Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
October 31, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 31, 2014
PR Newswire
View All
View All     Submit Event

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

The spending habit of Chinese mobile gamers
by Junxue Li on 03/06/14 05:01:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


   Everyone knows it’s hopeless to coax Chinese gamers to buy p2p games(pay to play), and as they are too shrewd, f2p doesn’t work also. The only way to earn some money is from in-game ads.

   At the root of all problems of this type, lays the Chinese notion “All games should be for free”. This notion is nurtured by the long time piracy in China. Back to 1990s, all the games came in the form of pirate CDs, which was sold ¥5 apiece (around $0.6 at that time). In the backstreets of Zhongguancun Village(the Chinese Silicon Valley in Beijing), a row of shabby shops opened wide to the street, cardboard boxes after cardboards of pirate CDs arranged on the floor. Customers ducking down, pick the latest Windows, games, and favorite music. It was such a big business of that time!


In recent years, the pirate CD dealers were put out of business due to improved connection speed. People can download everything they need, why bother to buy a CD?

  Some one would argue, that at the pirate CD years, legal games were way too expensive for general Chinese people(around ¥60~80 per CD). And the software publishers did poor job in making games more accessible than pirate ones. Today, Chinese people become much richer than ten years before, affordability is not an issue, and access is not an issue too. But their spending habit becomes even more bizarre, or the price of things are weird. Most people earn ¥3000~5000 ($500~830)a month, but most people have an iphone which is around ¥4000($666). And they will not frown at the price of a movie ticket, which usually is ¥120($20). But they would become much alarmed if a game is sold for ¥12($1.99). This is the tricky part, at the price of a game, most people tend not to think rationally. No matter how many hours of fun it would provide, positively it is much more hours than that the equivalent amount of money you can buy from a movie. And no matter how genuinely they are stricken by the game play and pictures, if it’s for a price at all, then the outcome is almost a certain no buy.  

  And there is a class of gamers who’s money is much more precious than time. Take an example, Clash of Clans monetizes on extreme slow building speed, asking gamers to purchase green gems to speed up. And a gamer devised a crooked way to earn free gems. His method is to go to this site

to download free apps and use each app for minutes, that can earn some points. Then use the points to change gift card to spend in iTune store(The actual process is complicated, involving using different VPN addresses to get more apps). This guy claims that he’s earned $10 in 3 days. Here is his how to post:

  This reveals the strange psychology of these gamers, they just fail to do the math that $10 just isn’t worth the labor, for China isn’t a poor country at all. 

  Strange it looks, and it’s just the extreme form of common psyche of Chinese gamers. So we can sense how difficult it is to monetize your game.

  For most Android games, there are always cracked version available. And for iOS games, many people jailbreak their system to play games for free. And there’s a loophole in Apple’s system, that a purchased game could be downloaded to limitless number of devices with a same account. So many generous people would post their account and PW on a forum to share games. Even there’re some apps developed based on this mechanism to let people “play legal games for free without jailbreaking your system”(免越狱不花钱玩正版游戏).

  Yes, with more or less ado, you can always get the game for free. There comes another topic, pay for user experience. One of my friends tells me, that he subscribes to Google music with a fee, not because that he can’t find those music else where. Just that he can get all the things he wants by a click. It offers excellent user experience and in fact saves money(time is money). In China, we’ve made progress on pay for user experience, yet need to catch up. More and more people are willing to pay watching online movies(¥2.5 a movie). We hope we can make some progress on games too.

   It seems it's all sad news in my report. But do keep the fact in mind, that there’re a small portion of gamers who are ready to pay for both f2p and p2p games. No matter how small the percentage is, in the context of the sheet population of all gamers in China, the number of these paying gamers is still a monster!

   And I think Apple need to localize it’s paying methods. Last time my little niece wants Mine Craft so bad, my only way to get her one is to purchase and install it on her ipad by my account.

