2017 Summer Trip across China: Chinese Indie Games, Publishers, E-sports, VR & More!

This article will talk about interesting game industry topics (RPG, Strategy Games, MOBA, Game License Number, Publishing in China, IP, monetization, art, risks, etc.) LAI encountered during our summer business trip (May to early August 2017) in China. 

Heading to China

Watching San Francisco’s summertime fog rolling in from the ocean, bringing continuous waves of cold, we decided to celebrate summer in a proper (red hot) way. Across the Pacific, with so many exciting events and lined-up meetings covering hot topics such as new publishing regulations and the rise of indie games in Greater China area, we packed our bags and headed East.

On the way to China, we had a short stop at Singapore, where our CEO gave a presentation, Free Tools and Strategies for Publishing Your Games Globally at Casual Connect Asia 2017. After a short flight, we continued our conversations in major cities in China, the world’s biggest consumer of games.

(Graphic from LAI’s Game Market Analyzer app)

Why China?

China has always been a focus for LAI Global Game Services, as we continue to grow from a game localization provider to a next-generation global publisher. In 2012, LAI had localized Perfect World’s titles for the Brazilian market. The following year, we had our first booth at Chinajoy – this must-attend event is the largest annual game expo in China. Since then, we started working directly with game developers and publishers like Renren games, Longtu, Gaea, Firevale, and SteamyRice from China, helping them expand their territories across the globe. We also worked to bring games back the other way with western titles like SuperHot, Hovercraft, and Aviation Empire, titles that we helped to test, localize and launch in the Greater China area.

During this trip, we attended industry gatherings, visited clients and partners in their offices, built close relationships over dinner, and concluded the tour with Chinajoy (which we actually prefer to call “Sauna-joy” because of both the unavoidable summer heat and humidity, and the passionate but sweaty crowds). Flows of information, interesting thoughts and new ideas were exchanged between the East and the West. We’d love to share some of the most relevant notes to our global game community as part of LAI’s mission to help excellent games become known worldwide.

First Stop: Shanghai

Keywords: Nijigen (二次元), Asymmetrical Server (变态服)

It’s my second time coming to IC Cafe located in Shanghai’s Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park (上海张江科技园) for this kind of smaller-sized industry gathering. Hosted by one of the industry news channels called Game Tea House (游戏茶馆), publishers, distribution channels and developers were asked to pre-register to request a special invitation to get in. Even though it was seen as a small-sized gathering, at least 200 companies registered for the event. Tables were reserved for developers who wanted to demo their projects and get feedback. Most games were mobile projects, but there were a small number of PC games; for example, a PC soccer game developed by a small team from Hangzhou.

Japanese Influence: Nijigen

One of the most exciting mobile games was a “二次元” (nijigen) style RPG game. Nijigen, the Japan-inspired subculture has been spreading like wildfire among Chinese young adults. Nijigen literally means two dimensions. It refers to a type of fictitious setting in books, manga and anime and used in ACG (Anime, Cartoon and Games) subculture. This is in contrast to the real world we live in, called “三次元” (sanjigen) , which literally means three dimensions. After the successful launch of Netease’s Onmyoji game (《阴阳师》),the Nijigen style has brought a lot of attention to both the developers and its young gamers.

(Do an image search  for “二次元” and you’ll get some visual clues about the art style like above result.)

(Under this YouTube video titled “Which one you would choose: Three Dimensional or Two Dimensional?”, almost all comments replied they would choose Two Dimensional.)

A New Trend in China

It is also a great place to network. Among the huge crowd, I spotted many familiar faces. It’s always great to reconnect with industry friends to chat about the market climate and learn about any new trends, regulations, business models and market requirements. For example, during the conversation, I learned “变态服”, or “BT服”[1] (“Asymmetrical Server”) is becoming popular among smaller development teams in China nowadays. When a game comes to the end of its product lifecycle, to attract more users and maximize the ROI, the developer puts their game “on sale” on their official server (usually) by giving the gamers VIP status for free or with huge discounts, or modifying the numbers that control game balance. This brute force approach is intended to revamp asymmetric balance to give the gamers an overwhelmingly satisfying (or shall we call it “overpowering”) experience.

At the event, I was also able to put names and faces together for industry friends who I have conversed or worked with online but never seen in person. (Later on, I am informed that there is a nickname for this type of industry meetup – “meeting your online date” (“见网友”).) Even though a mutual friend’s introduction was always preferable, I enjoyed the open atmosphere while making acquaintances with other professionals on my own and marketing our global publishing and localization service.

Second Stop: Beijing

Keywords: SLG, 玛丽苏(Mary Sue)

Winning western markets is not easy for Asian game companies. But in recent years, a few Chinese companies like Elex (HQ in Beijing) and IGG (HQ and registered in Singapore) made themselves notable in western markets by publishing western style games. To be specific, they’ve generated significant revenue all due to one specific genre: Strategy Games.

One thing to point out is that when referring to “策略游戏” (“strategy games”) in China, people like to use the acronym “SLG”. [2] It is confusing because in western terminology, SLG usually stands for Simulation Game.

Bringing Chinese Games West

In Beijing, we connected with developers that hope to achieve success in western markets with various game genres and approaches[3]: from mid-core SLG to story-mode casual games. There is a 20-person development team that just got their SLG game featured on Google Play; they hope to become the next Elex or Kabam. Much like Silicon Valley, these former colleagues started their own venture when they saw a better way to work on a project together with a leaner and flatter structure.

