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.

LAI Interviews IndieDevs: Why More Indies Now Pay for Professional Game Localization

With the world increasingly more global and games reaching broader audiences than ever before, indie developers are localizing their games at higher rates.

In this blog post, we interviewed two indie studios, both of which used professional localization services to localize their games.

IndieDev Game Localization - Stupid Stupid Johnny Graves - MegaDwarf Games God of Word
 

As a localization & publishing company, we were curious to understand why more indie developers are starting to make the leap in paying for professional game localization.

LAI Global Game Services - Best AAA & Indie Agile Game Localization
 

Let’s face it – game development is expensive…and localization alone can cost upwards of $0.20 per word…per language! Yet, more and more indie developers are seeking out localization service providers in order to bring their games global.

 

Contrast this with popular localization methods in the past, where indies frequently used:

 

  • Crowdsourced translation

  • Bilingual friends (without localization training)

  • Machine translation or even Google Translate

 

Quite often, these localization attempts often leave players longing for a properly done localization. In fact, in many cases, attempts to keep localization costs down end up resulting in game text of such a low quality that it ultimately hurts the game’s overall ratings.

 

Screenshots from Legends of Localization’s Funky Fantasy IV show just how bad something like machine translation can turn out:

Final-Funky-Fantasy-IV-Video-Game-LocalizationFinal-Funky-Fantasy-IV-Video-Game-Localization

We pray to Thor that no developer – ever! – uses machine translation or Google Translate…

 

One of our most popular blog posts at LAI covers the Top 5 Myths of Video Game Localization, where we cover the very unfortunate, Google Translate option. We wish it was a blog post we never had to write!

LAI Global Game Services - Top 5 Myths & Facts about Video Game Localization - Blog Post - Article
 

But why would indie developers use professional localization services when other (free!) options are available?
LAI Global Game Services - DFC Intelligence - Video Game Market Infographics - World Game Markets - Top Countries

Click image to view full infographic from LAI & DFC.

Why do more indie developers now see localization vendors as a legitimate way to bring their games global…despite the fact these companies require some amount of money in return?

 

We spoke with two indie studios about their reasons for choosing game localization services for their games:

 

  • We interviewed Stupid Stupid Games of Helsinki, Finland about action-shooter game Johnny Graves – The Unchosen One.

    We found out why they localized into 2 languages (Russian and German), what made them choose those languages, and whether they felt professional localization was worth it.

    Stupid Stupid Games - Video Game Localization
     

  • We also interviewed Mega Dwarf of Canada about their recently released typing/word game God of Word into 6 languages (French, Italian, German, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and Polish).

    We found they would gladly do it again…and even add more languages!

    MegaDwarf - Video Game Localization - Indie Localization

 

Indie Interviews
Stupid Stupid Games

Website

Based in Helsinki, Finland.

Founded May 2013.

Stupid Stupid Games - Video Game Localization

Johnny Graves -The Unchosen One

Steam page

Johnny Graves -The Unchosen One - Video Game Localization

An action-shooter released June 16, 2016 on PC and Steam.

 

What made you decide to use a localization company?

We wanted to make the game more accessible and easier to use for non-English speakers. Also we felt it is good customer service to give people the option of using the game in their native tongue. It also saves time and money if you get solid technical advice early on.

 

Which languages did you localize into? What made you decide to use these languages?

Russian and German. Johnny Graves is our first title and we wanted to try out localization with just couple of languages first. Russian and German made sense since they are large markets with many non-English speakers.

LAI Global Game Services - DFC Intelligence - Video Game Market Infographics - Eastern Europe - Russia and cis countries

Click image to view full infographic from LAI & DFC.

Which languages were “worth it” for your game? Which languages weren’t worth it?

Both languages were worth it. It is difficult to say whether people would have played the game in Russia or Germany without the localization, but I’d like to think so.

LAI Global Game Services - DFC Intelligence - Video Game Market Infographics - Western Europe - Germany

Click image to view full infographic from LAI & DFC.

Why do you think these languages were worth it/not worth it? Any insights as to why certain languages worked/didn’t work for your game?

Localization was also worth it in terms of marketing. We had the option of posting about our game in German and Russian Facebook pages and contacting YouTubers. Building a customer base can take a long time and we have laid a foundation by making contacts with YouTubers. Let’s play-videos have been our most effecting marketing channel. Russian YouTubers have been particularly active.

