China is the biggest game market in the world. So why the heck do so many games exported from there to here seem to flop?
That’s the question Mantin Lu attempts to answer in a new piece on Gamasutra this week. Lu ought to know: He’s part of the new San Francisco-based branch of Chinese publisher Seasun, so it’s literally his business. He says that game studios have become more sophisticated with their imports and exports over the last few years, moving beyond basic translation into full localization for different regions. “Sure enough, translating text assets comprises a large part of localization,” he agrees. “That being said, to localize a game, it also includes its art style, game design, monetization, to name a few.”
Busy user interfaces, complicated MMO gameplay, female hypersexualization, and Chinese historical settings don’t play particularly well in the west, Lu explains, but many Chinese games are built on them. Designers — who are often already reluctant to tear down their successful local game and redo it for an export version that will bring in only a sliver of the players and revenue — must also consider that Chinese audiences tear through content more quickly and are more comfortable with free-to-play design (and concomitant pay-to-win).
“Pay-to-win is something very common in China which people generally accept, despite the fact that it’s not recommended: pay-to-win is not the best monetization approach even in China. Compared to western players, who prefer to pay to unlock levels or content, gamers in China tend to pay their way out including defeating the boss, skipping a hard level, etc.”
All of this is why Lu says he “answer[s] ‘No’ when people ask [him] if it’s a good idea to bring the successful games in China to the West.” But if a studio plans to meet all the localization requirements and port anyway? “Partner with a prestige domestic publisher,” he recommends. “While the Chinese mobile game market continues getting more competitive, there has never been a better time for its developers to consider the western market.”