On the other side of the array, some developers hope to win western gamers with their unique content utilizing fun and young Asian culture. One challenge to face is content localization. It is a battle between keeping a more authentic style or massaging the content with more local flavor. It is no easy job to tell a foreign-setting story in another language while keeping the original cultural elements. It is tricky to handle translating non-equivalent concepts, and economical and cultural values. The talented and creative localizers have to figure out a way to convey the message that makes sense to users in the most natural way. As a localizer myself, the whole process of struggling to produce amazing cultural products is a true form of performing art. If you are interested in reading more about visual adaptation, check out the transcription of Game Art Internationalization and Localization – An “East Meet West” interview by LAI.

The Race to Purchase IPs

Sitting in a conference room called “玛丽苏“ (“Mary Sue”) next to the famous Xi’erqi (西二旗) Station [4]in Beijing, we were invited to discuss the localization and publishing issues for a Chinese company that targets the teenager/young female market. They hosted a community-based AVG (Adventure) game site where everyone could make their own story mode game. Even though it came from a niche market idea, its 1940,000+ members have created 5370,000 projects with 750,000 under review and 30,000 published after audit, as of Oct. 2016. Its 1200 professional contractors also authored 8500 story-mode games. Unlike many Chinese game companies that need to purchase a IP license from well-known movies or manga series to attract user traffic, this platform has a fan-based community and has already generated many well-known IPs themselves. They’ve reversed the order that a game is an after-film product by owning their own IPs and producing films based on them for additional revenue.

Innovative Monetization

I was also quite amazed at how they’ve innovated the monetization, using not just one method, but many. For example, the gamers can pay tributes (flowers) to authors to encourage them to speed up and upload the next episodes; the authors can launch an auction allowing the highest bidder to  make decisions about where the plot will go; the gamers can pay for a feature called “God’s View” which unlocks extra content and allows the gamers to see the future or obtain a high-level understanding about the plot; the gamers can purchase extra tokens to get a hi-res poster with amazing details and fine art of the game with their favorite character…

However, the risk to consider when exporting this model is whether the game will generate enough interest and attract a large enough user base. The solutions we have come up with are a combination of PR campaigns, special interest forums, and building an English community base with both new IP content from local writers and existing Chinese games that are well-localized.

Third Stop: Chengdu

Keywords: CP, Game license (版号)

The article How to Be A B2B Pro When Working with Chinese Mobile Game Companies I wrote will give some pointers if you’re interested in navigating the market yourself. It also talks about the major game hubs in China. Chengdu is one of them. In the article, I also explained an often-used acronym which defines most companies in Chengdu:

CP = Content Provider = Game Developer

Chengdu, Strategic City of Game Industry on Hardcore Gamers published in June 2016 gives a good overall description of Chengdu. Most game companies are located in Tianfu Software Park (天府软件园). Game Tea House (located there as well) published an article with a map covering this in August 2017.

For instance, the development team TiMi-L1 (天美) studio behind the most famous mobile game in China nowadays, Strike of King (《王者荣耀》,also called King of Honor), is located here. (We will also talk more about this game later in this article.) In the recent GamesIndustry.biz podcast, you may also find content about Ubisoft’s Chengdu office. (However, China is not part of SE Asia. So Chengdu should not be considered as part of Southeast Asia market.)

I want to circle back to my B2B article which was written in 2014. Back then, the Chinese government didn’t require the licensing approval process. Thus, partnership with local Chinese publishers was not a must on the list at that time. You can find a lot of buzz on the internet nowadays talking about this. Basically, a game must have a game license number in order to be published in China. In order to get the license, the publisher or press and publishing houses must meet the qualification standards to apply for licenses. LAI is very knowledgeable about this situation and connected with the local game publishing community. Should you need help, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us @ info@lai.com.

On August 12, 2017, GameLook’s official WeChat account posted an article saying that no South Korean companies (NCsoft, Netmarble) have been able to get any game licenses approved for publishing in China because of the political situation (THAAD deployment) since March, according to Yonhap News Agency, South Korea’s largest News Agency.

Fourth Stop: Shenzhen

Keywords: Tencent, Indie Games

On July 1, as Hong Kong commemorated the 20th anniversary of its return to China, President Xi witnessed signing of Greater Bay Area development agreement. Clustered with tech companies, and home to Tencent the largest video game company in the world (though it makes most of its money domestically), Shenzhen is the stop we wouldn’t want to miss. This article Can China’s “Greater Bay Area” Match Its New Year and San Francisco Counterparts? gives some good information about Guangdong – Hong Kong – Macau Greater Bay Area.

Tencent

According to DFC Intelligence’s report on mobile game companies released in July 2017, “China has become the world leader in games and Tencent is far and away the leading player in China.” Many believe that Tencent’s distribution coverage of WeChat and QQ has contributed heavily to its success in games with user acquisition and profiling advantages. At LAI, we used WeChat on a daily basis when in China – for instance, messaging with our clients, calling a DiDi taxi, using WeChat Pay to pay vendors on the street. Here is an article from the Economist which gives a good overview of WeChat.

One Tencent game I personally like to play is Strike of Kings. It is a MOBA game that was launched in 2015 and has many similar features to Riot Games’ League of Legends (Riot Games is also owned by Tencent). Compared to LoL, it has shorter sessions, smaller maps and simpler controls. Therefore, it also attracts many casual gamers (especially young female users) that had never played this type of game before. It is so popular that it has become a socializing phenomenon among students – if you don’t play the game and talk about which heroes you like or not, you will feel left out at school. However, its addictive gameplay also concerns a lot of parents. After People’s Daily published an article echoing these parents’ voices, reports say Tencent lost $17.5 billion in market value. Tencent has responded to the social issue by adding a daily time limit of one hour for players under the age of 12, banning them from logging into the game after 9pm, and a daily limit of two hours for players between the ages of 12 and 18.

