#05 Video Games with Chinese Characteristics


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This edition of the Middle Earth podcast takes a look at China’s video-game industry — a hugely popular business in a nation where over half the population regularly plays. In 2015, the size of the video-game market in China officially surpassed that of the U.S., making the Chinese video-game industry the biggest and most profitable in the world. Listen in as experts discuss the unique features of Chinese video-gaming culture and their implications for this constantly evolving market.


Ava Deng – translation manager

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Sebastien Francois – overseas operations manager

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Max Wang – narrative designer

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And, as usual, your host, Aladin.

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Four main takeaways from this interview:


1) China already had a huge game culture in the 1990s.


Many urban children and teenagers had the option of playing games in cheap computer bars or on devices like the SUBOR console (小霸王 – xiǎo bà wáng). The console was often filled with pirated copy of games that were sold for around $50 on the Western market. But many parents and teachers often disapproved of their child’s gaming habits, preferring more pressing things (like homework).


2) Time is of the essence: If you want your game to be successful in China, think mobile and quick rewards.


As many Chinese players are often young people, they don’t have much time to play because of the gāokǎo 高考 or work schedules. So, unlike the gamers in the West, the gaming experience must be quickly fulfilling; there is not a lot of time to explore and learn how to master the game. Also, because most of the mobile games are linked to social media accounts, users can compare their scores with those of their friends. Right now, 57 percent of Chinese gamers play on mobile devices, compared with only 35 percent in the U.S.

目前很多中国的游戏玩家都是年轻人,因为学业或者工作的原因,他们没有太多时间玩游戏。 因此,与西方玩家不同,中国的游戏必须在短时间内满足玩家体验; 他们没有太多时间来探索和学习如何掌握一款游戏。 另外,因为大多数手机游戏都链接到社交媒体,因此游戏玩家可以将自己的分数与朋友进行比较。现在,中国有57%的玩家在手机上玩游戏,在美国则只有35%。

3) Cultural compatibility is critical for sales.


Many Chinese companies have difficulties selling their games abroad, as they often produce stories related to kung fu or other culture elements rooted in local folklore. The few Chinese games (like Clash of Kings) that were well received in the West had European cultural ties. So far, Western games that “make it” in China already have a good reputation and can thus find their target audiences more easily.


4) Indie games are a hard sell in China.


Due to a ban on game consoles (2000–2015), and a different video gaming culture overall, Chinese players are not really into indie games. These kinds of productions are often more single-player oriented or focused on the artistic message they want to deliver. But due to a lack of knowledge about game design, and a general distrust of the Chinese public toward those kinds of projects, few independent studios manage to make a living or even finish their games.