Marketing PC games in China: a short introduction

Weronika Jaszcz
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Entering the Chinese games market might seem like an annoying hassle. Words like ISBN, censorship or a local publisher may come to your mind. But if your PC game was published on the global Steam… Players in China can access it. How is that possible? Read our article to find out!

How big is the Chinese video games market?

Before we jump into "how", it's important to consider why it is worth considering China in your marketing plans. It would be easy to say:

"Chinese video games market? Not worth my time."

But over 660 million Chinese gamers would like to disagree!

With twice as many players as there are people in America, it’s no wonder that China takes one of the top spots among the biggest gaming markets in the world. The revenue is forecasted to reach US$105.90bn in 2023 - and to be growing even further in the upcoming years.

Entering the Chinese market is ESSENTIAL in achieving global success.

Infografic with a yellow Huqiao logo and a text: potential of the Chinese market. 660 million gamers in China, US$105.90bn forecasted revenue, 24% of Steam users

Let’s just add that simply localising your video game will grant you access to 32% of Steam users - because this is how many have their main language set to Chinese. It’s the second most common language on the platform - utilising this knowledge may easily grant you a competitive edge over other game companies. It will allow you not only to reach the diasporas, but also encourage the players from Mainland China to enjoy your game without any “没有中文” (No Chinese!) comments.

Even if your game is niche, there is a chance it will find its fans in such a vast market.

Infografic with a yellow Huqiao logo and a text: When to consider marketing your PC game in China? - over 15% wishlists coming from China - Chinese comments on your Steam page - sudden spikes in sales from the market - influencers sharing gameplay from your game on Bilibili

When to consider marketing your PC game in China?

As we established, the video game industry is rapidly growing, and China is one of the major players in this space. However, simply having an impressive growth rate is not enough to justify the investment. So how can you lower the risk and make sure you are making the right choice?

The first step we take is checking for the existing organic interest from Chinese gamers:

How many % of your game’s wishlists come from China?

We usually recommend an active outreach into the market if the percentage is higher than 15%.

Did you see any sudden spikes in sales, coming from China?

They may mean a famous influencer has shared material connected to your game.

Are there any comments in Chinese on your Steam page? What about Chinese social media?

Being actively discussed and shared by Chinese gamers or influencers is a good indication that the game resonates with the audience.

If you answered yes to any of these - that’s great news! It means there is already interest in your game in the Chinese video games market. It may be a good idea to consider marketing your game there to take advantage of the opportunity.

Infografic with a yellow Huqiao logo and a text: 3 most common myths about the Chinese gaming industry. Myth 1 - You need a local publisher. Myth 2 - Adjusting your game is mandatory. Myth 3 - Chinese players won't like your gamet

Most common myths about Chinese games industry

Myth #1 - You need a local publisher

“Do you know that to release games in China they have to be approved by Chinese government and given a serial number(版号)“

Hate to be the “well, actually” person - but when we are talking about PC games, this couldn’t be further from the truth!

You don’t need an ISBN number - nor a local publisher - to enter China's gaming market. The reason is simple - your game is already there, as long as it was published on the global version of Steam. Chinese gamers can purchase and play video games freely through platforms like Sonkwo or HeyBox… And you don’t have to worry about complying to strict government rules that you’d have to fulfil if applying for a serial number.

Is 版号 useless then?

Not at all - without it, you can’t run performance campaigns for your games. Obtaining an ISBN allows you to directly enter local distribution platforms, also as a PC developer. Working with publishers or getting a licence is mandatory for mobile games, because you won’t get into any of the local app stores like Huawei or Xiaomi Game Store without it. The same goes for publishing your game on the Chinese version of Steam. 

It is definitely helpful - but fortunately not necessary for PC, because the last time only 44 titles obtained it after waiting months for the results.

Myth #2 - Censorship in the Chinese video game market

First thing that comes to mind when it comes to the Chinese gaming industry? Strict censorship policies. In a country when the Internet is deeply regulated, the video games market is no exception. 

