12 Things You Need to Know About the Chinese Mobile Games Market

Photo Credit: CeBit Australia

By Lisa Hanson

Lisa Hanson is founder and managing director of Niko Partners, the leading provider of market intelligence and custom research services about the games industry in Asia. Since 2003 the company has provided critical strategic information to the world’s leading game publishers, developers, hardware makers, game service providers, institutional investors, trade associations and policy makers.

Lisa has a deep understanding of the Chinese games market as that has been the focus of her business for 11 years, and she has spent years building our understanding and analyzing the Southeast Asian market and conducting custom research throughout all of Asia using her local perspective and contacts.

The Chinese Mobile Games Market:

1. By next year, there will be more mobile gamers in China than people in the US.

According to Niko Partners’ 2013 Chinese Mobile Games Market Report, in 2012 there were 192 million mobile gamers in China. This year there will be 288 million. In 2014 there will be 390 million. Compare that to the fact that there are 314 million people – total – living in the United States.1

2. Mobile gaming is the fastest growing segment of the entire Chinese games market.

If each of those gamers spends 33 cents per month this year, revenue will reach $1.2 billion, up 60% from last year.2

3. Many Chinese consumers own more than one mobile phone.

It’s not uncommon to see people carrying two or three devices with them at one time. Even in smaller cities where not everyone owns a phone, the ratio of phones to people is more than 125%. Feature still hold the majority share with Symbian as the OS, but the majority of consumers will soon move to smartphones, most of which run on Android. Samsung has the highest market share among Android smartphones.

4. Chinese consumers really like their games.

Mobile app users are spending 40% more time on their devices playing games in 2013 than they did in 2012, and they visit their favorite games 41% more often than in 2012.3

5. Smartphones create gamers.

Mobile gaming has widened gaming from an entertainment source for males in their 20s to an entertainment source for the entire family, with a far greater number of gamers stating that all members of their household are gamers: now that they have smartphones.

6. There are hundreds of app stores and 3rd party app markets.

Less than 20 matter. Still, 20 is a lot to juggle if you are a foreign game developer trying to access that market. The official App Store is the only legitimate point of entry for iOS games, but for Android there are so many options that it is difficult to know where to turn.

7. You need a partner in China.

Partnering with culturalization and distribution platforms such as iDreamSky, Yodo1, and others will get your games in the hands of the most users. You could also access the market via a major game operator, such as Tencent.

8. When social and casual moved to mobile, the money did not follow right away.

PC-based social and casual gaming basically collapsed due to the switch to mobile but the monetization did not immediately shift, because many Chinese were spending money on the smartphones themselves and playing free games. The monetization of mobile games is anticipated to increase in 2014 and beyond.

9. Two words: WeChat.

This is a hugely important channel for mobile games, as gamers have declared the social aspect of gaming its most compelling component. Tencent’s WeChat is the mobile chat tool that has swept China, much like LINE and Kakao Talk have done in Korea and throughout Asia. Tencent launched the Game Center of WeChat 5.0 in August 2013 and now has 5 games including the hit shooter Jing Dian Fei Ji Da Zhan (Airplane War). Tencent also developed four more titles: Tian Tian Lian Meng (Link Link), Tian Tian Ai Xiao Chu (WeMatch), Tian Tian Ku Pao (a running game), and Jie Zou Da Shi (Rhythm Master).

10. Tried and true works in China.

For example, LOCOJOY’s wildly popular I’m MT Online is very similar to the Japanese game Puzzles & Dragons, but with the theme of Blizzard’s Warcraft.

11. Off-color and offbeat works too.

For example, the aforementioned Airplane War became an instant hit because the Chinese translation of “shoot airplanes” is slang for an off-color reference, which became a popular phrase soon after the launch of the game. A casual PC game called Parking War was a hit because people stole each other’s parking places. When Happy Farm was popular people could not get enough of “stealing vegetables.”

12. Competition is fierce.

Mergers and acquisitions are rampant. Tencent claims that 80,000 mobile developers use its platform, and Umeng Analytics states that 50,000 developers are represented in its data. Umeng reports that there are six times as many mobile developers for iOS and Android in China in 2013 than there were in 2012.

1. Source: US Census Bureau
2. Source: Niko Partners 2013 Chinese Mobile Games Market Report
3. Source: Umeng Analytics

Disclosure: Tencent is a Niko Client and Umeng Analytics is a Niko partner.

The complete data behind this article can be found in Niko Partners’ Chinese Mobile Games Market Report 2013. The report includes detailed data on the mobile games market size and forecast, installed mobile handset details, and popular Chinese mobile games titles analyzed in partnership with App Annie’s Beijing office, mobile gamer behavioral data from Niko’s quarterly surveys of 4,000+ gamers, and data on 370 million smartphones analyzed in partnership with Beijing-based Umeng Analytics.

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  • Jean-Claude Cottier

    Incomplete article. As a dev, I would like to know more about 6)
    and 7). Give us the list of the 20 worthy stores, and give us a list of
    trustworthy partners, please. We need an easy way to get in touch with each other, and no-one wants to waste time with “partners” that don’t bring any values to the table.

  • Bram Stolk

    When translating an app, what is more important to target: Simplified Chinese or Traditional Chinese? And how do they relate to Mandarin and Cantonese?

    • Andrew Tang

      -Simplified Chinese characters (written) is used in Mainland China (People’s Republic of China).
      -Traditional Chinese characters (written) is used in Hong Kong & Taiwan.
      -Mandarin is a dialect spoken by Chinese in most regions.
      -Cantonese is a dialect primarily spoken by Chinese in Guangzhou and Hong Kong regions.
      -Most Chinese can read both Simplified and Traditional Chinese characters.
      -Most Chinese can speak both Mandarin and their native provincial dialect (i.e. Cantonese, Shanghainese, etc.).
      If you want to translate an app, you should localize it in both Simplified & Traditional characters in order to cover the Greater China Region. Another consideration is the use of the character combinations (i.e. although the word ‘server’ written in Traditional Chinese uses the same character sets, the character combinations are different in Hong Kong and Taiwan. In Hong Kong ‘server’ is written as ‘服務器’ (fu wu qi), but in Taiwan it’s written as ‘伺服器’ (si fu qi). Most of the time localization is not just a simple Google Translate effort.

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