
Brazil is also a multi-cultural society, with a wide array of interests in different types of games. Ten Chinese games reached Brazil’s Top 100, representing eight different categories.
Of the Chinese games in the rankings, the most eye-catching is Legacy of Discord: Furious Wings from GTarcade. It is the only ARPG on the list, and Brazil’s most popular ARPG at that. The game was designed for the EU/US market, and currently does not have a Chinese version.
Character Customization Screen in Legacy of Discord: FuriousWings
Legacy of Discord: Furious Wings is the most visually appealing game on the Top 100, with beautifully designed characters and battlefields. These visuals have attracted a large number of die-hard Brazilian fans. The game is unique in its sophisticated
Although Brazil is a land of opportunity for mobile game publishers, Chinese firms must overcome payment obstacles in the country. In Brazil, cash and bank transfers are the primary forms of payment, due to the difficult process of applying for a credit card. In addition, local distributors take a relatively high percentage of revenue, which, combined with the high tax rate, present a difficult challenge for Chinese firms. Before testing the waters in Brazil, Chinese game publishers must first be prepared for these barriers to entry.
Investing in Indonesia’s Active Youth is a Path to Success
According to data from Niko, although the mobile gaming market only reached USD 11 mln in 2013, there were already 24 mln mobile gamers in the country. In Indonesia, free-to-play games with in-game paid features are very popular.
Indonesia is an extremely receptive market for Chinese games, with 98 Chinese games in the Top 1,000, and 12 Chinese games in the Top 100.
Crisis Action has achieved eye-popping success in Indonesia, perhaps in part due to the country’s large population and significant proportion of young gamers.
Crisis Action is a first-person shooter title from HERO Game, which claims that it is the world’s first 3D FPS made for e-sports. The excitement and thrill of battling other players in urban warfare appeals to young Indonesian gamers, while incorporating elements of e-sports gameplay such as encouraging players to form clans and work together as teams. At the same time, HERO Games has organized a variety of online and offline tournaments with sizeable prize pools, which has raised the profile of Crisis Action.
Crisis Action has thus reached 23rd on Indonesia’s Top 100, becoming Indonesia’s favorite action game.
Chinese game publishers looking to Indonesia should capitalize on the country’s youth by introducing stimulating games which appeal to young gamers.
Vietnamese Love Casual and Strategy Games
Overall, Vietnam is a land of casual games, highlighted by the popularity of Flappy Bird, which originated from Vietnam. According to Cheetah Global Lab, 23 of the Top 100 games in Vietnam are casual games. There are 8 Chinese games which made their way into Vietnam’s Top 100, two of which are casual games which have performed quite well.
Fishing Diary Screenshot
Fishing Diary is from Chinese game publisher DroidHen, while Bubble Shooter is released by Chinese game publisher Candy Bubble Studio. Similar to popular casual games in the US, these two titles feature simple screen tapping gameplay, suitable for killing time. The simplicity of gameplay also means that intensive localization is not required, smoothing the transition to the Vietnamese market.
In addition to casual games, Vietnamese gamers have displayed a strong appetite for strategy games as the second most popular genre. According to data from Cheetah Global Lab, there are six strategy titles in Vietnam’s Top 100, of which Castle Clash and Lords Mobile are from Chinese game publisher IGG. These two titles have both maintained high weekly opening rates, and a sustained period of growth in active users.
In addition to choosing the category of game to launch in Vietnam, Chinese game publishers must deal with strict industry regulations, such as a 6 to 9-month application process for a game publishing license. At the same time, the Vietnamese government has instituted more regulations for the mobile gaming industry compared to China. Companies looking to Vietnam must first understand all of the relevant regulations.
Although they all have different strategies, a glimpse at the list of Chinese game publishers’ overseas titles indicates that most publishers focus on one game category. For example, Elex and IGG are known for strategy titles, while Microfun and Yodo1 have released casual games with simple gameplay.
Focusing on one specific category has its benefits. The process of publishing and operating games in the same category is very similar, which allows for the accumulation of resources and experience, as well as loyal players, in one genre. When one game has reached the end of its lifespan, publishers are able to retain players by transitioning them to a new title.
Cheetah Mobile is a case study for Chinese game publishers going overseas, with representative titles such as Piano Tiles 2, Rolling Sky, Tap Tap Dash, and Don’t Tap the White Tile all reaching the Overseas Top 30 leaderboard. Released in January 2016, Rolling Sky has enjoyed a very successful year to date. The company’s licensed title Badland 2 has also achieved considerable success in Russia, reaching the Top 100 in that market.