Now in China, nearly all the school kids in cities have a tablet. And people often don’t have a credit card before getting a job. What a pity that Apple can’t harvest from the vast number of kids. It needs to introduce Apple prepaid card.

Now the Chinese mobile market is much a stew, game makers are not sure what to do to gain, devise smart monetization, or fight piracy. But I believe as China is getting herself toward the rank of developed countries, we will catch up.

More of my articles about games & art production:

Follow me on twitter...

Related Jobs

Giant Sparrow
Giant Sparrow — Playa Vista, California, United States

Junior 3D Artist
Giant Sparrow
Giant Sparrow — Playa Vista, California, United States

Lead Artist
Sega Networks Inc.
Sega Networks Inc. — Madison, Wisconsin, United States

Mobile Game Engineer
Forio — San Francisco, California, United States

Web Application Developer Team Lead


Albert Meranda
profile image
This is a really interesting perspective, thanks!

steven mathers
profile image

Pallav Nawani
profile image
Interesting (but not really surprising) is the fact that the psyche of the Indian Gamer is very similar to what you have mentioned. Sadly this has kept the Indian Gaming market small, despite the fact that the Indian Middle class can afford to buy the games.

And this attitude translates to buying books and music cds as well - with the exception that there *are* some people who like buying books.

Bram Stolk
profile image
I can confirm this for my popular app store game.
(Based on 2.3M downloads in 2013.)
In China, 1 in 165 people buy the full game through IAP.
In USA, 1 in 14.6 people do.

From my experience, an American is over 10 times more likely to make the IAP than the Chinese.
I don't have a CN translation though, so my numbers may be affected by that.

Junxue Li
profile image
Do the translation and make the comparison then. Most Chinese people's English is very poor. I can assure you that is the No.1 reason for their no buy. No doubt that you can increase a lot of sales by making a CN version:)

Chris Clogg
profile image
Good article, thanks for the read!

" but most people have an iphone which is around ¥4000($666). And they will not frown at the price of a movie ticket, which usually is ¥120($20). But they would become much alarmed if a game is sold for ¥12($1.99)"

I'm pretty sure this is true in NA too haha, sadly for us game devs.

Fan Zhang
profile image
You really should stop demonizing the Chinese mobile gaming market, OP, because it's far better than any other parts of gaming market in China, almost every western famous pay to play game have reach the top paid list in App Store China region, You can check those familiar names in App Annie to find out if I or OP is wrong about it. Indeed even the developer of Tengami have mentioned "China's response to Tengami is blowing me away" on her twitter. And games like Limbo, The Room series, BadLand, Infinity Blade, Minecraft, Battle Supermacy, Dues Ex: The Fall, Final Fantasy... were sold pretty well in China.

And I am typing these names by checking the top paid app list in App Store China region now. Also, Clash of Clans have been listed in the top one grossing app in China for almost one year (without a local publisher), the status is still unshakable.

Junxue Li
profile image
Yes, there's an old Chinese saying "The corpse of a starved camel is bigger than horse". Even under current atmosphere game makers has already made big money, and if the situation is improved, I believe they could mine 10 times more money in China! Now it is 1 player pay for 100 or more guys who would not pay. If we can increase the number to 10 players, what a boom it would bring to our industry!

Miterwand Zhou
profile image
Chinese here, just registered to comment that almost everything is true. Also I'd like to point out "Pay to Win" game modes are also quite popular in China. For example, the less known online PC first person shooter "Crossfire", failed in Origin, shutdowned in South Korea, but still the most popular FPS game in China, and it's just basically Counter-Strike's copycat.

I would also like to point out that online game store's prices in China is also ridiculous. Steam in China is using the US's price and Origin in China is using Europe's. Compared by those two regions' salary, China is still far behind those two for now. So it's completely unfair for Chinese customers.

Junxue Li
profile image
Yes, I investigated the in-game item price of many Tencent's mobile games, they are at the same level of US and European games. Seems to be a "fair" price in China:(