Dissecting China’s Gaming Landscape

In the world of China games publishing, Tencent and NetEase are household names. Plus, Bytedance, which is increasingly known for its massively popular TikTok/Douyin app, is investing heavily into the gaming space as well. But who are the rest? China’s mobile games market is around $41 billion, serving over 660M gamers in Mainland China. Unfortunately, Chinese games companies don’t get much love in the global press, so let’s showcase a few here by breaking them out into four (completely made up) buckets:

Kingmakers are game developers or publishers who own large platforms, which gives them an edge in game distribution. For example, XD owns TapTap, a platform that’s become a total game changer in China, because it allows developers to distribute games with a Sweeney-approved 0% revenue share cut on China Android. As covered in MTM’s Genshin Impact breakdown, the game launched exclusively on TapTap, and IGG has also signed a deal with them for exclusive launches going forward. Another increasingly popular example is Bilibili, the largest long-form UGC video platform in China right now (think Crunchyroll meets YouTube). The ACG-focused video platform has 200 million monthly active users and boasts a high adoption rate among Gen Z (1 out of 2 Zoomers born after ’95 is on Bilibili). Bilibili has written big checks for esports right, recently signed deals for Fall Guys Mobile and Dead Cells, and almost definitely has more in the works.

Legacy Giants:
Legacy Giants are large game developers or publishers that earn most of their revenue in China. They are usually companies that did well in the browser game days and successfully transitioned to mobile. These teams’ huge war chests and strong focuses on the midcore / hardcore / MMO genre makes them a staple on China’s Top 100 Grossing list. Companies in the category include Shengqu, Yoozoo, Aligame, Perfect World, CMGE, Giant Network, 37 Games, and more.

Global Explorers:
The Global Explorers are developers or publishers that earn most of their revenue outside of China. These teams often take a global-first approach, and then launch the Chinese version of the games much later. You’ve definitely heard of these games, such as Habby’s Archero, Lilith’s AFK Arena, IGG’s Lords Mobile, FunPlus’s Guns of Glory, Magic Tavern’s Project Makeover, and Long Tech’s Last Shelter.

Independents are self-publishing developers with one or two hit games that consistent place on China’s Top 100 Grossing list. These include miHoYo’s Genshin Impact & Honkai Impact 3, Pandada’s Ninja Must Die 3, Hypergryph’s Arknights, Happy Element’s Anipop, Qcplay’s Strongest Snail, and more.

This piece paints a broad outline and admittedly lacks detail, but we’ll spotlight many of these companies in the coming months. Comment or reply if you have any requests! Also, most of the publishers mentioned in this article are looking to publish international titles in China, which presents plenty of opportunity.