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5 things every mobile game developer should know about Chinese players
5 things every mobile game developer should know about Chinese players Exclusive
August 20, 2012 | By Henry Fong

Henry Fong is the CEO and founder of Yodo1, a Chinese game publisher that has helped Western companies like Robot Entertainment and Digital Chocolate localize and distribute games for the Chinese market

China has the world's largest market for iOS/Android games, but for many Western developers, it's a country that still causes a lot uncertainty, trepidation, and frankly, misunderstanding. As CEO of a Western mobile game publisher based in China, here are five points I usually make when talking with my colleagues from the U.S. and Europe.

1. Most of the top paid download games in China's Apple App Store are from the West.

While China has a robust market for locally-produced games, paid downloads are dominated by Western titles. At the time of writing this article, for instance, PopCap and EA's Plants vs Zombies is #1 on China's Apple App Store paid games chart, and Fruit Ninja is #2. In fact, 8 of the top 10 paid apps are Western. This indicates China's strong interest in Western games.

However, note that I say "paid" downloads, because that brings up my next point about the Chinese market:

2. Chinese don't like buying games -- but they spend a lot within them.

While a handful of paid iOS/Android games have attracted a large Chinese audience, they're actually a small fraction of the total market. That's because Chinese are very reluctant to buy games outright. Instead, their preference is to churn through a slew of free-to-play games.

Once they find a title they like, however, Chinese gamers typically monetize at extremely high rates, through in-app payments.

At the moment, all of the top 10 grossing games in Apple's App Store in China are freemium. Unofficial industry sources suggest the top freemium smartphone games in China earn $1-2 million a month through in-app payments -- twice as much as they were making a short six months ago. But why do Chinese gamers spend so much?

3. Chinese gamers not only buy virtual upgrades -- they brag about buying them.

Western gamers typically don't like to brag about the premium items they've bought to enhance their game play, preferring to project the perception that they've advanced in-game solely through skill and long play.

This logic is totally reversed in China -- Chinese gamers boast about game upgrades they've purchased, and enjoy showing them off whenever they can. This fits the general atmosphere of conspicuous consumption so common in the new China, where luxury fashion brands and cars are popular status symbols.

Smart designers can leverage that desire by making it easy for gamers to show off their paid-for items -- for example, through premium virtual items that can be displayed on a gamer's avatar.

Another game mechanic that monetizes well: Items and abilities that guild leaders can buy and gift to other guild members. This behavior leverages the Chinese cultural expectation that "The Boss" pays for his underlings, and thus, is a great way for wealthy players to gain (i.e. buy) more in-game social status.

4. MMOs on mobile are really popular in China.

While Western developers still associate MMOs with PC gaming, China's extremely large audience for the sub-genre is trending toward mobile.

The iOS/Android ports of MMOs like Hoolai's 3 Kingdoms have gained users in the millions; not surprisingly, 10/10 of the current Top Grossing games in Apple's App Store in China are MMOs or multi-player social strategy/simulations of some kind.

Clearly, Chinese fans of games like World of Warcraft (which is still huge here) are turning to their smartphones to get their MMO fix.

5. China's mobile gaming market is still a wild frontier -- but there are ways for Western developers to protect themselves.

To be sure, China's mobile market is still very fragmented, and difficult to navigate. There are over 100 Android app stores, after all. Even more worrying for developers? Piracy of Western games is still rampant. However, there are ways to protect your content and your revenue.

Since mobile games in China mostly monetize through in-app payments, for example, it's a good idea to tie your game's log-in and in-app payment authentication process to an external server. That way, even if hackers manage to bypass the client or Apple's IAP process, they won't be able to bypass yours.

Beyond technical solutions like that, getting a local partner makes all the difference to protecting your games. China's app stores are much more likely to heed the cease-and-desist warnings of a fellow Chinese tech company, than a remote foreign developer. For this, we've developed a methodology for getting app stores to pull copycat games that try to rip off our partners, and replace them with the official versions -- read more about that on our blog.

TL;DR: China may seem like an uninviting place for Western developers, but if you look closer, you'll be impressed by how much the country wants to play -- and pay -- for your games.

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Dave Ingram
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Thanks Henry, this is some really interesting information. The concept of in-app purchases as status symbols has given me a lot to think about. That concept is completely foreign to the way we think in the U.S., and I can already see what a huge potential this one cultural nuance can have for mobile-game monetization.

Frank Cifaldi
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That was my biggest takeaway too, editing this article. I had no idea!

E McNeill
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Reminded me a lot about an old article on ZT Online:

Henry Fong
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Great article link by E McNeil. A lot of what that article outlines is applicable if you're producing MMO or Multiplayer strategy social games which are becoming increasing prevalent on smartphone platforms.

Troy Walker
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I like the idea of having a company like yodo working with developers to protect and distribute their products... share and protect, good article, good to know.

Luis Blondet
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"China's app stores are much more likely to heed the cease-and-desist warnings of a fellow Chinese tech company, than a remote foreign developer."

