German online game company Bigpoint is bringing its flagship title Drakensang Online, which already has some 29 million registered players, to China with the help of media and telecoms giant Tencent, and hopes to grow its massive userbase even further.
Speaking to Develop, Bigpoint CEO Khaled Helioui says the global game industry is worth $81bn and is growing at a rate of seven to eight per cent year-on-year, with mobile and online the biggest drivers.
The Asian market, he claims, currently represents 45 per cent of the game sector, and believes it will likely grow beyond half that from this year onwards, with 82 per cent of industry growth coming from the region. The Chinese sector on its own, meanwhile, is worth $18bn.
“What people don’t go into detail on and don’t understand is that $18bn, it’s entirely free-to-play, entirely online and mobile,” he says.
“So that’s the biggest F2P gaming market in the world by far. They dwarf every other market in the industry. But just from an industry and market size standpoint, if you are a free-to-play gaming company, that’s the market that you should be targeting. But obviously, considering the size and the growth of that market, it’s extremely competitive and it’s extremely difficult to get in.
“If we look at this $18bn, you have $13.5bn that is actually PC, partly online and partly web. So partly client games and partly web games. And again, that’s much bigger than anybody else, and this part is still growing at around ten per cent year-on-year. So it’s not only outsizing the rest of the market, it’s outpacing the rest of the market. There is still a lot of demand and appetite for PC and online games.”
Helioui says MMORPGs and fantasy-based games are amongst the most successful titles in China. For example, League of Legends, World of Warcraft and Diablo III have all found audiences in the country.
But the number of success stories are low. Helioui believes it’s a completely unique market to the rest of the world, even to its Asian neighbours, with different expectations and player habits.
He uses the example of SmileGate’s CrossFire, which struggled in South Korea before making its way to China where it’s been raking in around $1bn in revenue a year for the past few years. As an example, according to SuperData, CrossFire made some $956.66m in 2013.
Helioui says this is an example of the unique tastes of Chinese consumers and is also an example of how spending time adapting a game for China can reap significant rewards.
If you treat it just like a port or just another translation, there’s no question you’re going to fail. And the reality of the market is most people do.
Khaled Helioui, Bigpoint
He explains there are three key areas developers and publishers need to consider when bringing their games to the country.
“The level of grinding and the level of intensity Chinese players are going through in their games is much higher than you would see in the Western market,” he states.
“As such, the level of balancing and complexity of your game probably needs to be reviewed. Again, that takes a lot of time just to make sure you don’t break your economy and that you don’t break the overall flow of your title.
“Second, the monetisation expectations are also very different. The Chinese players tend to churn through their games much faster than the Western players."
Helioui adds: “And then you obviously have all the integration and servicing work. In the end, the moment you go out, you have to be able to service hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of consumers. So we needed the back-end work and the network infrastructure effort that you need to do. That’s that much more tantamount than what you would do for the Western market.”
To this end, Bigpoint has recruited a producer, designers and developers from China to work on bringing Drakensang Online, as if it were a completely new game, to the country.
“Because that’s the way you should be treating it,” he states. “If you treat it just like a port or just another translation, there’s no question you’re going to fail. And the reality of the market is most people do.”
He goes on to state: "It’s not just a question of adapting the game for the launch, you need to maintain that pipeline of content production for when you’re live. If you stop providing content and providing dates to your players, they’re going to churn.
“And the base of churning content from Chinese players is much higher than what you see in the West. So if you still basically expect to just keep delivering the same quality of content that we’re use to for the existing userbases, you’re probably not going to succeed.”
Bigpoint is hoping to replicate the success of a rare few and make big money from the burgeoning yet highly competitive Chinese games market. He concludes by describing the affect China had on Riot Games’ League of Legends, something he no doubts wants to replicate with its partner Tencent with Drakensang Online in the region.
“For a lot of people that want to know how Riot developed itself and how League of Legends became what it was, there is no question that China was a critical time point in its evolution,” he says.
“There was a before and after they went into China. And that impacted dramatically the whole formula and the whole way they developed themselves internationally afterward.”
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