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Video game players compete against each other at an e-Sports convention held in Lyon, France in March. Photo: IC

China's game developers, big or small, are busily exploring the overseas markets, not only in developed countries like the US, but also in emerging markets like India. The Global Times recently spoke with several Chinese developers about how they are conquering global markets with Made-in-China games. However, it seems that challenges have also emerged.

Looking back to 20 years ago, the video game was somewhat of an ambiguous concept for many Chinese. But now, the Chinese gaming industry has reached a phase of development whereby it is spreading beyond the Chinese border.

Two Chinese games were on the 2016 "Best Web Games" list compiled by Facebook. They are League of Angels II, a role-playing game developed by Shanghai-based Yoozoo Games, and role-playing game Naruto Online, developed by Hong Kong-headquartered Oasis Games. 

On the Facebook page of League of Angels II, the Global Times noticed that more than 450,000 people "like" the game by press time on Tuesday.

Chinese games have also gained popularity on US digital game distribution platform Google Play.

For example, Piano Tiles 2, a rhythm game developed by Beijing-based Cheetah Mobile, was on Google Play's hot mobile games ranking list.

Wang Si'en, Piano Tiles 2's game developer and vice president of Cheetah Mobile, said that Piano Tiles 2 ranked at the top of gaming lists in 150 countries and regions, including the US and Japan where market access is the most difficult.

"The global market always holds an open attitude toward Chinese games, and they can achieve great popularity globally as long as the quality is high," Wang told the Global Times on Monday.

Testing overseas waters

In recent years, more and more domestic game developers have been testing the waters overseas.

An Jianwang, president of the overseas sales department under Cheetah Mobile, said that Cheetah has been helping about 300 domestic game developers, big or small, explore the international market over the past four years.

"Five years ago, domestic game developers went abroad mostly because they faced survival pressure in the home market, so they often fought on their own in the global market. Nowadays, developers like to work together and tend to focus more on the mobile game sector," An told the Global Times on Monday.  

An also noted that diverse strategies had been adopted by different companies, with some big gaming companies being prone to entering the overseas market via acquisition of foreign gaming studios.

China's tech mammoth Tencent Holdings reportedly invested in UK-based gaming studio Milky Tea on August 2.

Just a few days before then, the company also bought 9 percent of shares of Frontier Developments, another UK-based video game developer. Tencent hadn't commented on those investments as of press time Tuesday.

Smaller firms are also busily exploring the overseas market. An said some of them even position the overseas market as their only business target.

One of such companies is Veewo Games, a Xiamen-based gaming company whose games like Super Phantom Cat are very popular on Google Play.

"We now mostly target overseas markets, and the domestic market is just a bonus for us," Jason Yeung, CEO of Veewo, told the Global Times on Friday.

Apart from developed countries like the US, emerging markets are also attracting Chinese game developers. 

Yoozoo, which has gained some advantages in mature markets like the US and Europe, also started to tap emerging markets like Russia. 

In March, Yoozoo set up a subsidiary in Pune, India.

"We made this decision because we recognize that the big population base and booming mobile industry [in India] will bring about ample development space for potential mobile games," Yoozoo's vice president Liu Wanqin told the Global Times on Monday. "Now it's time to break into that market, nurture user habits and set up brand reputation."

She also noted that Yoozoo's first online gambling card game in India Teen Patti is quite popular among local users.

Big fortune ahead?

Yoozoo's overseas revenues stood at 1.268 billion yuan ($189 million) in 2016, up 64.55 percent year-on-year, said Liu.

As its products were welcomed  mostly by US players, Veewo said it now gains about 60 percent of the company's income from overseas markets.

Yeung bets that the proportion is expected to become even larger in the future.

Chinese game developers' revenues in overseas markets surged by about 130 percent year-on-year in the first six months of 2017, according to a report published by domestic news site on July 31.

Moreover, according to Liu from Yoozoo, Chinese developers currently account for about 27 percent of all game revenues generated in Southeast Asia, and about 33 percent in the Middle East and Russia. 

However, in an interview with the Global Times, Wesley Bao, CEO of Shanghai-based game developing start-up Coconut Island Games, said that overseas markets are not bonanzas for all Chinese game developers.

Coconut, which used to mainly target overseas users, has moved its focus back to the domestic market because it found that it is costly to meet the cultural needs of both domestic and overseas players with just one game, Bao told the Global Times on Monday.

Liu admitted that competition in the overseas market is also fierce and "you need to address hurdles like language and cultural differences" while exploring opportunities abroad.

Localization is the key

In the view of domestic developers, the key to success in overseas markets is localization.

Localization is not about translation, but about understanding local cultures, said Yeung.

For example, "you can't promote Christmas-related games in Arab countries and you can't say 'blondy' in US games as the term might be considered offensive there," he explained.

According to Wang from Cheetah Mobile, Japanese game users are adapting slowly, so it's hard for games to explode in Japan, but in South Korea and the US, players easily accept new things, therefore innovative games can become a hit right away there.

"For developers that want to succeed overseas, they should pay attention to the changes on those countries' games lists and research on those hot games to find the market gaps. They should also conduct fast online surveys to see whether their games suit the tastes of local players," Wang suggested.

He noted that English-speaking countries have a lot in common in culture, religion and language, so they can be treated as one homogenous market, "but other countries need to be treated one by one."