(Strike of Kings’ login page)

Growing Popularity of E-Sports

I remember before I kicked off my summer trip, one early morning I was awakened by my parents’ “urgent” WeChat messages sent from China (their afternoon). They took photos about an E-sports scene with young crowds in their favorite shopping mall. The message said “We saw a large crowd – mostly young people- applauding and cheering in front of a big screen. We wanted to share their excitement, so sat down for half an hour to watch. But we failed to understand what was going on and felt left out. The world is developing so fast and we need your help to follow up!” It turned out that Strike of King ’s championship was hosted in this mall. The spacious hall area near the entrance of the mall used to be the retailer’s battlefield to do special promotions showcasing their newest products. But nowadays, E-sports is taking over the foot traffic audience.

With other news like “E-sports major offered by Chinese universities”, “creating an entire town dedicated to E-sports ”, and “15 billion Esports investment in the next 5 years” , I couldn’t wait to catch up with my friend who works as a project manager for E-sports promotions at Tencent IEG when I was in Shenzhen. Before the visit, I asked if I could come later in the day because of the summer heat. She answered of course, because her normal days wouldn’t end until 11pm (sometimes even between 1-3am). There were many takeaways from the 5 hour conversation, from hot topics like how live streaming on most popular channels becomes one of the most illuminating PR and marketing efforts for Strike of Kings, to high-level questions like how Tencent keeps scaling up in games as a giant by being vigilant of the market and encouraging its internal and external partners with inter-team competition.

The Rise of Indie Developers in China

Many industry friends joke about the current market situation. “There are only two game companies in China now: Tencent and Others.” To battle against a winner-takes-all situation, the concept of “indie games” is starting to spread around in China. Though only within one short year, it has shifted its meaning from a game that is created by a small group of developers without the financial support of a publisher to a game that has a unique art style and creative gameplay that does not normally follow the tried-and-true formula of “IP + market-proven code + changed art/skin”, so common with bigger investment games. It’s the publishers that are often in the “Others” category who want to be a part of the movement and are investing heavily in this trend.

We met with two companies in Shenzhen who have similar needs. They hoped to import westernindie games” to China, and asked for LAI’s help. They are not alone. Other Chinese publishers from Chengdu, Beijing and Shanghai have also signed partner agreements with LAI. They each have a unique specialty in genre and attribution channels. If you are a developer that is interested in checking out China’s market, we can match you up with one of these publishers who are eager for creative western style games.

(A western developer talks about their experience as their game was taken down by the Chinese government without a proper game license in China at this year’s Chinajoy. )

Teaming up with DFC Intelligence, LAI developed a free tool GMA (Game Market Analyzer) app for iOS to support the global game community powered by actual global market data and match-making service on the app. Here is the Press Release for more info. We are always adding regional publishers and partners to our free app. To support this initiative, our team is running an official GMA contest with free game localization as the price.

Last Stop: Shanghai (Chinajoy)

Keywords: VR
Chinajoy is the largest annual game show in China and Asia. It is held in Shanghai New International Expo Center each year around the end of July, usually 3 days for B2B exhibition area and 4 days for B2C. There are also conferences with different themes (CDEC/CGBC/CGDC/WMGC) going on at the same time, and an area for Cosplay competition. It is the busiest time for BD (business development) professionals during the year. Industry organizations and large companies will also sponsor events in the afternoon or for after-event parties in the night. It is very common for a BD to attend 4 or 5 parties or private gatherings each day to meet as many industry friends as possible. At least one of the dinner gatherings will be spicy crayfish.

VR

A big difference I noticed this year compared to last year is the intensity of VR. Last year, VR sessions had the largest ballroom and were packed with excited people at the CGDC conference. Well, this year, it was in the corner room at the very end of the hall. William, one of the speakers for the VR session started his speech with “only the real VR fans are in the room now”.  At VR sessions, most of the speakers gave a good overview on their target gamers and platforms from their perspectives. Besides choosing a good theme and storyline, user behavior seems to be the center of game design consideration. For instance, as HTC has invested heavily in China for its VR experience stores, HTC Vive is usually considered by developers presented in Chinajoy as an experience-oriented device generating big movements (when standing up) and exhilaration in a short period of time for first time VR users, like shooting games. PSVR is considered as a home device that hardcore gamers play sitting down and are more comfortable spending a longer time on a more immersive story mode game.

Here are some additional information from Tencent about VR market consumer profiling in China.

(Source from: https://virtualrealitypop.com/6-things-you-need-to-know-about-chinese-vr-market-ccd8a5c5b85c)

In conclusion, it was a very rewarding trip, reconnecting with industry friends while getting updates on the biggest game market on the planet and establishing new partnerships.

If you’re interested in knowing more about any of the topics I’ve touched on in this article, or if you have any other questions about terms I’ve used, or anything about global publishing or China publishing, feel free to shoot me an e-mail (michelle@lai.com) or LAI (info@lai.com). We may be able to help out.

About LAI Global Game Services

LAI Global Game Services is a full service game localization, marketing, and publishing company with 25 years of experience in the video game industry.

LAI opened its doors in 1993, back when the original Doom was released!

The company’s free iOS app, the Game Market Analyzer (GMA), is available on the App Store. GMA helps developers and publishers easily assess the best global markets for their games.

Feedback submitted about GMA to info@lai.com can qualify you for a chance to win free game localization! (Read contest details for more information.)