To sum up Cheetah Mobile’s experience going overseas: focus and quality.
Cheetah Mobile’s most popular titles are united in their minimalist design, which allows players from all over the world to enjoy the games without cultural impediments. Also, the simple gameplay draws in players of all demographics.
Cheetah Mobile games run smoothly and excel in their user experience, resulting in excellent word-of-mouth. When entering a new market, games live and die by word-of-mouth reviews.
Thus, utmost simplicity and quality have served Cheetah Mobile well in its overseas expansion, and this experience is a valuable case study for all game publishers looking abroad.
Microfun’s puzzle title Jelly Blast has found considerable success in China as well as overseas markets such as the US, Germany, South Korea, and Thailand, nabbing the 3rd spot in the Top 30 Chinese Games Overseas. In addition to success on the Google Play store, Jelly Blast has been named an Editor’s Pick in the iOS App Store, and won the inaugural Black Stone Prize from the Mobile Hardcore Alliance in December 2015.
Microfun’s approach to producing a hit title can also be reduced to one word: quality. Microfun CEO Qi Wei has stated that in order for Jelly Blast to find success in China and abroad, the company has had to “pursue excellence in initial development, as well as in continuous iteration.” At the same time, he describes the perfect balance of randomness and skill as the main reason that tile-clearing games have been able to maintain the popularity over time.
Due to its success in the mobile gaming sector, Microfun is currently listed on China’s National Equities Exchange and Quotations.
Yodo1’s overseas experience stems from the company’s extensive background in game localization. Established in 2011, Yodo1 specialized early on in bringing foreign games to China, such as Cut the Rope. Through its experience operating foreign games in China, Yodo1 acquired valuable experience in game localization, which has given the company a unique head start in helping Chinese games find markets overseas.
Yodo1 has incorporated local tastes and trends from each country into a “second development” phase for games that it is localizing. For example, Yodo1 added South Korean celebrity Psy to the promotion for Crossy Road in South Korea, helping the title gain initial traction.
IGG’s Lords Mobile has reached 27th on the Top 30 Chinese Games Overseas, while the company’s Castle Clash title has successfully reached Top 100 in both Russia and Vietnam.
IGG was founded in 2005 as a traditional game developer, and is one of the first Chinese game publishers to go abroad, focused primarily on overseas operations of Chinese client and browser-based games. In 2013, the company transitioned to mobile gaming, while getting listed on Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Stock Exchange.
IGG’s few titles are similar to Lords Mobile and Castle Clash in being hardcore games. In particular, Castle Clash has been a major source of revenue for the company. According to the Q1 financial report released by IGG, the company’s mobile gaming revenue accounted for 97.3% of the company’s overall revenues, at approximately USD 123 mln, or RMB 821 mln. Castle Clash and Lords Mobile contributed approximately USD 100 mln in revenue. The company’s financial report also revealed that a sequel to Castle Clash titled Clash of Lords 2, as well as sandbox game TUG, are currently in development, and will be released in 2017.
Doodle Mobile is focused on Android game development, and was started by Sinovation Ventures co-founder Wang Ye in October 2010. In August 2011, the company landed USD 8-digit series-A funding led by Silicon Valley VC firm KPCB and Sinovation Ventures.
Doodle Mobile’s overseas strategy can be described as “casting a wide net.” The company’s subsidiaries include game publishers Doodle Mobile Ltd, Candy Mobile, Words Mobile, Italy Games, CanadaDroid, Mouse Games, and TerranDroid. Altogether, Doodle Mobile has published 138 titles, eight of which have made it into the Top 30 Chinese Games Overseas.
Doodle Mobile boasts over 500 mln users in 155 countries worldwide, with MAU reaching 80 mln.
Clash of Kings from Elex has made it into the Top 30 Chinese Games Overseas due to its strong performance abroad in both the iOS and Android platforms, while another of the company’s titles Magic Rush: Heroes has posted strong revenue figures.
Elex has rode Clash of Kings to its position as a top global mobile game publisher. The game was first released overseas on July 1, 2014, and has found its way to China after an extensive worldwide tour. Clash of Kings reached Top 10 in Google Play revenue on March 2015, and has been as high as 19th in iOS App Store revenues. Clash of Kings is on the Google Play revenue leaderboard in 56 countries, and on the iOS overall leaderboard in 153 countries, which has led industry insiders to proclaim the title as the “top strategy game in the world.” As of July 2016, Clash of Kings has sustained its strong performance for two years.
We can expect more great titles from Elex.