Bridging Cultural Differences in the Chinese Gaming Market

China's game market has huge potential, and this blog shows you how to break down the market divide.


October 19, 2022

With the economic, cultural, and technical ascent of modern China, this vast and populist country has become an appealing market for western game developers. As the largest gaming market in the world, with more than 500 million gamers, this young, tech-savvy population of digital citizens seems a perfect fit for up-and-coming gaming devs looking to go global. However, there are distinct cultural differences that must be considered when the east meets the west, in order to achieve success. 

Licensing & Government Oversight

In China, the government takes a more direct role in guiding the language and content of games. Government regulators take a dim view of violence in games, especially mobile games that are marketed to young players. They have specific rules and an age-based rating system and game publishers need to be aware that their games will come under careful scrutiny. Steering clear of political, sexual, or violent themes, is also advised.

All game publishers in China also require an ISBN publication license granted by the government with strict rules applied. Only certain Chinese registered companies can acquire this type of license and receive GAPP (General Administration of Press and Publication) approval. To work around this difficult process, some game devs choose to work in conjunction with Chinese indie game publishing companies that are familiar with the process of publishing foreign games. 

The Most Popular Genres

The Chinese gaming market is driven by different genres than western countries. As younger Chinese people predominately use their mobile phones to access the internet, casual and hyper-casual games are the most popular. MMOs and ARPGs lead the market including fantasy and battle royale themes. Interestingly, data shows that Chinese gamers are more interested in the concepts of Completion and Competition, than concepts of Immersion and Exploration. That means that Chinese gamers care more about points, achievements, and levels which explains the popularity of battle royale, and level-based gaming.

Translation & Localization

Anyone who has ever read an assembly instruction from a Chinese product can relate. Simply running your text through google translate is not enough to turn English into Chinese. The Chinese language is complex and has many variation regions by region, and there are many phrases and colloquialisms that don’t translate word-for-word from English. Of course, the Chinese language has ways to convey the meaning of any thought or emotion but it requires careful study and deep localization to get it right. 

Not only that, but western games often referenced characters, legends, and themes that may not have a meaning to those in the east. Specific localization that references well-known Chinese characters, traditional folktales, and historical lore will be much more appealing to Chinese gamers.  

There is also the problem of written Chinese for on-screen text. Chinese has over 50,000 written characters, and more than one way to write them, Simplified or Traditional. Choosing the correct font and text size is an important challenge.  Beyond language, there are differences in art design that are appealing to different cultures. Chinese gamers tend to prefer more colorful and complex UI’s than western gamers. A careful study of popular games in China can give clues to localized art design that appeals to local preferences.

Marketing via the Big Four

For game devs used to using google and Facebook to market their independent games, it is important to know that the Chinese internet is dominated by four tech giants: Baidu- the largest search engine,  Tencent – the most popular social media company, ByteDance – the parent company of TikTok, and Alibaba – the Amazon of China. Reaching your preferred demographic will require marketing campaigns through these ubiquitous channels. This process can be complex and working with a Chinese marketing agency can be extremely helpful to avoid potential problems and inefficiencies when learning the marketing channels of the Big Four. 

In-App Purchases

Because Chinese citizens commonly use their mobile phones for everyday purchases, they are ready and willing to make In-App purchases for their favorite games. In fact, Chinese players spend up to 50% more on in-game purchases than foreign players. However, they use different payment channels than those that are available in the west. Alipay, UnionPay, and WeChatpay are the most common payment channels used by Chinese consumers, and utilizing these local payment methods is a must to properly monetize games. 

Keeping it Fresh

Unlike western countries where players wait for long periods of time between releases of franchise games, the Chinese market prefers gaming companies to release new content fast and regularly. Being able to quickly implement new updates and levels is key to staying fresh with gamers. Lite versions of games are also popular with mobile users because they can be played easily on most phones and a typical gaming session can be completed quickly, during a work break or while commuting by train. 

The Chinese gaming market offers tremendous opportunities but unlike publishing games across countries of similar cultures, for example, distributing games in Europe, the process of bridging social and cultural differences to successfully publish games in China is much more complex. However, the rewards are potentially massive. There is an incredible number of Chinese gamers constantly looking for the next perfect game. Taking advantage of this new, lucrative market can be transformative for a developer. For game devs new to the Chinese market it can be helpful to work with a local publisher, or a Chinese partner that can help you navigate the waters of cultural harmony and successfully adapt the game for China and open it up to a whole new market of enthusiastic gamers.  

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