[1] Later on, I found an interesting article by Game House’s CEO Jialun Wang about the popularity of BT服 among smaller developers who have difficulty applying for a game license. It is only available in Chinese though: https://zhuanlan.zhihu.com/p/27577381

[2] Reference from Baidu Zhidao (Baidu knowledge): https://zhidao.baidu.com/question/5019620.html)

[3] There is a four-character saying in Chinese: 殊途同归 (reach the same goal with different approaches).

[4] Xi’erqi Station is next to Zhongguancun Science Park – many people consider it as China’s Silicon Valley. Xi’erqi is also famous for being crowded in rush hour. Business Insider featured it back in 2013 with a video.

How To Be A B2B Pro When Working With Chinese Mobile Game Companies

How To Be A B2B Pro When Working With Chinese Mobile Game Companies

By Michelle Zhao, Managing Director – Greater China, LAI Global Game Services

Before we get into the data, let’s take a look around China:

Waiting in queues

In the subway car

The lucrative market

By the end of 2013, China had a $13 billion revenue game industry and 490 million players according to GPC, the China Game Publishers Association Publications Committee. Accounting for $1.8 billion, with 310 million mobile gamers, the mobile gaming market has been especially hot, seeing the largest growth in 2013 after rising 246.9% from the previous year. With the open policy of 4G license issuing (Dec. 2013) and economic growth in 2nd and 3rd tier cities, more people are expected to play mobile games. It is estimated that hardcore mobile games will be taking over half of the mobile game market in 2014. (Hardcore game mobile growth: 8% in 2008, 42% in 2013, 52% est. in 2014[1])

(From Newzoo’s report on Chinese Video Game Market 2013)

Though a business partner is not required for mobile games (according to Chinese law, foreign companies must partner with a Chinese service provider to run their online games in the country), the complex and highly fragmented market structure raises the bar extremely high for foreign companies to enter. Many times, local partners and 3rd party agencies are necessary to assist you with localization and publishing.

Characteristics of the market

 The Chinese mobile game market shows different characteristics from western markets:

 

  • Most Chinese mobile gamers started playing online games first, so they are more into games with interactive modes (playing with groups, or pvp fighting).

 

  • There are over 200 publishing and distribution platforms and stores in China. Since Google Play is not widely available in China and the Android market has captured over half of the market, major app stores like 360 Mobile Assistant, Tencent MyApp, Wandoujia, UC AppStore, Gfan Market, the Baidu app store, Anzhi Market, and Alibaba are considered the key to the market.

  • Android stores operated by the three main mobile carriers (China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom) have a very significant market share (up to 30% by some estimates[2]); carrier billing is the dominant billing channel for Android apps.

 

  • Revenue share doesn’t favor game developers (just last year it was between 90/10 and 50/50 publisher/developer) but it is getting better for developers.

 

  • Preloading by handset manufacturers plays an important role in distribution.

 

How to approach developers and publishers

 

Mobile game developers in China often work in teams of 10-15, or sometimes even smaller. With limited capital and unfavorable revenue share, they seek publishers to put up all the money (revenue share and a minimum distribution guarantee) so they are often passive during negotiations.

 

As mentioned earlier, publishing a mobile game in China is more complex than in the West due in part to the number of app stores, overlapping roles of publisher/app store/3rd party companies, and multiple revenue shares. Publishers usually lead the marketing campaigns, and perform other necessary adaptations and efforts.

 

Talk the talk

 

The most frequent word you will hear spoken by industry people at industry gatherings is “distribution channel” (“Qudao” or“渠道”). Compared to its neighbor Japan, China has more variety in terms of marketing and distribution channels. In Japan, the marketing approach is more straightforward: 3 to 4 marketing companies and ads on TV (6 channels). Game quality speaks more than distribution. However, in China, the big players show their own prowess to sell their games: Punchbox (Chukong) will seek money from VCs and make huge investments on ads; Tencent uses its platform to get all the consumers’ attention; Shanda puts more effort on branding their games.

 

English acronyms are often used in China as industry jargon. However, be aware of the differences– they might not mean what you think. Here are a few examples: At a game show event in the B2B area, you will often hear lots of BDs (business development folks) say they’re looking for “CP”. “CP” here stands for “content provider”. However, it is actually equivalent to “game developer” in English-speaking markets.

 

Another common term is “SP” (service provider), which refers to companies who offer B2B services such as monetization, app store optimization, and in-game ads.

Also, some famous mobile game titles are often referred to by acronyms like “COC” for “Clash of Clans”. Similar acronyms are often used when referring to game genre.

 

Cities

 

  • Beijing: This is where more established companies and many indie gamers are located. Zhongguan Village is considered to be the next Silicon Valley by many international investors.
  • Shanghai and surrounding area: Also has more established companies.  Usually companies have their marketing office in Shanghai and R&D in neighboring cities, Suzhou and Hangzhou.
  • Chengdu: Tianfu Software Park is where most video game companies reside. Bigger companies like Perfect World, Tencent, Ubisoft and Shanda have their R&D center or development team here. This area also has many smaller, newer companies, many with an overseas market focus.
  • Guangzhou and Shengzhen: This area has many game developers who were originally in the online game business, and are now shifting focus into mobile gaming.
  • Nanjing: Big carrier companies have their gaming operations here.
  • Dalian: Many video game and software parks with a long outsourcing history are located here (a large percentage are devoted to IT outsourcing for Japan).

