How to launch a game on the Chinese market
The two most profitable markets for developers of games are the USA and China. However, while launching a product in the States might not differ much from launching one on European or the majority of other markets, things are far from simple when it comes to China.
With its 900 million internet users, the Chinese market could bring game developers $40 billion in 2020, according to estimates from analysts at Newzoo. However, there are serious hurdles for developers who want to do this: from the availability of Chinese companies or business partners, to making sure games comply with the full list of censorship rules.
In 2018, Chinese authorities issued just 500 licenses for the release of foreign games, which comes nowhere close to the number of local products released onto the domestic market. Keep reading to find out how to navigate the wilderness of the Chinese legal system and join the ranks of those who have successfully published their game on the world’s most profitable market.
1. Find a publisher
The first problem you need to overcome when entering the Chinese market is that only a Chinese company can release games, i.e. foreign organizations are not entitled to license online games for PC and mobile devices here. The only companies excluded from this rule, and who are allowed to operate on the local market, are the Apple App Store and Steam. If you’re in no position to fight with them in terms of tax contributions to the Chinese budget, then the easiest option is to find a partner who will register and publish your game, and also take care of marketing and distribution on the local market.
While it is true that this will mean having to surrender around 70% of your profits – and that’s after local app stores take half your sales revenue – this is the route taken by the majority of foreign companies that want access to the Chinese market, including such giants as Ubisoft, which partners locally with Tencent, and Blizzard Entertainment who formed a partnership with NetEase to release World of Warcraft in China.
Different publishers specialize in different genres of games and different monetization models. Some work exclusively with F2P products, others only release ARPG games. Tap4Fun and Perfect World, for example, work with MMORPG projects, while Cheetah Games work on casual games.
According to App Annie, the Top Ten publishers in China in 2020 are:
- Lilith Games
- 37 Interactive
2. Adapt your game
The particularities of the Chinese mentality are just a small part of the problems you will encounter when adapting your game. There are also the very specific requirements of the Propaganda Department of the CPC Central Committee where you will have to undergo a review before releasing your project on the local market. For the majority of Western developers who took part in research by Mobvista and GameAnalytics, compliance with regulatory requirements proved to be the main roadblock when releasing mobile games in China.
Here are just some of the rules which your project must comply with:
- Your game may not contain corpses, skeletons or pools of blood; If a character is killed, they should simply disappear;
- Games should contain “correct” information regarding the politics, laws and history of China; The government urges developers to bear in mind the social values of the country and to propagandize its traditional culture and history;
- If a game contains chat functions, developers should provide a mechanism for reviewing messages which indicate any attempts by users to “disrupt the social order”. To do this, you need to create a safety rating system and a detailed description of your project — this information will be held by the appropriate government bodies.
Adapting your game is a lengthy process. Even Blizzard Entertainment spent months redrawing textures in World of Warcraft. Riot Games and their League of Legends game faced similar issues.
3. Add your game to an app store
Are you releasing a mobile game?
Forget about the usual distribution channels. While users in the majority of the world have just two major app stores — Google Play and App Store — the situation is quite different in China. App stores for Android, whose share of mobile users here is pushing 80%, number three hundred.
Of course, there’s no sense in trying to release a mobile game on every single one of them — a full 50% of the market is shared by just three platforms: Tencent My App, Huawei App Market and Oppo Software Store. To start working with them, you need to open a developer account on their potential developers portal and prepare your game for publication.
The stores’ requirements are the same in the majority of cases — you will need to provide a scan of your developer license (软件著作权证明) and a copy of your ICP license. In some instances, you will also need a Chinese ID, a local bank account and a telephone for mobile verification.
Got a game for PC?
Then you can join the ranks of those lucky enough not to have to adapt their game and find a local publisher. For a number of years now, the favored loophole for developers to get onto the market has been Steam which is unofficially available in the country. That all ended with the launch of the alpha version of the adapted Steam China store in May of this year. Now, adding a game to this platform will be anything but easy — suffice it to say that instead of 300,000 titles, the Chinese version will release just 40 games. But there is another loophole for developers — Epic Games Store which has been available to users in China for a year now. You don’t need to comply with local requirements to release games on the platform, but there is a flipside: the store may be “blocked” just as quickly as it was “opened”.
The only way to avoid the risks is to take the rocky path of adapting your content and releasing your game on the WeGame platform which belongs to Tencent. You won’t need to find a Chinese partner to do this, but you will need to get an ISBN license and integrate the WeGame RAIL SDK into your game.
4. Get moving
Besides app stores, China also has social media. Here, you will have to deal with services that American and European users will be unfamiliar with: Baidu, WeChat, Weibo and games forums Tieba, Tianya and Douban.
When working with these, we recommend taking into account two particularities:
- Work from a Chinese company. It doesn’t matter whether this is your own company or a publishing partner. When reviewing advertising, moderators are much more loyal to local organizations than foreign companies.
- Find someone who speaks the language. “Word of mouth” works very well on the Chinese market. If your game starts to gain in popularity, you will get a large number of installations in a natural way. To achieve this, however, a specialist who really knows the local market and its particularities should work with your social media accounts.
It takes time to work all this stuff out. Registering a company, searching for local specialists, not to mention adapting your game and going through the review procedures — the whole process can take several months. However, it’s unlikely anyone would consider this a high price for getting access to 640,000,000 gamers who have practically no opportunity to buy games outside their country’s domestic market.
Author: Artem Shpilsky
Preview: Li Yang