The most famous example is definitely World of Warcraft. In the Chinese version of the game, skeletons, bodies, and even pieces of meat were replaced with bread. Loafs are everywhere - on the tables, floors, in monster’s hands, at the bottom of the darkest dungeons…

While WoW's case could be used as an example of the potential restrictiveness of censorship and the Chinese authorities, it would not be entirely accurate. When you look closer into it, some of the games like MMO Age of Wushu also feature skeletons. In Chinese culture, skeletons are still present - for example Baigujing from the 16th century novel “Journey to the West”.

So what’s the truth then?

Getting games officially released in China is a rare opportunity - with a very long approval process. Every game must first be approved by the National Press and Publication Administration - and there are many rules to adhere to. But not all of them are equally clear, for example “promoting cults and superstitions”. In December, only 44 titles obtained an ISBN after waiting months - and before that, the government even halted the process for an indefinite period of time.

It’s no wonder that game companies want to maximise their chances. Even if, as in CS:GO, it would mean changing skulls and crossbones on character’s gloves… to puppy paws.

Of course, all of these do not apply to you if you are not planning an official release in China. If your game is on global Steam - no need to worry about adjusting your content to the market.

Myth #3 - Chinese players won't like my game

To address this myth, it's important to consider what games and genres are popular in the Chinese gaming market.

Mobile games lead the way, accounting for around 70% of gaming revenue in China, with Honor of Kings (王者荣耀) being the most profitable title. In general, popular video games in this region include: MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena), MMORPGs and Real-time Strategies - proving the love Chinese players have for competition.

It’s also worth mentioning that China is a market filled with casual players, preferring a free-to-play model. Gamers have no problem with spending money in game on quick payments to boost their accounts, for example in Genshin Impact (原神).

But what about...

…But what about escape room games in those areas? Or business simulations? There are many genres to consider - will Chinese players be interested in them?

🎯 How about a game set in Gilded Age America, focused on unique form of entertainment and featuring historical figures like John D. Rockefeller?

Despite being strongly rooted in American culture and history, KLABATER SA’s “The Amazing American Circus” has gathered a lot of love from their Chinese playerbase (congrats!).

While looking at the statistics can be interesting, in a market of 660 million gamers there's always a chance for your games to find their fans.

Infografic with a yellow Huqiao logo and a text: Main challenges to consider. Different digital landscape, no ISBN = no paid traffic, content adjustments, lack of benchmarks, releasing mobile or console games in China, working with local game publishers

What are the main challenges to consider?

  • Different digital landscape

When thinking about the local gaming industry, you also have to consider the specifics of social media in China. All the tools for the influencer outreach and social media management you are used to won't work there. You either have to find local substitutes, or do everything by hand.

  • No ISBN = no paid traffic

As mentioned before, running performance campaigns is off the table without game licences.

  • Content adjustments

Censorship might not be a problem when your video game is on global Steam, but asking influencers to share related content on Bilibili may be met with reluctance.

  • Lack of benchmarks

Are 10 videos published by influencers per month a bad result... or a great one? Comparing the numbers between Western and Chinese gaming market is no use. Foreign companies might have a hard time adjusting to market' specifics. It requires a lot of specific knowledge that takes years to gather.

  • Releasing mobile or console games in China

Opposite to PC-focused developers, studios looking to release console or mobile games in China have to prepare for working with local game publishers. And the cooperation isn't always as smooth as you might hope.

  • Working with local game publishers

The biggest problem can be the lack of transparency. You pay for their services, but the data you receive from their side might be hard to comprehend due to language and cultural differences. Other common ones we hear about are communication barriers and troubles with organisation - but it can also be something so simple as time difference between your countries.

Infografic with a yellow Huqiao logo and a text: How to start with marketing video games in China? 1. Influencer outreach. 2. Creating and localising content

At last but not least:

How to start with marketing video games in China?

From our experience, influencer outreach is the most effective in terms of quickly creating hype around the titles - increasing wishlists and game sales as a result. We recommend mapping out all the creators that prepared content about your games - or similar titles - and establishing relationships with them.

The more long-term approach is creating or localising content. You can use ToF social media channels like Bilibili, Weibo or Douyin - and redirect the traffic to BoF distribution platforms like Sonkwo, where players can directly buy your games.

Of course, approaching the Chinese video games market is easier with a knowledgeable guide. So if you have any questions - fill our contact form now!

Learn more:

Does your game have potential in China?

Book a free discovery call with our experts to find an answer.