Major conferences/shows and inside-circle parties

 

Shanghai: ChinaJoy (largest, national), Game Connection Asia, GDC-Asia

Beijing: GMIC, GMGC, TFC

Chengdu: GMGDC

Guangzhou: Guangzhou Game Show

 

Inside-circle parties are usually hosted by large publishing companies during a conference or show week. Sometimes they are closed-door events. You often need to get an invite from a connection/friend in the industry and pre-register, as the seats are limited. Be prepared for a huge crowd and bring a few hundred business cards and a happy face. Usually there are no rules about formal dress, and most attendees come dressed in business casual. Some events are hosted in a casual atmosphere: a huge café shop, a roof club, or even in nightclubs. As a well-connected industry BD (business developer) during a major conference week, it’s common to attend several parties in one night. For example, last GMGDC (Nov. 2013 in Chengdu), there were 20 inside-circle parties in 4 nights. A well-connected BD in China knows who is the key contact of your potential partner/clients to talk to and always follows the market trends and their competitors’ next move.

 

Social Media

 

WeChat groups (US equivalent: WhatsApp): you can register a few local game community groups and add friends here. Each day you can monitor what is going on by reading their posts.

QQ group chat (US equivalent: skype): Some event organizers will invite you to join their chat group too, e.g.: ChinaJoy.

Weibo (US equivalent: Twitter)

Doubai/Renren (US equivalent: Google+/Facebook)

Buzz.com (US equivalent: Meetup)

(Social Media Marketing Channels in China in 2014)

 

Know how to follow up

 

Chinese B2B contacts appreciate more direct communication compared to the West. Many of them prefer to keep in contact with you via phone and WeChat.

 

The video game industry is a young industry in China, and so is the average age of its industry professionals (born in 1980s and 1990s). It is not hard to start a conversation as almost everyone in the industry carries a passion for games and an open mind to new things. However, one thing you often find is that these highly mobile professionals won’t stay with one company for too long. I know of a few cases where people changed their email address after only 3 months – because they had already changed employers! At a party, someone once told me they considered themselves to be an industry veteran because they stayed with one company for a surprisingly long time – two entire years(!)

 

When making contacts at Chinese game companies, the BD is the first person you’ll talk to. Once they understand your purpose to engage with their company (or say they are convinced that your service provides potential value to them), they will refer you to the director of the internal department you are interested in talking to.

 

Though most industry professionals are from the younger generation and many have studied overseas, you still can’t ignore the importance of Guanxi (connections) when you are doing business in China. It is a unique skill to have – it is a combination of art and techniques of building your network with real work, friendship, trust, favors, dinners, and parties.

 

Final remarks

 

Chinese companies view western companies as prestigious but they tend to worry that foreigners do not understand the business culture necessary to get work done in China. Larger companies or some small companies whose founders have overseas experience should be able to communicate with English-speaking companies adequately, but for deeper engagement and networking, it is necessary that you have some employees who are proficient in Chinese. If that’s not feasible, you should consider working through 3rd party companies who have the expertise and the necessary language skills.

 

LAI Global Game Services (a unit of Language Automation, Inc.) can help you navigate the complex business climate and marketing and publishing challenges needed to achieve success in the China market.

 

Feel free to contact me directly (michelle@lai.com) and I’ll be happy to provide assistance and guidance.

 

 



[1] Data from App Operation Group (App运营之家, A Chinese industry WeChat group)

[2] Reference: Newzoo’s  2014 China Games Market Trend Report

从游戏本地化视角看新兴的中国游戏机市场

从游本地化角看新的中国游机市

作者:赵梦雪,美国LAI(Language Automation, Inc.)大中华区执行长

Rory Schussler, 特别通讯员

译者:赵梦雪

 

一月初,中国政府解除了长达13年的游戏主机生产和销售禁令,给中国游戏市场未来注入一支新的兴奋剂。然而, 面对这个机会,要想知道大型游戏主机厂商是否能成功把握,还时机尚早。(任天堂表示至今未有进入中国市场的计划,索尼雄心勃勃,计划在2014年3月出售500万台PS4 。)政策的修改细节还未颁布。内容限制会对游戏设计造成问题。盗版和水货市场也令人担忧。摆在我们面前的最大的挑战,是如果适应独特的中国市场。

让我们把镜头转向13年前,任天堂的马里奥给中国的小朋友们带来诸多欢乐,这一点和美国的情形毫无差异。但当中国向主机游戏市场关掉大门时起,世界的其他地方却进入了被称为第六代游戏机时代。索尼的Playstation 2 ,微软的Xbox和任天堂GameCube成三国鼎力之势。游戏行业自始而来,游戏大多都针对男性(青年和大龄儿童)开发。目标受众,也就是如今所称的“铁杆(hardcore)玩家” 要求复杂且具有挑战性的游戏,同时画面感也要极好。尽管在行业拥有最久的历史,并有知名的专营连锁,任天堂在当时却落后于它的竞争对手。2005年,当业界继续将相同的设计理念应用于新一代游戏机时,任天堂却用了一条不同的策略。Wii的开发与传统制造智慧背道而驰,让任天堂发现了一个曾经被忽略的全新的市场。与Xbox 360和PlayStation 3相比,任天堂发布了一个不那么强大的主机与一个完全不同的运动控制系统。简单而直观的游戏一炮打响了家庭和大龄市场。任天堂在硬件上节约了成本, 其销售更胜过了它的竞争对手,其结果是索尼和微软在几年后都纷纷效仿,推出了自己的运动控制系统 。

 

类似的情形再次重现。一个14亿人口市场向我们开放。根据IDC分析认为,一旦禁令被完全解除,在未来几年,中国将称为最大的游戏机市场。摆在我们面前的问题是,怎样的创新和策略能用来获取这曾被忽略的玩家市场。要赢得中国玩家,优质的本地化是必要的。做好优质的本地化游戏产品, 可以从以下几个方面来考虑:文化调节,法律问题,商业化和技术。

