Two women playing an online game with a mobile phone in a subway carriage in Shanghai. An increasing number of young Chinese citizens prefer mobile games over traditional online games that involve players having to sit beside a desk with an electronic screen showing the action. Miao Ao / for China Daily
Sector is taking a bigger share of the market than traditional online rivals
BEIJING – While China’s online gaming market has seen its growth rate slow down in the past two years, a number of game forms have been gaining enormous popularity.
Web games, social games and mobile games have been attracting an increasing number of users compared with the majority of online games – the ones that run on servers devoted to game clients.
Major online gaming companies have begun concentrating on these games – what they call “light online games” – considering them as an increasingly important part of the sector.
“Shanda’s game products will become lighter and lighter in the future; it’s an update and development of our current game portfolio,” said Alan Tan, chief executive officer of Shanda Games Ltd, China’s second-largest online game company by market share.
By “lighter”, he referred to games that don’t run on client software but enable users to play directly on a Web page. He said Shanda’s “massively multiplayer online games” (MMOG), the majority of its portfolio, have been absorbing the features of Web games that provide players with easier access and have easier designs.
The company set up UUGame, a game studio specializing in Web games and social games, in July, employing about 100 people. The studio came up with seven light games in July and plans to launch 10 more next year.
Tencent Holdings Ltd, the country’s largest online game operator, is also introducing social games and Web games to its users. It teamed up with social game maker Zynga Inc to operate a localized version of CityVille, Zynga’s popular title, on Pengyou.com, one of Tencent’s social networking websites.
Total revenues from China’s online gaming market reached 32.37 billion yuan ($5.1 billion) in 2010, up 26.3 percent from a year earlier, according to a report by the industry regulator General Administration of Press and Publication and market research company International Data Corp (IDC).
The growth rate of Web game revenues, however, was much higher than that of the total industry, which analysts said has entered a phase of steady rather than quick development. Web games saw total revenues more than triple from 1.2 billion yuan in 2009 to 4.19 billion yuan last year.
Mobile games, too, have been going uphill with more game makers and operators trying to cash in on the world’s largest mobile market.
The9 Limited, a Nasdaq-listed online game operator and developer in China, for example, has shifted its focus to mobile games since 2010, establishing a mobile business unit and introducing OpenFeint, a mobile social gaming platform, to China.
Rovio Mobile Ltd, the Finnish developer of hit game Angry Birds, earlier said it will establish its first overseas office in China, while Zynga and PopCap Games Inc has entered the country through acquisition or by launching localized games.
“The increasing capability of handsets, having more games on ‘freemium’ (under which games can be downloaded free but extras cost money) – in line with Chinese people’s paying habits – and an increase in wifi coverage. These are key catalysts to speeding up the growth of smartphone mobile games,” said Ray Cheng, the China president of Glu Mobile Inc, a leading publisher of social mobile games worldwide.
He predicted that China may surpass the United States as the world’s largest mobile gaming market by 2015. He added mobile devices are fighting for users’ free time with games, which are taking a growing percentage of all online games.
Glu Mobile joined hands with Tom Group Limited in August to develop a smartphone storefront community in China, as many game publishers are doing in the country.
Total sales of mobile games reached 2.6 billion yuan last year, an increase of 40.7 percent over 2009, according to figures from the Ministry of Culture.
However, “compared with online games that run on client software, light online games contribute only a tiny proportion of online game companies’ revenues”, said Hover Xiao, an analyst with IDC.
Only Qi Xiong Zheng Ba, a Web game operated by Tencent since 2010, can be comparable with online games based on client software, with a monthly revenue exceeding 100 million yuan, he added.
“The ‘lightness’ of these games also mean that players may spend less time and money on them,” he said.