Full-service publisher Yodo1 wants to help Western developers crack China

By Kathleen De Vere Comment

Startup mobile publisher Yodo1 wants to be the partner of choice for Western mobile developers looking to take their games to China.

The Bejing-based company is coming out of stealth today, announcing $2 million in seed funding from the Chang You Fund and its latest release — a new version of Robot Entertainment’s hit iOS game Hero Academy that’s been extensively localized for the Chinese market.

While the exploding Chinese mobile market has a lot of possibility for developers, it’s also an incredibly complex place to do business. Android developers have access to hundreds of different app stores, jailbroken iPhones let users avoid paying for apps, social integration channels like Facebook and Twitter are blocked, and many of the companies Western developers are used to working with aren’t in China, or are just starting out in the market themselves.

This situation, according to Yodo1 CEO Henry Fong, is what gives his company its focus and value proposition for Western developers — distribution and monetization in China, while taking care of what he describes as a “massive, convoluted market.”

Yodo1 helps its publishing partners crack the Chinese market by focusing on four areas: app store distribution, social distribution, payments and advertising.

Distribution poses the greatest challenge, explains Fong. While it’s relatively easy to bring an iOS app to China, the real question an Android developer will have is who to work with. Android app stores fall into three categories in the country, he says. There are independent third-party app stores like GFan, carrier app stores run by market leaders like China Mobile and handset manufacturer app stores, of which every major OEM has one.

The issue, he explains, is there may be 10 leading Android app stores in China, but the rankings of those stores will change on a monthly basis. In addition, different app stores have different strengths, which means its not easy to tell from the surface if an app store is a good fit for a developer’s title.

“Some app stores may drive lots of downloads, but not see great conversion,” says Fong. “This make them more effective for apps that monetize through advertising sales.”

Yodo1 helps its partners by distributing their games into the app stores that will provide the best fit, and will add more distribution channels if other options emerge.

Yodo1 follows the same approach for social distribution to Chinese social networks like Sina Weibo, and its network of local advertising partners; picking the best channels for a game, and replacing social networks and advertising partners as the market changes. Yodo1 also takes care of monetization for its partners, skipping the need for developers to worry about integrating a different payment method and SDK for every app store they distribute to. The company will even handle taxation and accounting.

Finally, Yodo1 also does a deep dive into the localization process. The company has a fully-staffed studio of artists and developers who work with Yodo1’s Western partners to adapt their games to Chinese tastes. This can range from aesthetic changes, such as adding a new team to the turn-based combat game Hero Academy based on Chinese myth — think Chinese zombies and Shaolin Monks — to adding entirely new monetization streams to a game.

“Chinese gamers behave differently,” says Fong, who explains that while Western players don’t like the idea of paying to win at a game, Chinese players love premium items that can give them an advantage. With this in mind Yodo1 worked with Robot Entertainment to add new premium items to Hero Academy that would appeal to Chinese gamers without unbalancing the game.

Yodo1’s biggest competitor in this sort of “full service publishing partnership” business is The9, the Shanghai-based gaming company that operates its own social-mobile gaming platform called The9 Game Zone. Over the past year, The9 has been very aggressively signing up Western developers for its platform, offering everything from localization to SDK integration as part of a one-stop solution to get into the Chinese market. The9’s platform now has 10 million users and has driven 12 million downloads. The company is backing its efforts with a $100 million fund called Fund9.

Like The9, Yodo1 operates on a revenue share model, with the exact split determined by how much localization work is done on the game. However, unlike The9, which ties its publishing partners to its own platform, social network and advertising service, Yodo1 connects the games it publishes into the open Chinese market as a whole, a difference Fong thinks makes Yodo1 a better choice for developers.

“Our job is make sure leading Western games do even better in China,” he says. “Don’t worry about figuring it out, we’ll figure it out for you and cut you a check in U.S. dollars.”