文化调节

除画面感外,最能让游戏玩家投入游戏的是UI界面,当然,它必须是玩家自己的语言。好的翻译就是在讲游戏里的故事,风趣生动,用语符合玩家口味,并根据游戏不同时期的背景译出符合其时代特点的语言风格,达到浸入式的游戏体验。同时,游戏的语音对话应提供字幕或配音。在许多情况下,人物形象和情节改编是必要的,对当地的文化更具吸引力。如果游戏故事中涉及历史事件,一定要检查涉及的游戏内容是否属实。在游戏测试阶段,让当地玩家来验证符号和宗教元素在当地的正确使用往往是非常重要的。

(台湾游戏展showgirl)

 

(ChinaJoy showgirl)

对大多数游戏开发者来说,很难辨清哪些是文化观念的差异。就拿颜色来说,当中国人见红色,一般象征吉祥,给人幸福和欢乐的感觉。可在大多数西方文化中却似乎完全相反 – 让人联想到暴力和鲜血。但是,不要以为“红色就意味着吉祥”适用于所有情况。比如说在餐厅结帐时递过来一只红笔来签字,就让中国人很恼火(这是我在美国经常遇见的情况…) 这一忌讳是从死刑问斩的历史演故而来的:犯人名字是用红笔写在押号上,以候处决。所以用红笔写自己的名字是相当不吉利的一件事!

小浣熊在中国是多么可爱的一个形象,还是一个干脆面的品牌代言。但在美国确像老鼠一样人人喊打。东西方龙的形象又是一个例子。调整文化概念和理解上的不同,还有很多值得考究的地方:某些数字的象征含义,日期和时间的表达法,不同历律的节假日等。想要保证所有细节都没错,最好办法是咨询有经验的游戏国际化和本地化专家。他们可以帮助你避开忌讳的风俗和习惯,并给游戏添彩,让你的游戏在全球大卖。

如今,游戏的营销少不了社交媒体的帮忙。尽管Facebook, Youtube和Twitter风靡全世界,但在中国大陆却并非流行。中国国内有一套自己完整的社交生态圈(见下图),基本每个工具都和国外的功能相对应。在LAI公司,我们经常帮助客户寻找正确的营销和发行渠道,尤其在大中华地区和美洲,我们有很多游戏平台和社区的合作伙伴。

营销时机在各地也有所不同。台湾游戏同行很关注台风季,这时玩家都宅在家,有更多时间来玩游戏。中国新年前,也是最忙的时节。在美国,圣诞节是玩家得到最多游戏礼物的时间。

法律问题

相比文化意识,政府法规对游戏的发行要求更苛刻。我们在前面的文化部分谈到了红色。在德国,游戏中红色的鲜血被规定替换成绿色或蓝色。很多其他国家也有自己的游戏评级标准 (如澳大利亚常被认为有很严格的评审),为适合的特定年龄群体进行游戏分类。

虽然中国没有年龄评级系统,但政府的审查却并不松代。一个月前,战地4遭中国封杀,因为政府认为它对国家安全构成威胁。据中国电子游戏信息门户网站17173.com报道,超过40家外国游戏都没有被允许在中国销售 。

 

中国游戏产业网上有游戏在中国发行的相关政策。有几点值得开发商注意的是:

1. 内容限制 – 被禁止的:淫秽,色情,赌博,暴力,迷信,民族歧视,危害国家安全,等等。

2. 所有的进口网络游戏(包括台湾/香港/澳门)需要找一个中国本土游戏公司发布:要么合作出版或自行发布。

3. 保护未成年防止沉迷网络游戏,并对18岁以下的玩家游戏销售有更严厉的规定,如实名登录等。

主机游戏现有的商业模式不适合中国市场。目前存在的主机市场,游戏往往要花费2000-3000万美元制作,单价售出60美金 。较便宜和老款游戏虽然只有其1/3的价格,但一下子让中国玩家拿出120元还是很高的。泛滥的盗版问题和中国玩家的支付模式偏好,启迪了中国游戏商家大多采用free-to-play模式。 而主机游戏玩家也大部分在水货市场购买了游戏机,习惯了买盗版游戏光盘。很难想象中国游戏消费者会支付同样价格购买正版主机游戏。

(国内的盗版机)

值得注意的是,主机游戏行业里已经开始有不同的计价模式,并越来越受欢迎。所有的当代游戏机都有网上在线市场,可以下载购买经典游戏、小游戏、低价游戏。大预算的主机游戏也开始流行可下载内容的销售,尽管它和目前中国游戏市场运作有所不同。(虽然free-to-play模式已在美国休闲和手机游戏玩家中取得一定的成功,但铁杆玩家不喜欢游戏内存在用支付手段取得竞争优势。 )重要的是,市场已经开始向新的方向移动,结构都已到位,可以为新兴的游戏机市场制定独特的定价模式。

对中国市场来讲,游戏和可下载内容的数字销售前景客观。在线系统越来越多地应用于防止盗版。中研普华的研究显示,2012年,在主机游戏解禁前,水货市场销售了约4百万台主机(包括掌机)。然而,这些游戏机无法和其他游戏机联机,一同在线玩游戏。建立主机游戏的官方网络能阻止用水货和盗版的玩家进行游戏,不让他们进入游戏网络。游戏机的数字销售也消除了物流成本,避免了中间商和游戏转售。

 

