Faced by fierce competition and limited by stringent regulations in the Chinese mobile game market, many Chinese companies have set sight on global expansion to break free of the domestic limitations and tap into new audience bases. This battle for overseas dominance saw a clash of completely different camps – telecommunication giants that marched into the game sector, and start-ups with their unique indie projects. Without further delay, here are our top 10 picks for Chinese mobile games that are flourishing overseas.
SEE ALSO: How Mobile Gaming Conquered China
As one of the two most popular Battle Royale games in China, PUBG Mobile《绝地求生》is firmly set to succeed globally. Given the similar gameplay, the game is, however, under attack from Call of Duty mobile, which also has a Battle Royale mode. Nevertheless, after a brief slowdown, the beginning of a new game season again pushed PUBG Mobile to the top of the overseas Chinese game chart.
Most Chinese games overseas are still predominantly Battle Royales and SLGs with the biggest overseas markets being the United States and Japan. However, as the market for Battle Royale games is getting increasingly more oversaturated, it is getting harder to “wow” players with gameplay. Therefore, developments in the near future are likely to be fueled by brand and marketing. For most Chinese game publishers who wants to go abroad, single user paid SLG games remains the first choice.
Rise of Kingdoms
SLG (Strategy games) has always been the dominant genre among Chinese games that have global ambitions. Popular in East Asia card/board, MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) and MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) games are not nearly as well-received in the west. Yet, SLG is one of the few genres universally popular genres.
Developed by Chengdu Legou and published by Lilith, it goes beyond doubt that Rise of Kingdoms (ROK) is the most noteworthy product amidst all Chinese-made SLG mobile games in 2019. Lilith’s ROK pulled in nearly $61 million from abroad in October, beating Tencent’s PUBG Mobile as the most profitable Chinese game overseas for the month with a 13% month-to-month increase rate. However, ROK’s success is not as much in the striking amount of revenue it generates, worth the whistle as well is how it innovated the entire SLG genre on the product level.
There are two highlights. The first is its innovative game play based on classic SLG. The innovations the Rise of Kingdoms brought forth are hardly groundbreaking, they are rather small improvements and optimizations aimed right at the pain points of its predecessors. Small as the changes are, together they improve the player experience massively – details like a huge zoomable world map and the option to camp your troops anywhere endow the SLG game with an experience comparable to RTS (Real Time Strategy) games, which is more intuitive in the gameplay.
The second highlight worth noting is its theme of global civilization. ROK offers more than ten civilization camps for players to choose from. This feature brings a natural advantage in global promotion and a strong sense of immersion, constructs a framework for players to interact, and stimulates in-game purchases. When promoting in different countries and regions, ROK would feature different civilizations and heroes that relate to local history and culture. Exactly due to the multi-civilization design, ROK became a breakthrough success in the Korean market, where SLG was a rather niche genre, and topped the overseas Chinese games chart in October.
Another product from Lilith, AFK Arena《剑与远征》is different from ROK. Being a board/card game — a category rarely seen on the chart, AFK Arena ranked No.4 among overseas Chinese games in August at its peak, and has stayed in the top 10 since then.
AFK Arena could be seen as the 2.0 version of Allstar Heroes (former Soul Hunters). Not only is it developed by the same crew, but its gameplay also inherited many features of Allstar Heroes. Compared to its predecessor, AFK Arena added the “laying aside” design, solving the core problem of card/board games — they are too time-consuming.
The biggest highlight of AFK Arena is its visual style, which was defined as glass-painting. It is in fact a fusion of many different art styles including classic European mural and church glass painting, a very unique look among other card/board games. The style was well-received in European and American countries and attracted large numbers of players who value aesthetic. This generated a flurry of fan art — a phenomenon quite rare in Chinese games.
Though little known domestically, “Mobile Legends”《无尽对决》is surpassing “King’s Glory”, the popular MOBA game in China, in the overseas markets. Its developer Moonton Technology is related to Elex Technology, a company that went overseas quite early. While “King’s Glory’s” overseas version “Arena of Valor” was losing ground, “Mobile Legends” continued to grow. Its performance was particularly good in Southeast Asia — it seized a considerable market share, outdid PUBG Mobile in revenue, and showed up on the charts of overseas Chinese games.
“Arena of Valor”tripped over its own fame and prudence. To avoid being accused of plagiarism, and also to better handle the localization problem, the game implemented pervasive changes in its overseas version. Many heroes and powers that were based on Chinese history and culture were remade to cater to western consumers, resulting in the overseas version almost becoming a distinct game. What comes with this strategy is a noticeable slowdown. The Chinese version of “King’s Glory” already has 97 heroes, while the overseas version, “Arena of Valor” struggles to launch even half of that number.
“Mobile Legends” has more promising prospects. Without cultural barriers, many characters have been added familiar to Southeast Asia gamer, such as Sun’s Battle Buddha, Chou’s Dragon Boy, and so on. “Mobile Legends” is also hosting a major event in September targeting the Southeast Asian market and players from countries such as Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.
