If you’re a mobile game developer looking to drive revenue, Asia’s the place to be. According to games industry research firm Newzoo, the Asia-Pacific region made up almost half — 45 percent — of the $82 billion global gaming market in 2014. It’s also fastest-growing market, with revenue climbing 15 percent over the same period. North America’s gaming revenue growth over the same period? A paltry 1 percent.
Industry consultant Josh Burns says there’s opportunity for devs to break into the Asia-Pacific market, but he cautions against hopping in without a plan. Western-based devs need to educate themselves on the nuances of the region (such as understanding game themes that may not resonate in the region, such as billiards in Japan or sci-fi in Korea, for example), as well as larger issues such as the many, many different languages in the region and different app distribution channels. We chatted with Burns about what devs should know before releasing a game in this lucrative market.
1. Understand the potential of your game
Simply changing the language of your game won’t create a successful product in a new market. Burns suggests doing your homework first, particularly when it comes to art and visual style. He points to the design shift Disney made with its popular Where’s My Water?, opting for artistic elements that take after popular comic book art of the area:
Beyond design choices, it’s important to understand some important cultural differences. In addition to the billiards issue mentioned previously, Burns notes that slots’ games, too, have a hard time in the Asia-Pacific market because it’s illegal to gamble in Mainland China, greatest low awareness of the slot machine experience — and Chinese gamers account for the third-most iTunes App Store revenue (behind the U.S. and South Korea). The takeaway? Make sure your game is one that will resonate. Burns says mid- and hardcore games that involve strategy and complex level play are generally a fan-favorite in Asia.
2. Don’t go “all in” at once
Burns says it’s important to take small steps into the region to see if your title takes hold; this way, devs don’t have to invest maximum effort upfront with the potential of minimal ROI.
“Start by localizing materials for the app store and see how it’s received. This is a pretty simple initial test,” Burns says. “Take incremental steps such as exploring local Android distribution channels or bringing on someone to provide local customer or community support for key markets in Asia.”
3. Find a partner
For those devs bullish on the opportunity in Asia, these devs should explore working with a local partner that can offer not only localized marketing and distribution, but also guidance and support on creating in-game content that will appeal to local users. One example? Creating content based on local holidays like China’s Golden Week. Some games even create special levels with culturally relevant characters. On the left, Robot Entertainment’s Hero Academy added a special character team based on a well-known Chinese martial arts fantasy in collaboration with Yodo1. One the right, a character similar to that of the well-known Monkey King character in China was added to Kiloo’s Subway Surfers in partnership with iDreamsky.
It may be tempting to do the research yourself, but Burns emphasizes the value of partnering with someone with local market expertise. Local publishers are more likely to know how to navigate local payment systems and distribution channels, saving valuable time and resources. A good partnership, Burns says, can mean the difference between a new revenue stream for devs and a dry well.