科技

主机游戏解禁几天后,华为在拉斯维加斯的消费电子展上推出了其首款安卓系统游戏机Tron。TCL也发布了制造其自己的游戏主机计划。国内公司开始在主机游戏市场初露端倪,但微软、任天堂和索尼电脑娱乐公司被许多人认为是游戏机解禁中最能受益的赢家。主机游戏需要巨大的投资和长时间的制作,而没有成熟的技术和行业知识的公司很容易就会失败。

一旦AAA游戏广泛进入中国市场,游戏市场格局将转向对视听效果更高科技的要求,游戏玩法也会要求更复杂多样。10年前,3D游戏在世界各地开始盛行,而如今2D/2.5D游戏开发在中国还是最常见(Cocos2D pk Unity 3D)。在不同的平台发布游戏时,技术兼容性的困难时经常发生。国内企业通常只有有限的主机游戏设计和发行资源。

国内公司对游戏玩家喜好(题材风格、情景设计、流行趋势)和游戏度量(metrics)有更好的把握。对进口游戏的改编也有更多经验。在2013年9月,微软第一个与中国公司百视通组建合资企业。主机游戏市场的未来给这样取长补短的中外合资公司提供优势,使双方从合作关系的协同效应中获利。而给不希望形成这种深度合作伙伴公司的公司提供了另一种解决方案,是与经验丰富的本地化和出版机构合作。

中国游戏机市场的开放给游戏开发者和主机制造商带来了很多的挑战,但同样带来了巨大商机。最先进入中国市场获得绝对竞争优势的公司将是那些最先找到针对中国玩家的成功营销方案、并能在中国市场立足的公司。

在LAI,自1993年以来,我们一直与索尼及国际上许多其他成功的电子游戏公司合作 。我们拥有齐全的游戏本地化和海外出版解决方案。用我们的经验助你走过所有发行步骤, 让你的产品推向市场。

 

Perspectives on Game Localization for the Emerging Chinese Console Game Market

Perspectives on Game Localization for the Emerging Chinese Console Game Market

By Michelle Zhao, LAI’s Managing Director for Greater China and Rory Schussler, Special Correspondent

Earlier this January, China lifted a 13 year ban on the sale and manufacture of gaming consoles. This has generated great excitement about the future of the video game industry in China, but it is still too early to know how successful the big console players will be in taking advantage of this opportunity. (Nintendo has said they have no plans so far for entering the Chinese market; Sony is making ambitious plans to sell 5 million PS4s by March, 2014.)

We’re still waiting on more details from the government on how the change in regulation is going to work. Restrictions on content are an issue for game designers. Piracy and the grey market are major concerns. The biggest challenge is how to adapt to the differences of the Chinese market.

Let’s go back in time 13 years. Nintendo’s Mario was almost as much of an iconic presence to Chinese children as he was to Americans. While China was closing its doors to consoles, in the rest of the world gaming was entering what is known as the sixth generation of consoles, where the major competitors were the Sony Playstation 2, the Microsoft Xbox, and the Nintendo Gamecube. From the beginning of the video game industry, games were targeted towards an audience that was mostly male and aged child to young adult. The target audience (a group which is now referred to as “hardcore gamers”) demanded more complicated and challenging games with better graphics. Despite having the longest history in the industry and a line of well-known franchises, Nintendo was falling behind its competitors. When the industry continued with the same design philosophy working on a new generation of consoles in 2005, Nintendo went with a different strategy. With the Nintendo Wii, the company went against the conventional wisdom and discovered an entire new market that had been ignored before. In contrast to the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3, Nintendo released a less powerful console with a radically different motion control system. The simple and intuitive games were a hit with families and older generations. By saving money on cheaper hardware, Nintendo’s sales outdid its competition so well that Sony and Microsoft both came out with their own motion control systems a few years afterward.

What’s going on now is a similar situation. A market of over 1.4 billion people has opened up. According to IDC analysts, in the next few years, China is going to be the largest console game market once the ban is lifted completely. The big question is what kind of innovation or strategy can be used to capture the formerly ignored population. Quality localization is necessary to win Chinese gamers. There are a few aspects of localization to consider: culturalization, legal issues, monetization, and technology.

Culturalization

Besides artwork, the first thing to get gamers connected and immersed in your game is the UI that is written in their own language. When talking about the language “Chinese”, many people get confused by a few terms: Cantonese, Mandarin, Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese. Cantonese and Mandarin usually refer to dialects.

There are actually many different dialects in China. Cantonese is spoken by people from the Canton area which is in the very south of China (many early immigrants in the US are from Canton.) Mandarin is the national/official language, originating from Beijing and the Northeast of China. People from Taiwan and Singapore also speak Mandarin.

Simplified and traditional are usually referring to writing systems. Simplified is used in Mainland China and Singapore, while traditional is used in Hongkong and Taiwan. Many people who understand traditional may not read simplified very well, and vice versa. The good news is that since the language is concise, most of the time you don’t have to worry about the maximum length of the characters for UI design.

A good translation offers vivid story-telling and period-accurate language, which is essential to a great gameplay experience. Providing subtitles or voice-overs in the targeted market are necessary for dialogue. In many circumstances, character and plot adaptation are preferred in order to appeal to the local culture. It is always necessary to fact check, if historic events are included in the game. Asking local gamers to verify the correct use of symbols and religious elements is often important during the testing phase.

 (showgirl @ Taipei Game Show)

(Showgirls @ ChinaJoy – China’s largest video game exhibition)

Differences on cultural notions are not always obvious for game developers. Take colors for example – when Chinese people see red, generally they relate it to auspicious, happy and festive feelings. Its usage seems quite opposite in most western cultures – it is associated with violence and blood. However, don’t assume that “Red is good luck” in all situations. A Chinese person could feel quite offended if offered a red pen to sign the bill in a restaurant – in historic times, only prisoners who were sentenced to death had their names written in red ink. Many Chinese people still believe it will bring them bad luck.