 

Would you use these languages again in the future? Which other languages would you consider, and why?

We will use these languages in the future. We have considered expanding to French, Spanish and Portuguese. Chinese might also be an option, since we have quite a few Chinese players.

LAI Global Game Services - DFC Intelligence - Video Game Market Infographics - Asia - China

Click image to view detailed info on the Chinese game market.



Would you use a localization company again in the future?

We will use a localization company in the future. There is quite a lot of work involved and you want to have it done properly.  It is better to hire a pro.

LAI Global Game Services - DFC Intelligence - Video Game Market Infographics - Western Europe - Spain

Click image to view full infographic from LAI & DFC.



What do you think of indie developers using free crowd-sourced translations, bilingual friends (non-professional translators), or machine translations/Google Translate?

Making indie games is always a struggle with limited resources. Developers are always trying to make things cheaper and quicker. Personally, I think, if you can’t afford to do it properly, then you shouldn’t do it. Poorly done features creates an image of false promises and it could hurt your sales and company brand.

 

Anything that surprised you about the game localization process?

I was surprised how integrated it has to be to the actual software development. Early on I thought we could add localization after the game is finished. It turns out it would have been a lot harder. It was fortunate I received pro advice early on.

 

Is there anything else you’d like to add? (…Other things indie developers may find useful when considering whether or not to use a game localization company?)

 

  • Don’t do it if you can’t do it properly.

  • Once you have implemented localization in your game engine adding new languages is easy.

  • Try with one or two languages first to gauge the benefits.

  • Localization is also a great marketing opportunity.

 

___________________________________________________________________________

Mega Dwarf

Homepage

Based in Canada.

MegaDwarf - Video Game Localization - Indie Localization

God of Word

Steam page

GodOfWord - Video Game Localization

A typing/word hybrid game released September 28, 2016 on Steam for PC and Mac.

 

What made you decide to use a localization company?

We decided to use a localization company since we essentially had 3 choices when it came to localizing our game: use a localization company, use the community, or localize it ourselves. Between the three developers we only speak English and a bit of broken Quebecois French, so that wouldn’t do. Using the community is a solid method, but we didn’t have a great social presence yet and we didn’t want to run into any issues with delays if we couldn’t find people for every language. So we decided on using a localization company. It’s a sure way to get high quality translations within a few days, and done highly professionally.


Which languages did you localize into? What made you decide to use these languages?

God of Word was originally written in English, and was then translated into French, Italian, German, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and Polish. In order to decide which languages we wanted to localize into, we consulted the Steam Hardware survey. It lists the most popular languages used by Steam user by percentage, so it’s a great way to estimate which languages will have the best return on investment. Ideally we would’ve liked to take advantage of the popularity of the Chinese and Russian languages, but since we made a word game with Latin letter tiles, we weren’t able to swap letters out for entirely new alphabets.

LAI Global Game Services - DFC Intelligence - Video Game Market Infographics - Western Europe

Click image to view full infographic from LAI & DFC.

Which languages were “worth it” for your game? Which languages weren’t worth it?

This is an interesting question, as it’s tough to quantify what “worth it” means, and hard to get definite sales numbers per language. As a general statement, I would say every language we localized in was worth it. As game developers, our main objective is to get our game into as many people’s hands as possible so they can play our game and have fun. The more languages we have, the more easily accessible our game is, and the further we can spread fun to the world. That being said, game devs need to eat too, so there is a financial aspect to localization. We got a great deal with our localization company, so it really wasn’t that expensive to have our game, store page, patches, and Halloween update localized.

 

As I mentioned earlier it’s hard to tell exactly how many people are playing our game in different languages; the only data we get from Steam are which countries are buying our game, so we can only assume those countries are playing the game in their native languages. That being said, we also sold a lot of copies to China, and we don’t support the Chinese language in God of Word, so it’s clear people in countries with non-supported languages would still have purchased our game regardless of the languages it was localized into. Obviously English was our biggest success, and didn’t cost us a dime, since it was our native language. German was our next largest success, with Germany being the country that generated us the second most income. French was another runaway success, with France coming in at fifth for overall revenue. Italian, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and Polish were all pretty similar when it comes to revenue, and they are currently sitting right around being a financial success.

LAI Global Game Services - DFC Intelligence - Video Game Market Infographics - Western Europe - France

Click image to view full infographic from LAI & DFC.