Launched 2 years ago, NetEase’s Knives Out《荒野行动》performed excellently throughout last year. As a Battle Royale mobile game, one of the key reasons Knives Out thrived overseas was its “first mover advantage” — it set out to seize overseas opportunities before multiple similar Tencent products, and timely broke into the Japanese market. However, Even before Knives out launched a Japanese version, it had become a mega hit. Although Tencent later released PUBG Mobile in Japan too, Knives Out remained the unchallenged dominator thanks to formidable player loyalty. Now, people playing Knives Out on their smartphone can be seen everywhere, seeing white-collars in a KFC during lunch playing the game in a pre-made team has become a normal occurrence.
Japanese market accounts for 98% of Knives Out’s overseas revenue. Thus, Knives Out is doing pretty well relying on its success overseas despite being overshadowed by Tencent’s Game of Peace domestically. Except luck, it is also NetEase’s outstanding localization strategies that deserve credit. In the past year, Knives Out collaborated with various famous Japanese animations and manga like Attack on Titan, Pop Team Epic, The King of Fighters, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Gin Tama.
Call of Duty (Mobile Ver.)
Launched only in October 2019, Call of Duty (Mobile Ver.)《使命召唤手游》is another black horse worth your attention. The shooting game, published by Tencent and Activision jointly, performed well in the global market. According to Sensor Tower’s report, the game’s overseas income reached $54 million in October, exceeding that of PUBG Mobile. United States is the main market of its overseas revenue.
Apart from its excellent quality, Call of Duty ’s success cannot be separated from its brand and global influence. Call of Duty Mobile further popularized the mobile shooting gameplay of PUBG Mobile and Fortnite. The success of of the mobile Call of Duty could push western players closer to their East Asian counterpart, resulting in a higher acceptability of shooting RPG (Role Play Game) and more skill-intensive gameplays.
It is worth mentioning that Call of Duty Mobile, after strong performance early on, experienced a decline shortly after. It could be attributed to the fact that the brand’s name attracted lots of PC players, who found it hard to adapt to playing games on a phone.
Guns of Glory, King of Avalon
“Guns of Glory” 《火枪纪元》and “King of Avalon”《阿瓦隆之王》are SLG mobile games released by FunPlus. They are also regulars at the top of the domestic mobile game rankings. “King of Avalon” was launched in 2016, and “Guns of Glory” was launched in 2017. Both have witnessed sound performance so far. Guns of Glory generated $54 million of revenue in August 2018, and it is also the only domestic SLG that entered the top 20 revenue list in the US in Q3.
FunPlus, the company behind these two games, is one of the earliest domestic companies to dive deep into the overseas game market. From web games to mobile games, the company has abundant experience and does well in selling advertising. In addition to “King of Avalon”, Funplus also launched two other SLGs with different themes, including “Dino War” and “Z Day”.
“Guns of Glory” and “King of Avalon” are quite similar in gameplay, but different in themes and background. For SLG, the theme of the game has a huge impact on user acquisition. Different themes could attract users with different interests. By changing different themes, game developers target new user groups in order to achieve lower CPI and higher returns.
Yotta Games’s “Mafia City”《黑道风云》 is also an SLG mobile game. With a mature gameplay, an attractive theme, and the purchasing capacity accumulated from years of overseas operations, it is similar to the games developed by Funplus. In fact, the earliest version of “Mafia City” was launched on Google Play in 2016, without causing too much stir. In 2018, the game was launched in the Japanese market where it achieved explosive growth. According to the Sensor Tower report, “Mafia City” generated over 700 million in revenue in 2018, over half of it contributed by the Japanese market. The game has performed well since 2019, and has long been listed among the Top 10 Chinese mobile games.
One of the reasons why “Mafia City” became popular in Japan is its cultural background. Mafia games are particularly popular in Japan. In the European and American markets, male players have a huge preference for mafia games, however the theme is rather rare among SLGs. “Mafia City” produced a lot of ads with mafia plots to accurately attract players interested in mafia stories, therefore greatly reducing the purchase costs and targeting the right users. Similar products include “Game of Sultans” and “Revenge Of Sultans”, which focus on Middle Eastern stories.
It is worth mentioning that on Youtube, the ads for “Mafia City” have become memes. Someone has even made an ad collection, that got almost 5 million views.
Developed and operated by IGG, “Lords Mobile” 《王国纪元》 is a typical example of a domestic SLG that succeeded overseas. The game was launched three years ago, in 2016. According to the data from Sensor Tower, the total revenue of “Lords Mobile” in the past two years exceeded $825 million.
Compared to other SLG products, “Lords Mobile” is quite innovative and unique. In addition to its construction mechanism, it also adds an adventure mode and hero development element similar to that in card games. In shor, it is a product combining card games and SLG.
The details of “Lords Mobile” are well-refined, with clever planning and design. Compared with the classic SLGs like “Clash of Kings”, “Lords Mobile” focuses more on the development process in early stages, rather than the combat power brought by the number of soldiers, thereby weakening the player’s pursuit of numbers. It therefore reduces the threshold for recovery of military forces, bringing a more user-friendly experience at early stages. Later on, when users begin battling for the King’s city, their pursuit of troops will gradually increase.