Why Successful Games in China Rarely Obtain the Equivalent Success in the West
by Mantin Lu
In my last article, I mentioned that games from China rarely find a place in the west, even it is a successful one locally. Since there were some people emailed me showing interest in that topic, I am elaborating more about this topic here.
China is now the largest game market in the world. The massive market gives birth to a lot of successful locally developed games and generates substantial revenue domestically. However, up to now, I have not yet seen any successful game originally operated in China has become wildly successful in the West.
Several years ago, when people talked about bringing games from a market to another, they were talking about translation of the games. As the understanding of people goes deeper over time, now they know that what they actually need is localization, instead of simply translating the content of the game into another language. Sure enough, translating text assets comprises a large part of localization. That being said, to localize a game, it also includes its art style, game design, monetization, to name a few.
Art is the first thing to deal with when getting into a new market. The art style is very different from the East to the West, including color usage, proportion of characters, hair and dressing style, face shapes, accessories, etc. Although these factors may not be the most crucial ones considering the entire game development process, they will become major disadvantages when the game entering another market if they are not properly dealt with.
That’s why some Chinese companies will do a thorough reskinning of their game to make it more visually favorable to the West. However, art is not only about 2D or 3D graphic, but also how the user interface looks. Asian games are usually with complicated UI, while in the West it is not the same case. As mentioned in my previous articles, MMORPG is the major game genre in China. Even though this won’t represent all games from China, it is the trend that games from China are relatively complicated in terms of game play; so does the user interface look very busy. While looking at the top chart of the app stores in the West, we notice that a clean user interface is more desired by the users. The length of text between different languages is another big issue to deal with for UI localization.
Game world background
In China, games with background story about the Three Kingdoms or Journey to the West can be very popular. However, western players have a harder time relating. Instead, European Middle Age is the equivalent to the time of Three Kingdoms as the historical stage of the West. Also we need to keep an eye on culturally sensitive contents in the game and make no offense to the market you are getting into. For example, some female characters in game from China show too much skin to be appealing, which would be offensive to both female and male players in the West.
In general, Chinese gamers consume content very fast. Given same amount of time, western audiences proceed the game in a slower pace. So, to meet the desired game pacing of different target players, developers need to adjust the balancing of game mechanics, including skills, attributes, waiting timing, rewards, etc. All these look easy at a glance, indeed, it’s very difficult to tear down a well designed game balancing to recreate another one. Create a new one from scratch could be easier IMO.
Free-to-play monetization model started in Asia and is very well operated in China, and Chinese gamers get used to it. Pay-to-win is something very common in China which people generally accept, despite the fact that it’s not recommended: pay-to-win is not the best monetization approach even in China. Compared to western players, who prefer to pay to unlock levels or content, gamers in China tend to pay their way out including defeating the boss, skipping a hard level, etc.
Among all the aspects mentioned above, mentality is one major issue which I personally witnessed a couple of times that makes the localization project failed. Say, your game is very successful in China, and now you want to bring it to the West. You hire domestic western game designers and product managers to do the job. When your western workforces create a list of things that the team has to do to tailor your game to the new market, your development team who created the originally successful product is reluctant to change or even refuses to do it at all. Let’s put yourself in their shoes. When you have a successful game in the domestic market, why you have to recreate something new for an unknown market? While you are working on a game making millions or thousands of millions monthly, why you have to listen to someone whose market size is only a portion of yours? While you are earning a large bonus from your current responsibility, why not put more effort on it to earn a even bigger bonus rather than getting distracted from something not proven? So, it’s very obvious why localization not going very smooth in that way. The only way to tackle that is to have the upper management set a tone that going West is the most important strategy for the entire company. Make it clear that it’s the highest priority to everyone in the company and set the bonus system working for that accordingly.
I tried to explain some of the differences in taste, culture, monetization mindset, and development mentality between East and West above. Now, you should be able to understand why I answer “No” when people ask me if it’s a good idea to bring the successful games in China to the West.
Of course, if you are able to address all the aspects mentioned above right before your West launch, you will maximize your chance to have your successful games in China being equally successful in the West. If you decided to go this route, I believe the best strategy is to partner with a prestige domestic publisher with successful stories bringing games from the East to the West. They can guide you through the entire process and make sure your game is good fit for your new target audience. Meanwhile, I suggest you to evaluate the cost and efficiency of creating a new game for the western market to compare what strategy works best for your company.
As mentioned in my previous article, western market is huge and the China domestic market is highly competitive. Moving into the western market is a good way to bring in new revenue stream, and the user feedbacks from other cultures can inspire innovation for future projects as well. While the Chinese mobile game market continues getting more competitive, there has never been a better time for its developers to consider the western market. While expanding to new market is never an easy proposition, it can pay off exponentially. Chinese companies need a good strategy, including investing in talented team in the West to create original games, to get into the western market. You can read my thought about that here.(source:Gamasutra）