Why do you think these languages were worth it/not worth it? Any insights as to why certain languages worked/didn’t work for your game?

I think I mostly answered this question in the last question, I sort of got carried away explaining things there :)

 

Would you use these languages again in the future? Which other languages would you consider, and why?

German and French are going to be staples in every game Mega Dwarf develops in the future. They are both very popular languages and were both undoubtedly financial successes for God of Word. Ideally we would like to localize in Italian, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and Polish again, though that may depend on financial and time restraints for future products. We would also love to investigate Russian and Chinese for our next game, since they were only left out of God of Word since it was a word game with limited dictionaries. We’re even looking into Turkish, Korean, Thai, and Japanese for our next game in an attempt to reach as many people as possible.

LAI Global Game Services - DFC Intelligence - Video Game Market Infographics - Latin American - Brazil - Brazilian Portuguese

Click image to view full infographic from LAI & DFC.

Would you use a localization company again in the future?

We will absolutely use a localization company for future games. We had a great experience, translations were high quality, returned within a day or two, wonderful correspondence; I can’t think of any complaints whatsoever.

LAI Global Game Services - DFC Intelligence - Video Game Market Infographics - Asia - Japan - Japanese

Click image to view detailed info on the Japanese game market.

What do you think of indie developers using free crowd-sourced translations, bilingual friends (non-professional translators), or machine translations/Google Translate?

It’s an interesting concept, and definitely something that we considered doing ourselves. The idea is solid, it’s a way to save money, which is very important when developing independently, but you really need to check and re-check all your translations for quality. I’ve seen far too many Steam store pages with brutally written descriptions that really make you hesitate to purchase a game. If a description is written with improper spelling and grammar, how can you assume the rest of their game will be developed professionally? I would almost never use Google Translate for anything except for single words. If you need to know what the word “Go” is in another language for a menu, then by all means Google Translate will suffice. But never use it for entire sentences, or words that have multiple meanings, like “Resolution” where it could mean screen size or resolving an issue. If you have faith in your bi-lingual friends or find community members with good reputations, then go for it, it’ll save you some money and develop a good network. Ideally just try to find multiple people with a proficiency in the same language so they can double check each other’s work.

 

Anything that surprised you about the game localization process?

I think the initial cost of localization can be surprising to some people. Heck this answer alone would cost you multiple dollars to get translated into a single other language, and we had six languages to localize everything into for God of Word. You have to keep in mind though that they aren’t just reading a sentence and quickly translating it into another language. They have to really get a sense for what you mean, if words have other meanings, trying to make the sentence as concise as possible, and then running it through multiple other translators for quality purposes. Most localization companies boast percentages of accuracy around 99%, so the price you pay is for quality becomes a lot less surprising.

 

Is there anything else you’d like to add? (…Other things indie developers may find useful when considering whether or not to use a game localization company?)

  • Localize your game, not a lot of indie companies do it, and there are a ton of indie games out there. So if you localize your game into other languages, that gives your game a huge leg up on the competition that doesn’t localize.

  • Try to localize as many simple words as you can yourself. There are great resources out there for game dev specifically that have simple words already translated for you. Pretty much everything that would appear on a standard main menu or pause menu is already localized, so don’t bother paying extra to get them re-done for you when the information is already readily available for you on the internet. In union with that advice, try to use symbols or visuals instead of text whenever possible. Instead of having a button that says “Back” just use a symbol; in a game with multiple languages you just saved yourself almost a dollar for a single word. That being said, make sure your tutorials and other important information are in depth enough that your players can still easily understand them. Don’t make overly simplistic tutorials to try to save money at the cost of your players not being able to understand how to play your game.

  • Shop around, there are dozens of localization companies out there that all want your business. Don’t just take the first company that shows up on a Google search, shop around, negotiate, and negotiate some more.

  • Check, double check, and triple check your word lists before sending them off. Check through your code to see if you hardcoded any text in there that you may forget about. Localization companies tend to give you a discount if you send in a lot of words at once, but will really cost you if you have to send in a small group of words that you forgot. Obviously if you miss a handful of words most companies will localize those for free if you already paid for the bulk, but if you miss 50+ words, that’s going to cost you a pretty penny for a silly mistake.

 

Looking for More Infographics?

