A Look at the Social Gaming Ecosystem on China’s RenRen.com

We took a look at virtual goods and social gaming in China, last week. Today, we’ll look at the app ecosystem inside RenRen.com and Kaixin.com; of these two sister sites, RenRen is the more popular and has one of the most open developer platforms in the country. We’ll look at how they present and promotes apps to users but focus more on RenRen.

Background

RenRen.com is one of China’s top 3 social networks. Together with sister SNS Kaixin.com, it accounts for around 16% of the total social network market in China, according to a 2009 report on social network usage released by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC).

16% may not seem like much (we last reported Facebook’s estimated U.S. market share to be hovering around 58.6%), but it’s a sizable figure for the highly fractured China social networking market. According to the chart above, ‘other networks’ combine to make up around 15% of the total market, or nearly as much as RenRen.com. Unlike in the U.S. or other markets around the world where one or two dominant players have tended to emerge, China’s social networking market includes many smaller players. Here, the CNNIC has chosen to group these as ‘other.’

The CNNIC estimates that the average user has multiple social network profiles – around 2.7 per user, to be exact. The graph shows the how much of that 270% belongs to each of the major networks:

  • QZone accounts make up 50%
  • RenRen accounts make up 37%
  • Sina Space accounts make up 36.6%
  • 51.com accounts make up 27.1%
  • Kaixin001.com accounts make up 26.4%
  • Bai.Sohu.com, Sohu’s newly launched SNS, accounts make up 16.3%
  • Douban.com, a site for socializing around books, movies and music, accounts make up 10.1%
  • 139.com accounts make up 10%
  • Kaixin.com accounts make up 6.8%
  • ‘Other,’ smaller or local services contribute 39.9%

To calculate our 17% market share estimate for RenRen.com, we combined percentage figures for RenRen.com and Kaixin.com — both owned and operated by parent media company Oak Pacific Interactive, who has also recently announced that it will merge the two sites’ userbases. Then we divided by 2.7 to capture the number of users on social networks. Notice that the ‘Other’ category makes up a very substantial percentage of the total.

Overall, RenRen.com is China’s 14th most trafficked site, while Kaixin.com trails as the 122nd most trafficked site. This is according to Alexa, an imperfect web measurement service that is one of the few to make China web traffic publicly viewable. Kaixin001.com, on the other hand, is China’s 11th most visited site. Note that Kaixin.com and Kaixin001.com are not the same social networking service. Kaixin001.com was established in early 2008, seven months before Kaixin.com, and continues to occupy a very significant portion of Chinese social networking traffic.

Now, let’s take a quick look at the portals themselves. Both RenRen.com and Kaixin.com have identical user interfaces, save for slight color theme variations. Additionally, both networks leverage one app directory to bring social games to millions of users every day.

The RenRen.com homepage: friend updates, requests in the upper right-hand corner, instant messaging at the bottom, and a tab for apps in the blue section at the top of the page.

The Kaixin.com homepage. Same friend updates, same requests in the upper right-hand corner, and same app directory link, this time in orange.

Market share split:

  • RenRen 13.7%
  • Kaixin 2.5 %
  • Total combined 16.2%

Why is Kaixin.com so far behind its sister site? RenRen.com started out as Xiaonei.com, one of China’s earliest and most popular social networking services. Like Facebook, Xiaonei seeded itself from within college campuses (its name means ‘on campus’) and fueled its growth by leveraging the high interconnectedness of college networks. Later, Xiaonei’s parent company, Oak Pacific Interactive, decided to rebrand the site as the network for ‘everybody,’ or RenRen. In late 2008, an Oak Pacific subsidiary company, Qianxiang Wangjing, observed the increasing popularity of Kaixin001.com, and of its apps and games, and quickly launched a competitor site, Kaixin.com. In popular usage, the ‘001’ gets left out, so both go by ‘Kaixin,’ which simply means ‘happy.’ In May of 2009, Kaixin001.com filed an unfair competition lawsuit against Oak Pacific for starting the site, which, according to China Daily, remains unresolved today.