Wow, how incredibly predijuce.

Henry Fong
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This is unfortunate but true. However I don't think it is because of prejudice that the app stores pay more heed to a local company. The below blog link might shed more color on why the app stores tend to be more cooperative towards established local players.

Charles Geringer
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When I read that, I didnīt think about project, I thought that is has more to do with being a lot easier for a local company to take legal action.

Fan Zhang
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It is good for a Chinese company will do localization and anti-copycats/pirates, but I still need to warn you: the way Yodo1 localization game is a bit dangerous, for example: in the game "Hero Academy"'s Chinese version, the race "Dark Elves" has been "translated" to "暗夜精灵" which means "Night Elves" in Blizzard's WarCraft. Also, the article said "Chinese gamers not only buy virtual upgrades -- they brag about buying them" sounds weird and unreasonable to me -- in PC MMO, this is true, but there is no such sign for Mobile apps.
I noticed Yodo1 also own a mobile game rating/review website "", they offer piracy Android app download there (although by 3rd party's download site, but they do show the direct piracy download link, you can use Google translate or something else to judge by yourself), in China this is the most effective way to attract users. But it is weird for such a company who said "I can protect your product-only if you are my partner" to do this.

Henry Fong
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Fan, let me first respond to the points your making. Regarding the translation of Dark Elves. English translation of medieval race names from English to Chinese really has no standard. Our product team discusses and decides what translation to use so that Chinese gamers can best relate to them. Net net, can you say every other game that use Dark Elves to name their race is pirating Blizzard's Warcraft? I think not...

2nd, the YoPing site is a game review site. We provide links to iTunes App Store for iOS games we review, and we provide links to SnapPea (Wandoujia) in China which is an Android app store search engine + aggregator. You should note that we also provide links to SnapPea even for games that Yodo1 publishes ourselves in China.

Lastly, on the point that you make about MMO's vs Mobile user behavior ("in PC MMO, this is true, but there is no such sign for Mobile apps"), you'll notice that quite a number of the current Top 10 grossing iOS games in the China app stores are in fact MMO's and many MMO developers are now extend their PC games over to the fast growing mobile platform and as a result, bringing along their high ARPU gamer base.

Just wanted to clarify the facts for the audience so that they can "judge for themselves" with the right information.

Fan Zhang
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Dark Elves - no problem
Night Elves - a bit dangerous
The translation of Dark Elves from English to Chinese have a long history since we got The Dark Elf Trilogy published in China (2001), before Hero Academy Chinese version no one have confuse "Dark" and "Night" in Chinese, ever.
I'm not a Blizzard fanboy so I don't really care. But you need to know there are companies like Bethesda will sue someone who dare use the word "Scroll" for game title, and Night Elves in Chinese is somehow just like "Protoss" "Zerg" in English or "Fus Ro Dah" in Thu'um.
About YoPing, Not every game on that site using in-app-purchase for profit, for those app you published, free-to-download do no harm, but how about the others? Those Android developer who just hope customers buy their game make no in-app-purchase got nothing but piracy.
SnapPea (Wandoujia) is not a clean search engine, it has a download center which contains piracy app. Your "right information" is just a part of the truth.
I'm not looking for a fight or trying to break your business, I said it is good for a Chinese company will do localization and anti-copycats/pirates for foreign developers. But I'm also a journalist and Gamasutra reader, when I saw this article, I feel something weird, that's all.

Henry Fong
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Fan, understand your view point, and just wanted to clarify our stance. Piracy on Android is a big problem in general, not just in China. We'd love to be able to help every developer in the market but the size of that effort would be monumental and not something that one company handle.

Always welcome constructive criticism to help us improve.

Lilit Abrahamyan
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Henry, thanks so much for the great article and insight! China is a very appealing market for developers, yet it's quite challenging to have objective and comprehensive information on it at times :)

Henry Fong
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Thanks lilit. Full disclosure that I'm not without bias since I run a mobile distribution platform for the China market.

That said, I will try my best to keep my articles and blogs as objective and informational as possible and keep them (relatively) free of sales pitches. The games development community has a good nose for sniffing out bullsh*t so I'm sure you guys will keep me honest. ^_^

Stephen Chow
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Lucrative market still US and JP, 3rd is EU...not point to discuss about it

Roger Smith
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Hey now! Could you tell me, is it possible for a non-Chinese developer to publish apps to Chinese markets?

Michel chen
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First,most genuine players in china dislike/hate domestic agents/partners.Most agents/partners will do more things than [language localization],for example,using lower quality texture,cutting game contents
, adding various ads to the original, locking free game content in the original...They love money more than user experience.I suggest non-Chinese developer to follow SUPER CELL.All super-cell's products are popular in china.It's a good example for all mobile game developer.

Sencond,as Henry Fong said "There are over 100 Android app stores..." in china,Why? Chinese can't use Google Play,because of some political reasons.

Third,Henry Fong just want advertise for himself, so more developer take him as a partner.

Last,Who buffoon the player will buffoon themselves in the end.