 

Indie Developers – Future Interviews

If you are an independent game developer who has experience working with game localization (either via a professional localization vendor, crowdsourced translation, or some other method), reach out to us at info@lai.com!
 
We would love to speak with you about a potential, future interview!

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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.


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Want to Release Your Game in China? Find Yourself a Quality Partner!


By Karin Skoog (@KarinESkoog) & Michelle Zhao (@MengxueZhao)

We frequently see articles about Chinese regulations on Gamasutra and across industry sites, with talk of consoles being banned and then reintroduced. The Chinese games
market is a complicated space, particularly if you don’t have local ties to China.

If you’re a mobile games developer, you may have noticed that the market became even more complicated this past year.

Yet another regulation introduced will prohibit your mobile game from being released in China unless you navigate very carefully.

Market Opportunity in China

China represents a huge market potential, but it is likely most mobile game developers who try to enter the Chinese market in the near future will fail.

  • China is currently the “most valuable [mobile games market] in the world” according to GamesIndustry.biz.

  • A recent report from Niko Partners estimates 465 million mobile players in China by the end of 2016, generating $1.3 billion from mobile game exports, nearly doubling to $2.1 billion by 2020.

  • Just yesterday, TechCrunch posted an article stating China has surpassed the US in iOS App Store revenue, with Chinese mobile games consumption far exceeding the US (driving 75% of App Store revenue!).

Graphic from TechCrunch’s “China overtakes the U.S. in iOS App Store revenue.

An Overview of Video Games in China

To understand the new regulations, it helps to take a look at the evolution of video games in China:

Although Mario games were widely played in China beginning in the 1980s, it was World of Warcraft that kicked off computer games with its beta in 2005.

It took time for computer games to take off in China due to slow internet connections, but when they did, they quickly drew the attention of Chinese authorities, causing a number to be censored or banned. As creative products (like video games) gain in popularity in China, Chinese authorities crack down and regulate.

Now that mobile games have exploded in popularity – even surpassing PC game popularity in China – we are starting to see the repercussions. (See the graph below from our partner, DFC Intelligence, showing the rise of mobile gamers in China vs. PC gamers.)

Mobile games snuck up on Chinese authorities at an even greater rate than PC games of the prior decade – suddenly appearing and then rapidly spreading to the masses. To the government, games seemed to come with a host of problems due to their widespread popularity, including an influx of lawsuits and IP issues with international entities.

As with PC games from decades before, mobile games have entered a period of careful scrutiny, which brings us to new, present-day regulations.

New Chinese Regulations

China’s governing body of creative media (the State Administration of Press, Publications, Radio, Film, and Television) is the organization responsible for bans on select books and movies, game consoles (in prior years), excessive gore in games, and now, mobile games.

According to this new regulation, any game perceived as being a “story-based game” is subject to review by the State Administration. The approval process can be time consuming due to the limited number of people currently reviewing submissions.

This is big news because this approval process is the biggest barrier ever imposed on video game developers looking to enter China. The vast number of mobile games flooding the marketplace quickly drew the attention of Chinese authorities and led to the biggest crackdown on games in China to date.

The new regulation was put into effect in July, and since the start of 2016, only 22 non-Chinese mobile games have been released in China (according to a list updated by the State Administration on August 29th).

Among the foreign games approved and released this year, the majority were MAJOR foreign IPs, such as Temple Run, Candy Soda Legend, Angry Birds, Subway Surfers, Fruit Ninja, and Monument Valley.

When The New Regulation Comes into Effect

If you go to China and check out the App Store now, you will find thousands of unapproved games. The original plan was to pull unapproved games from the marketplace October 1st (but the deadline was extended to December 31st), meaning that any games released in China before this year are likely to be pulled if they don’t attain approval from Chinese authorities.

There has been speculation over whether China’s State Administration has the resources and time to pull so many games from the marketplace. However, the new regulation made such big news this summer because many believe China will follow through on this regulation.

It may take some time for unapproved games to be pulled (possibly longer than the anticipated end of year deadline), but it is something developers should take note of, to ensure their own games aren’t at risk of being pulled from the Chinese market.

Submission Process

There are currently two types of approval processes – an expedited approval process for games without a storyline and an extensive approval process for games with any kind of a storyline.

- Simplified/Expedited Approval Process: Non-Story Based Games

Here is a brief look at what is required for the simplified approval process:

  • No storyline or an extremely simple storyline.

