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Live Game streaming in China, its big, but can it also be big for mobile games?

by Jason Kong on 11/25/16 11:50:00 am

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.


There have been many articles on why eSports and game live-streaming could be the Next Big Thing in gaming, and to a certain degree I agree with it, however at least for the mobile gaming sector, I don’t think it will become mainstream as quickly as some would believe. A few definitions to more clearly define this topic before we start:

  • eSports - is the competitive tournaments of video games, especially among professional gamers
  • Game live-streaming - is to broadcast video and sound of a gaming experience over the internet as it happens, or to be broadcast in this way
  • Mobile game live-streaming - here is referred to the live-streaming of Mobile Games, not including PC or console games etc.


Part 1: A brief intro to the market of live-streaming in China

  • 325 Mn+ Chinese live streaming users (roughly 45.8% of all Chinese Internet users)
  • Roughly 80% of streamers are female, but only 20% of viewers are female
  • Top 10 highest earning video streamers in China made a total of RMB 257 Mn (USD 39 Mn) a year, all 10 of which are game streamers, reflecting the boom in China’s gaming business. Their earning consists of two parts: contracted income with live streaming platforms where they comment on video games, and virtual gifts from their fans, which can be withdrawn for real money. (7 are pure live-streamers, 3 used to be professional players)

League of Legends accounted for over 53% of the total views, while the second and much talked about Pan Entertainment only accounted for a little over 9% of total viewership, a difference of almost 6 times! Only League of Legends, Hearthstone and DOTA had a higher viewership compared to the proportion of available content, 2 of which is MOBA and a highly competitive eSport, which shows that MOBA type games is by far one of the most profitable sectors for broadcasters.

Orange Bar shows percentage of views, Blue Bar shows the percentage of content available

All-in-all, live streaming is a huge business in China, with gaming taking up a huge chunk of the sector’s content and viewership and a channel that provides significant earning potential. However from the above charts, it can be seen that mobile games still account for a very minuscule proportion. So the question is, is there potential for Mobile Game live-streaming in China?


Part 2: Why it has potential?

Huge existing market - Streaming in general has already taken off at an unimaginable pace in China, making it the biggest single largest live-streaming market in the world. Game-streaming is already one of the most profitable niche among the different variety of entertainment on these platforms, the potential viewers are already there, majority of which already view the live-streaming content on their mobile devices. So the transition from game-streaming PC games to game-streaming mobile games is at least not a problematic issue from the demand side. 

Everyone has a phone, but not everyone has a computer - Simply, a lot more people have mobile phones than the number that own a high operating system PC & a fast internet connection at their fingertips in China. So statistically speaking, the mobile games market is in a great position to explode into the game-streaming sector, since the more number of players there are, the bigger the potential viewer base, and the bigger the potential returns.

Convenience (primarily for broadcasters) - one of the key advantages of mobile games is its convenience, you can play it on your bed, in the toilet, in the mall, essentially anywhere with good data or wifi reception. Since a growing proportion of these live-streams are viewed on a mobile device anyway, there is little difference for the viewer in terms of their access to PC game streams vs. mobile game streams. However for the broadcaster, given there is an appropriate application for this, it could potentially be a huge benefit. Broadcasters could travel the world and stream on a daily basis without affecting their ability to provide regular content updates, giving broadcasters a greater degree of flexibility between their work and private lives. (But at the end of the day, the market is driven by demand and not by supply, so this point is only important if the demand is already there and if wireless connectivity is sufficient)

Support from large companies - Tencent and other mobile companies expanding into eSports and mobile game live-streaming. eSports have been around for a while, but mainly limited PC games. With the increase in the popularity of mobile games, many publishers and game developers are pushing for the development of mobile eSports with Tencent recently hosting a eSports competition for one of its most famous and competitive game Glory of the King (王者荣耀).


Part 3: The obstacles

Mobile games quality too low - You can view it on your mobile, but blow it up onto a big screen in a stadium, well it may still be a bit pixelated. Without the option to be displayed on the big screen, well it’s not a killer factor that will doom the mobile game live-streaming market, but it does leave out an important area that can boost the growth of this market. To put it into perspective, imagine that you only have the option to watch a sports match on TV and not in a stadium, only listen to music via a recorded audio file and can’t go to a live concert etc. Without this, it just doesn’t have the same experience as viewing it live and also minimizes the possibility of offline events.

Lack of a face to a voice - Watching game-streaming is a kind of entertainment, apart from just watching the game and listening to comments, you are also watching the person’s reactions, the disappointment in their face when they lose, the laughs when they win, rather than just a bland ‘tutorial’. Viewers want to see the emotions and want to see a real person’s face in order to connect with the broadcaster on a deeper level. E.g. PewDiePie, MISS etc

Some may question, so why not just hook up a camera to stream the person’s reaction while they are playing? True, that wouldn’t be too hard, but the broadcaster would still be looking at their mobile phones, instead of in the direction of the camera and ‘indirectly’ at the viewers. 

A quick fix would be to just add a clip-on camera to the phone. OK that works, but it does raise another issue. Unlike playing on a computer, people are holding the mobile phone in their hands and are bound to move about in the process, which can disorient the viewers.

I may be wrong, but I personally do believe that this is a major operational/social obstacle that mobile game-streaming will have to overcome in order for it to become more attractive to the target audience, as one of the key difference between a good and bad broadcaster is their ability to connect with the audience.

Perception that gaming is not cool, limiting offline social aspect - a lot of people may be game lovers, playing hours upon hours everyday (including myself at one point), but they may not show it on the surface, because games are typically associated with fun and to the extreme, sometimes even considered as childish. (I once read that the peak usage of live-streaming in China starts at around 8-9pm and goes all the way into the night to around 1-2am) So there is going to be a portion of people who love gaming but will only watch game-streaming alone in their own spare time. In the online world people can create an alternate hidden identity to talk about gaming as much as they want, but the offline social aspects will likely be restricted for a portion of the potential user base. Just look at how many fake accounts there are on Facebook & QQ purely dedicated to playing games!

Technical - as I do not have a technical background, I won’t delve into too much details into this, but just a few brief points or some potential issues

  • Internet/Data connection - without a wire, there are just more systems to go through and more likely that problems can arise during gaming. Data although improving, can still be unstable from time to time.
  • Mismatch between video & sound - this is one of, if not the biggest technical issue facing the live-streaming sector today and requires the highest spec devices to minimize the likelihood of such an occurrence. Phone specs are undoubtedly lower than PC.
  • Screen grab - apparently designing a smooth screen grab function is not as easy it seems, especially on the iPhone, though there are already apps that work, it still requires more work



Overall, the game live-streaming sector is mostly a proven success in China, but the mobile game live-streaming sector still has many social and technical hurdles. Unless there is an innovative new model that will allow mobile game live-streaming to retain at least a similar level of audience engagement or offer notable additional entertainment value over the PC game live-stream market, I don’t think that this market can become bigger than the latter, in China and most other parts of the world.

Data from CNNIC, Tencent Tech, Mobile Hub and various baidu/google searches


If the China mobile gaming market may be something of interest to you, whether you are a developer, in operations, marketing etc. join theLinkedIn Group "Mobile Gaming - China" for more relevant posts in the future

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