What you need to know as a western game publisher or developer considering the Chinese market.
When exploring the idea of publishing your Android game in China (a market of 1.5 billion mobile subscribers with 76%+ Android market share), there are some major factors that will influence how successful you and your game will be.
To be blunt, launching a game in China requires considerable investment and patience and it’s best if you forget what you know about developer / publisher relations in the West. If you haven’t got a proven IP in the West, it can be very difficult to get a publisher to even consider your game. If you have a game that is monetizing well in the West, then you should be aware of the following items before going any further.
Firstly and most significantly you will need a local partner / publisher. Gaming in China is subject to a whole raft of special industry regulation from the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) and Ministry of Culture (MoC) meaning foreign entities cannot publish games in China. Even where a foreign company establishes a WFOE (Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprise) business in China, they will not be granted the license necessary to publishing games. Similarly, due to perceived foreign control, a Joint Venture (JV) organisation as a Foreign Invested Enterprise (FIE) will face the same issues. In the past other gaming ventures have attempted to access the market via various Special Purpose Vehicle (SVP) constructs to “work around” regulation. Without success. So talk to a local partner or publisher who knows the industry, regulation, and channel players.
Your local painter / publisher will need a license to publish games. This requires significant capital. Each game will need to be registered with the MoC and go through the SARFT game review process, which in turn may require adaption of the game before you receive a game “ISBN” number. This is the government approval that China app stores will look for before they publish any game on their store. The review process typically takes anywhere form 1 to 3 months for a mobile game that doesn’t have any problematic content. Where changes to the content / mechanics are required (particularly for online games), the process can take a lot longer.
Previously this legislation and the need for an ISBN number was largely ignored by China app stores as there was a large amount of inconsistency and confusion between MoC and GAPP (General Administration of Press and Publications, now the SARFT) policy. That is not the case anymore. This is evidenced by the fact that games used to be “trawled” from Google Play and pulled onto some Chinese app stores. Naturally with no revenue for the developer as IAP points connected to Google services (not available in China) were broken and ad-clicks for other games are typically not registered or led users to Google Play…. Which they couldn’t access. However, in the last year or so, we have seen no major mobile game titles pulled form Google Play by major Chinese app stores in this manner. This is because of the stricter SARFT regulation and control.
Secondly, and relating to the above, don’t overplay your hand. Having had many conversations in the past with gaming companies who thought they were going to be swept off their feet by Tencent because someone knew somebody who did something in Tencent, remember just as Chinese people are not counting the hours until that special day when Facebook is available in China, even if you have a strong IP in the West, it may be unknown and need to be adapted for the Chinese market. Not to mention promoted and pushed by a partner / publisher in China which requires a great deal of channel mediation. So if you think Tencent will be courting you for your game… well maybe, but you’d probably have heard about it already if this was the case. Enthusiasm is great but hubris is never a good basis for negotiations in China. Remember your China partner / publisher will have to go through considerable effort and expense to bring you title to market, possibly exceeding that of the original development effort itself.
The China Game Rating System
Thirdly, having accepted that you need a local partner / publisher in China, and being realistic about the strength of your IP and that you may need to adapt the title for the Chinese market, know what the app store channels look for in a game (assuming your game is a mobile game). This means understanding the game rating system common to all major app store channels in China. Your game’s rating will influence how much exposure your China partners / publisher will be able to push for with app store channels.
Games are rated from “D” to “S” as below. “S” is the highest attainable rating.
95 – 100
90 – 94
85 – 89
80 – 84
70 – 74
65 – 69
60 – 64
0 – 59
This rating system is common to all major app stores, so it pays to understand the criteria behind the scores that decide your final game rating. Things are a lire more subjective when it comes to the underlying criteria and these differ slightly from store to store, but Tencent’s rating criteria is a good basis for understanding what any app store channel will be looking for:
1. The game has / is associated with a strong and popular IP.
Integrity & Stability
Integrity & Stability
1. Game’s current development status (50%, 80%, 100% complete). No scores given for games less than 50% complete.
1. Battle playability high, rich in battle elements.
1. Simulation playability
1. Rich in playable game levels.
1. Game rich in contents; content enhance the game’s core character.
1. Campaign structure is rich, structural.
1. If SNS is complete and able to advertise the game effectively (achievement / status / purchase sharing).
1. Overall artwork is clear, presentable.
1. Good character animation where applicable.2. Character animations for each character.
1. Richness in game scene designs.
Music & Sound Effects
1. Music, sound effects and voice-overs compliment and enhances games core character.
1. Layout of controls is logical, easy to recognise and control buttons are easy to use / sized appropriately.
1. IAP mechanisms are rich, structured, and inline with target audience paying habits.
Tutorials / Guidance
New User Guidance
1. Player tutorial design (where appropriate) leads player into the game without distracting from core experience.
So there you have it. Whilst this is a very brief rundown of some of the areas to think about when seeking to publish your mobile game in China, we hope it provides a useful overview.
For more information on game publishing in China, you can contact our team via the main herebepandas.com page.