  • Regulations currently state that the copyright must be owned by a Chinese individual or entity.

This means you absolutely must have a Chinese publisher to assist in bringing your game to the Chinese marketplace.

  • No political, military, nationalities, or religious content.

- Extensive Approval Process: Story Based Games

All other games must undergo an extensive approval process, often taking 2-4 months for approval (in some cases, approval can even take up to 6 months!). If the studio has a good relationship with the government, it is possible to get approval within 40 days.

Here is what’s required for the approval of story-based games:

  • Submit games 20 days before launch.

  • Submit an extensive amount of paperwork.

  • Send a smartphone to Chinese authorities with a build of the game, functioning SIM card, and data plan for each version of the game (i.e. Android and iPhone).

  • Within one week of launch, submit additional paperwork and details to Chinese authorities.

Where Does this Leave Indie Devs?

Based on the games released in China this past year, many publishers in China are focused on bringing over games they know will be a hit – games that already made it big and are guaranteed to bring in the big bucks.

This means that it is increasingly more difficult for mobile game developers without an already established IP to launch a mobile game within the Chinese market. This isn’t to say it can’t be done or that developers shouldn’t target China – the Chinese mobile market alone brings in more revenue than the US!

China has already surpassed US revenue from mobile games!

This simply means that foreign developers looking to release mobile games in China must find a reputable local partner interested in publishing their games.

It is now essential for mobile game developers to work with local partners, as foreign entities are no longer allowed to publish in China. With larger Chinese publishers appearing to support only well-established IPs (i.e. Candy Crush), it may take some time to find a partner willing to publish your game, but quality partners do exist.

A Few Words of Caution

It can be difficult to conduct business in China as a foreigner. It isn’t uncommon encounter scams and to receive false information from people who claim to be looking out for your best interest.

We want to provide you with a few words of caution:

  • Be wary of scams – there are many scam artist “publishers” or “agents” who are more than willing to take your money.

  • Some people may try to convince you they are an “authorized agent” who can take care of the review process for you. This is not the case! These kinds of scams are a known problem for foreign developers trying to enter the Chinese market. Chinese authorities already released an official answer to clarify that no such “authorized agents” exist.

  • Some developers claim this entire process is one big ruse for corruption, forcing developers to share revenue with already large, local publishers. As with any part of business, don’t enter into any deals you don’t feel comfortable with!

Why is a Partner Key to Success in China?

 

China is a country where personal relationships (guan-xi) hold an incredibly amount of importance. Without going through ‘relationship-based channels,’ it is very possible the game you spent so much time and effort developing (and even localizing) for the Chinese market may end up never being released in China.

Find Yourself a Quality Partner

It can be challenging, to say the least, to know which companies you can trust. We would like to take the time to introduce our company – LAI Global Games Services – as we have been helping game developers navigate the global marketplace for decades. LAI has long-standing roots in China and thorough knowledge of the marketplace, as well as localization considerations for the region.

LAI’s office in China.

LAI has decades of experience in the Asian games market. We started out localizing content for Japanese companies back in 1993, and today, we have offices in China, Japan, and the San Francisco Bay Area, offering game publishing services and 35+ languages for game localization.

Due to our long-standing relationship with companies in China, LAI is in the unique position to offer game developers advice on entry into the Chinese market, as well as the best opportunity to actually launch your game in China.

How LAI Global Game Services Can Help You!

We work directly with local authorities and experts in the Chinese market to ensure games have the best opportunity to succeed. This includes:

  1. Helping your company understand the rules within the Chinese marketplace and localization considerations (such as eliminating ALL English characters in the game to diminish the possibility of rejection by Chinese authorities);

  1. Navigating the local market to help you find the most suitable Chinese publishers to match YOUR NEEDS, saving you time and money;

  1. Working as a liaison with the publisher in China to oversee and assist with any operations as needed, including:

  1. B2B business tips in China.

  2. Process interpretation.

  3. Assistance to help avoid misunderstandings, errors resulting from miscommunication/culture shock.

Reach Out to LAI!

We are always more than happy to assist with any questions you might have about current regulations or partnerships in China.

You can reach out to us @LAIGlobalGame or info@lai.com, or better yet, you can contact our CEO, David Lakritz, directly at dave@lai.com! We look forward to your questions and comments!

Visit www.lai.com for more information.