· 8 min read
Publishing Hyper-Casual Games in China: What do you need to know first?
Should you or should you not try to launch your hyper-casual title in China?
There are a bunch of rules and regulations to consider before trying to enter the Chinese market. Which are changing all of the time. Keeping up is a challenge, as we’ve seen a lot of changes over the past year – with even more coming over the next year.
While bringing mid-core mobile games to China is more complicated, there’s a different process and different things to consider for hyper-casual games. There are plenty of interesting opportunities for hyper-casual developers who might not have even considered publishing in China, or perhaps just don’t know where to start.
China’s mobile game market is huge
The Chinese mobile market is a 25 billion USD market and it’s predicted to grow even bigger this year. Of course, the global lockdowns play into that.
While most of the market is made up of mid-core games, you actually need this environment for hyper-casual to do well. Mainly because you need somewhere to advertise your games (other than other hyper-casual titles). And there’s a lot of phones out there on both platforms: Android and iOS.
There are roughly 200 million iOS users in China. And this is dwarfed by the number of Android users, which is over half a billion (550 million).
Hyper-casual is growing fast in China
Hyper-casual games weren’t that popular in China, compared with the US market, until recently. The Chinese top charts were mostly filled with mid-core and role-playing games. But lately, we’ve seen a lot of hyper-casual games climbing to the top charts.
About 25% of games currently in the top 20 or top 30 are hyper-casual games from Western developers. The genre is becoming more popular, with both players and developers.
So it’s a good time for Western developers to enter this market with their hyper-casual titles.
The iOS market
The roughly 230 million iOS users in China is around double that of the US. It’s also not as different as you might think – everything still goes through the app store.
Jailbroken devices are less common these days. It used to be that when you bought an iPhone in China, you got it cracked open right away at the store where you bought it. But you don’t see that often anymore. Also, there are no alternative app stores.
There’s a misconception that in China, developers would get only a fraction of what they could get in the US from in-app purchases (IAPs). But Chinese users are very valuable for both IAPs and ad monetization when compared to the US. We at JoyPac see this very clearly in our analytics. From interstitials, we see ECPM as low as $15. And on the rewarded ad side it can go up to $35.
Some games have ARPU even higher in China than in the US market.
The Android market
When you consider that the US has roughly 130 million Android users, it puts China’s enormous Android user base of 550 million into perspective. So it’s a huge market. But unlike iOS, Android doesn’t function the same in China as it does in the US.
There’s a whole range of affordability. So people can choose from high-end devices like Samsung and Huawei, but there’s also a budget line where you can get an android device for around 50 US dollars. This means that people with very different income levels can afford an Android. But the issue is that there’s no Google Play Store in China.
Not having a Google Play Store is frustrating to foreign and local publishers. Mainly because they need to reach out to users through various different stores and channels. On each channel, you need to do different SDK and connect in different ways too. Also, on each store, you need to get featured to make your game visible.
Your game needs to be on at least eight different stores to cover roughly 90% of the Chinese Android market. Every different provider of phones usually has its own store pre-installed. And then you have major stores like Tencent Store or QIHU 360 Store that millions of people are using. They’re all completely separate, they have different account managers and you often can’t even do UA or monetization with games that aren’t on that store.
There are actually more than 50 stores, but the top ten cover most of the market.
The Current Legal Situation
In China, to publish a game with IAPs, you need an ISBN certificate. This applies to both iOS and Android.
Applying for ISBN isn’t difficult, especially if you have an entity in China, but it takes about three months. For a foreign developer it can take longer – often around six months. So having a partner to handle the paperwork for you can make things a lot quicker and easier.
If you don’t want to go through this process, you can remove the IAP or redesign your game to a completely ads based monetization. You can also hide your IAPs first, launch the game in China while waiting for the ISBN and enable the IAP once the ISBN is in place.
When you want to sell any kind of media product in China, you need approval from the government. This is a separate process that generally takes six to eight months. Right now it only applies to games that sell something directly to the player. So if your game is free to download, with no IAPs, you technically don’t need government approval.
This is the main way hyper-casual games have been getting around this rule. (There was a similar loophole on iOS until the middle of last year.) And it makes sense. For hyper-casual games, six months is a huge delay and the market can look very different at the end of it, meaning you might have a lot of problems putting it out at all.
There are other licenses – some you can get as a foreign company, some you can get through agencies and for others, you just need to be at a Chinese company. These are the three levels: the ‘do it yourself’ level, the ‘having a partner agency’ level and then the ‘having a full-on publisher that gets all those licenses for you’ level.
Another thing to consider is that Chinese entities normally have exclusive partnerships with local service providers like TikTok. It’s a lot easier when you have an office in China or a trustworthy local partner that has direct contacts with media.
Competing with Chinese developers
Western developers had a head start on hyper-casual games. Chinese developers started making them somewhat later, but not before Western games gained a foothold in the market.
82% of Chinese players say they prefer games developed by Chinese companies. This might be purely national pride or it might be a preference for a specific look or style. An advantage of hyper-casual games is that they mostly revolve around simple, relatable ideas. But some elements are still just more relatable and appealing for an East-Asian audience.
Western developers sometimes ask us if they should make a game specifically for China. But focusing on a foreign market, where you’re not culturally embedded, is a huge risk – especially now that Chinese developers are starting to make hyper-casual games. You can’t expect to have a better read of what’s appealing to an entire culture than those who’ve lived their lives amongst it.
And if you try to appeal to the Chinese market specifically, your game’s likely to be less appealing to your home market. It’s usually better to play to the strengths of hyper-casual – create something so universally appealing and relatable that it works across different cultures.
And finally: Localization
Hyper-Casual games don’t need as much localization as, let’s say, mid-core games – where people want to see complete redesigns of menus, content and color schemes.
For hyper-casual games, you need only the basic changes that anyone would need to enter the Chinese market. You’ll need to avoid showing any blood, or any aggressive or violent content. And when it comes to translating texts, language-based games don’t translate easily, so you’ll need a native Chinese speaker to work on it.
The Chinese market is highly competitive and tricky to overcome. But with the right knowledge and the right partner by your side, it can be a very successful move, and can get your game out to millions of new players.
Our main mission is to help studios from outside China gain access to this growing gaming economy – quickly and at scale. With teams in Copenhagen and China, we offer an alternative aimed at tackling the most common problems Western companies face when looking for the right partner in the territory.
Our specialists in Copenhagen act as the main point of contact for developers throughout the West from negotiating contracts to live operations. This significantly reduces the cultural and communicative hurdles developers need to overcome. Meanwhile, our Beijing office provides the boots on the ground necessary to successfully release and operate a game in China.
If you want to learn more about publishing in China, feel free to get in touch with us.