Over the past two years, the western Android and iOS app stores have been dominated by three major developers: King, Supercell, and Kabam. The next 10 best-selling game developers — a list that includes household names such as EA, Gameloft, Disney — then take the bulk of the remaining global mobile gaming revenues.
Chinese and Japanese game makers know this market is ripe for a shakeup. The theme of both the Tokyo Game Show and Chengdu Mobile Game Show was clear: “We are coming to the West.” And if “Flappy Bird” was any indication, the barriers to entry in the West for an Asian developer are not that high.
Tokyo Game Show
Though the Tokyo Game Show (TGS) has been eclipsed in size by other shows around the world, TGS continues to feature the top Japanese developers. These developers are known for having high-quality graphics and unique game play, and have been developing for the Western console, handheld, and mobile markets for decades. Despite this history, Japanese game makers have failed to hold top positions in any of the Western app stores. This may finally change in 2015.
The cultural idiosyncrasies that previously informed gamers’ tastes are finally dissolving due to the ubiquity of iOS and Android. In the past, Japanese developers targeted a domestic audience interested in RPG-based dragons, pocket monsters, and magic. Now, because of the success Western developers found with games that mixed game play and design elements, they are changing tactics. According to Satomi-San, Sega’s CEO, it is now possible for Japanese developers to appeal to a global, mobile audience with a single hit game. League of Legends, Candy Crush, and Clash of Clans were all massive global hits that defied the conventional wisdom that games needed significant localization to succeed.
Japanese companies like Gumi, DeNA, and Gree/Funzio are hoping to recreate that success with a long list of titles in 2015 that mix genres and game styles. One example of this mixing of genres was Puzzle and Dragons (P&G) by Gungho. P&G — a top game in Japan that combined an RPG card element with Candy Crush’s puzzle game and attracted both casual and hard core gamers. Though it only achieved mild success in the US apps stores, subsequent attempts may be more successful.
Chengdu Mobile Game Show (CMGS)
While TGS featured more than 400 game developers, at least 1000 game companies attended the Chengdu Mobile Game Conference. In Chengdu alone there are over 800 game developers and 50,000 game software engineers. For the first time, these developers are gunning for the West in 2015.
The Chinese mobile-games business is extremely competitive. Until very recently, the top mobile developers — Tencent, Chukong, Locojoy, Longtu, and Shanda – focused their attention on the massive domestic Chinese market. Earlier this year, Locojoy launched a handful of games in the US. The others have publicly indicated they too will invest overseas. Their ability to succeed abroad should not be questioned. When Longtu published its Chinese hit DoaTaQuanQi in Thailand, it quickly rose to the #1 game on the iOS app store chart. DoaTaQuanQi developer Lilith Games plans to aggressively expand in the West this year and CEO WangXinWen stood on the CMGS stage and promised success.
Because domestic competition is so fierce, smaller Chinese game developers are ignoring the Chinese market and exclusively exporting games. Boyaa, WaWaGames, Madhead, Dragon Bane, Tap4Fun, and Digital Sky are a few. These companies have already conquered the app stores in Taiwan, SE Asia, and developing markets like Brazil and Russia. Halo — the global subsidiary of iApppay and the leading payment gateway for Chinese mobile game developers — has opened up offices in over 12 countries to help service the Chinese mobile game expansion overseas. It is obvious that they are all planning a bigger surge to the West in 2015.
What should frighten the top Western game makers is the sheer number of developers Chinese game companies employ. For example, Digital Sky has a team of 500 engineers and a staff that speaks almost every European language. For them, a game takes 40 engineers and about 6 months to complete. They can develop new games and test markets at least as fast as their more successful Western competitors.
Some Western game companies see the threat and are partnering with Chinese developers as a defensive move. Earlier this year, Storm8 announced a partnership with Madhead to import games to the US, specifically. More recently, Alibaba and Kabam partnered to bring games across borders. It’s a smart strategy and one that other Western developers should consider. Otherwise, they will have to find a way to match the volume of new titles coming from the Asia to maintain their dominance.
Edited by: Josh Wein