Raccoons are cute and used as a mascot in branding in China, but are considered pests in America. Dragons are another well-known example. There are plenty of other things to be aware of in culturalization: superstition surrounding numbers, display of dates, and Chinese holidays under the lunar calendar, etc. The best way to make sure you’ll get it right is to consult with an experienced internationalization/localization professional working in the game industry. They will be able to make sure all the taboos are untouched and give you better alternatives to boost your game sales in China.

Social media are very helpful and trendy tools to support game marketing, but Facebook, Youtube and Twitter are not available in Mainland China, even though they may be used widely throughout the rest of the world. China has a totally separate social media ecosystem, but it can be confusing at times (see the following chart showing the correspondence with other platforms). At LAI, we are experts at navigating China’s social media ecosystem and frequently help our clients with marketing initiatives in China.

Marketing opportunities can vary in each area. In Taiwan, the game industry takes advantage of typhoon seasons since everyone stays at home and plays games. In mainland China, the busiest period is before Chinese New Year.

Legal Issues

Compared to cultural awareness, government regulations are even harsher. We talked about the color red in the cultural section earlier. In Germany, gore is replaced by green or blue in games. Many other countries also have their ratings boards to classify games as appropriate for certain age groups.

Though China does not have a system for age rating, its censorship is also very strict. A month ago, Battlefield 4 was banned in China because the government viewed it as a threat to national security. According to Chinese video game information portal 17173.com, more than 40 foreign games have not been allowed to be sold in China over the years.

This Chinese game industry official website provides video game publishing rules and regulations in China.

A few things for developers to note:

  1. Content restriction- these are forbidden: obscenity, pornography, gambling, violence, superstition, illegal trade enrichment and endangering national security, etc.
  2. All imported online games (including from Taiwan/Hongkong/Macau) need to find a Chinese local game company to publish: either co-publish or self-publish.
  3. There are strict rules on selling games to gamers under 18. Often, real name log-ins are required to play certain types of games.

Monetization

The current business model for console games doesn’t fit China very well. In the existing console market, a game tends to cost around $20-$30 million to make, and sells to consumers at $60. Even cheaper and older games only drop to about a third of that, and 120 RMB is still very high for a Chinese gamer. The majority of Chinese gaming works on the free-to-play model due to the high degree of piracy. Most gamers who are interested in consoles have already purchased illegally imported systems, and are accustomed to playing bootlegged games. Consumers would refuse to pay the same prices that people do elsewhere in the world.

(copycat consoles)

Different pricing models have already taken root though, and are becoming more popular. All of the current-generation consoles have online marketplaces where classic games or smaller and less expensive games can be purchased and downloaded digitally. The sale of downloadable content is becoming increasingly prevalent in big-budget console titles, although it is different from how the present Chinese market works. (While the free-to-play model has had some success with American casual and mobile gamers, hardcore gamers tend to reject any game where players can pay for a competitive advantage.) What is important is that the market has started to move in new directions, and structures are already in place to accommodate a unique pricing model for the emerging console market.

Digital sales of games and content is promising for the Chinese market. Online systems are increasingly used to prevent piracy. (Shenzhen) Zero Power Intelligence’s research shows about 4 million consoles (including handheld) were bought in China from the grey market before the ban lifted in 2012. However, such consoles are unable to play anything other than local multiplayer, and cannot connect to other players. Establishing an official network for a console can prevent anyone from playing on an illegally modified console or game disk, and ban them from the network. Digital sales on consoles also avoids the physical costs of shipping to retail stores, eliminates the middleman, and prevents resale of games.

Technology

Huawei unveiled its first Android powered game console Tron at CES in LV, only a few days after the government’s policy change. TCL also has plans on manufacturing its own console.

(Huawei’s Tron)

Domestic companies are making their debut in the console field, though Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony Computer Entertainment are considered by many as the best poised to benefit from the lifting of the ban on consoles. Console games require huge investments and long production times; companies without mature technology and industry know-how will easily fail.

Once AAA games become widely available, the landscape of the market will shift and the demand for high-tech visuals, sound and gameplay will increase. Ten years ago, 3D gaming became prevalent in the rest of the world, while 2D/2.5D is still the most common technology used among Chinese game developers (Cocos2D instead of Unity3D). Technology compatibility difficulties often occur when publishing on different platforms. Domestic companies usually have limited resources and talents in experienced console game design and publishing.

Domestic companies have advantages on user preference (stylistic, plot and trend) and game metrics. They also have more experience in modifying gameplay of an imported game. Microsoft took the first step to form a joint venture with Chinese company BesTV in Sep. 2013. The future of the market should give an advantage to similar partnerships between established foreign companies and domestic designers, allowing both to profit from the synergy of the relationship. An alternative solution for companies that do not want to undertake such an extensive partnership is to work with experienced localization and publishing agencies.

Conclusion

The opening of the Chinese market to consoles brings plenty of challenges to ambitious game designers and console manufacturers, but the potential for rewards is commensurate. The first companies that work out a successful formula for marketing to Chinese gamers and establish themselves will gain a solid competitive advantage by getting in on the ground floor.

At LAI, we have worked closely with Sony and many other successful video game companies worldwide since 1993. With a complete range of game localization and overseas publishing solutions, we can help you get the experience you need to work through the necessary steps of publication and get your product to market.