Game industry in China has been successful like any other countries. I can quote you from Japanese authors, Korean films, Asian animation series or cultural curiosities from Eastern countries, but I am constantly surprised that I cannot include China in that same bag. In some way, the one that is already the great economic engine of the world, also turns out to be a great stranger who finds it hard for its cultural products to leave their mark in the West.
However, what he has not achieved through books, movies or television series, he is achieving with video games. China has closed 2020 becoming the industry leader generating more than 33,000 million euros in revenue in game industry. A figure that, given what is to come, could grow much more in the coming years.
The Chinese cultural industry in the West
Unlike other Asian countries such as Japan and its films, books or television series, Chinese cultural products are having great problems finding a place on the other side of the globe. It is a clash of cultures that moves in both directions and, for a Western product to reach the country’s huge market, we see how large concessions and modifications are made to overcome the procedures – and censorship – for its commercialization.
Sometimes, even with multinationals bowing down to satisfy the government , or with movies adapting their plot with the same goal – China as a place of salvation in the natural disaster of ‘2012’ or Tiangong becoming the key to survival in ‘Gravity’ -.
Not even experiments and collaborations like Disney’s recent Mulán have managed to win the favor of both markets. From China they complained about the historical incongruities, turning it into a resounding stumble at the box office. From the West, the disappearance of the Mushu dragon to satisfy Chinese traditions was just one of the many criticisms the film aroused.
However, in two cultures condemned to understand each other, a stronghold has been brewing for years that, this time, seems to be managing to cross the borders that other cultural products have failed to tear apart.
The video game ” made in China ” is no longer just something common in the West based on small and free games, it is a constantly growing market that already dares to lead the best of the year lists and appear among the most anticipated triple A’s .
The surprising success of ‘Genshin Impact’
Converted by Apple and Google as the best game of the year in China, the figures of ‘Genshin Impact‘ by the Chinese company MiHoYo have become one of the biggest focuses of attention in the second half of the year. Only in the mobile market, where it landed alongside the PS4 and PC versions at the end of last September, it generated an average of five million euros a day.
Numbers of authentic madness for a game that began its journey in China based on memes mocking its alarming resemblance to ‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’, and setting off alarms by the embrace of gacha strategy – the eastern equivalent of the loot boxes- as a monetization model.
Nothing capable of stopping that, of the 22 million players who pre-registered before the game’s launch, 5.3 million players did so from outside China. To date, more than five million users have played ‘Genshin Impact’ from their PS4 and, of all of them, the Asian market only accounts for 18%.
How has a Chinese game managed to find its way into an oversaturated launch industry? It could be said that it has been one of those cases in which the stars have aligned, but in reality it has been a tremendously well thought-out move by a company with enormous experience behind it.
Beyond the appeal of a free game a la ‘Zelda’ – even if only visually – in a year in which confinement has raised interest in this type of entertainment, and a generous investment in marketing, structure and game possibilities are a lesson in design and loyalty in these times.
We are facing a visually appealing title, with a style of scenes and recognizable characters based on Japanese animes and with a very accessible entrance door thanks not only to its free but also to the launch pads.
With the option to cooperative, without explicit violence and with a game system that, based on weekly prizes and a story that reveals new areas and characters little by little, makes the fear of missing something its great ally, ‘Genshin Impact’ was the perfect breeding ground to become a Twitch star.
Tencent continues to grow
In early 2019, Tencent was talked about in this house as the unknown Chinese giant destined to dominate the video game industry. Today, just two years later, it is neither unknown nor destined for anything, it is on everyone’s lips and the industry is already well taken by the horns.
The Chinese market for mobile games shares the first positions in profits together with NetEase , another of the large companies that seeks to gain a foothold in these parts with investments such as Quantic Dream ( ‘Detroit: Become Human’ ). But its threads go much further .
Tencent has minority shares in Activision or Ubisoft, and dominates companies such as Epic Games ( ‘Fortnite’ , Unreal Engine), Supercell ( ‘Clash Royale’ ), Riot Games ( ‘League of Legends’ ), Digital Extremes ( ‘ Warframe ‘ ) or Bluehole ( ‘ PUBG ‘ ).
Its claws, in one way or another, also reach Splash Damage, Platinum Games, Yager, Frontier, Paradox or even Discord , the favorite messaging app among players. In fact, despite not being a company exclusively focused on video games, Tencent’s investment rose to more than 30 million in 2020 and it plans to continue growing until half of its players are Western .
But the thing is not just about investing where there are possibilities, but about seeking alliances to precisely facilitate the entry of foreign products into the Chinese market. As we related a few lines above with movies, Western video games or the Japanese industry also rely on Tencent to open a gap between regulations and censorship.
The most recent example has been that of its agreement with Nintendo for the distribution of Switch in that market. According to data from Niko Partners, Tencent Holdings would have sold more than 1.3 million Nintendo Switches during the last year. Double what was achieved by adding the sales of PS4 and Xbox One in the same market and period.
Between some shares and others, Tencent has become in 2019 the video game company in China that generated the most profits globally. A sum significantly larger than that achieved by Sony in the same period and even greater than that of Microsoft and Nintendo combined. It is not difficult to imagine 2020 results that widen that difference even more.
The games made in China that come
But not only from ‘Genshin Impact’ and Tencent lives the Chinese market outside its borders, although the latter has a close relationship with everything great that is yet to come. There are several releases and projects that plan to repeat the MiHoYo feat in the coming years.
‘Black Myth: Wu Kong’
Emerged out of nowhere, ‘Black Myth: Wu Kong’ became one of the great sensations of last summer by delivering a very promising trailer. An action adventure RPG a la ‘Dark Souls’ created by former members of Tencent that should reach PC and other platforms in the coming years.
The hit that comes with this collaboration between Tencent and Nintendo promises to be tremendous. ‘Pokémon Unite’ is a mixture of two of the most profitable titans in the industry that combines the MOBA genre of ‘League of Legends’ and the charisma of the characters of ‘Pokémon’. It will land on Switch, iOS and Android at some point yet to be confirmed.
Another Tencent project , this time an open world FPS that many have not been slow to relate to ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ due to its similarities. The great asset of the idea is that it is closely related to Epic, who are helping to shape ‘SYN’ to take full advantage of the Unreal Engine.
The Riot Forge games
Maybe the branch of additional developments of the creators of ‘League of Legends’ has studios around the planet working for them, but let’s not forget that the money is Chinese and that the coffers that will end up being filled with projects like ‘Ruined King’, Project L or a future MMO inspired by the Riot franchise, are those of Tencent.