Guest Post: Making your iOS game succeed to China

Editor’s note: Germany’s HandyGames recently brought its pet-raising sim Clouds & Sheep from Android to iOS, debuting the title in the Chinese iTunes App Store after working to localize the title with its Chinese publisher Yodo1.  In this guest post, Yodo1 CEO Henry Fong shares his advice for making a Western-developed game appeal to a Chinese audience.

There are many challenges involved in bringing a mobile game to the China — it’s difficult to get a new title noticed in such a huge market, and the cultural divide between Western developers and Chinese gamers is also often a problem.

For HandyGames, the question was would Clouds & Sheep and its other titles work in China? After all, the company is based in Germany, and its titles come with very Western elements like castles and cowboys, and Clouds & Sheep might have seemed too weird for Chinese gamers. We recommended that HandyGames change some features and focus on others when they launched their titles in China. Since many of these tweaks will also apply to other Western developers who want to get their games into the Chinese market, I wanted to share them here.

Play up cute

Unlike a lot of Western games in China, Clouds & Sheep has one very big thing going for it: cute. Chinese gamers love cute much more than their western counterparts do. This is especially true with one of the top audiences for iPhone games in China: young professional women between the ages of 20 and 28.

Unlike most of their peers in the U.S. and Europe, Chinese in that age range are still very much into Hello Kitty style and other cute fashion accessories.  “Kawaii” — Japanese  for “cute” — has now become synonymous for the style of chic-cute fashion that is tremendously popular with the Asian female demographic. All that in mind, we made sure that the game’s cuteness was emphasized in all its marketing material.

Make it easy to share and spend on

If there’s anything Chinese love more than cute, it’s sharing. With Clouds & Sheep, we integrated the game with Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo, the Twitter-style social networks in China.

That way, people could share photos they take in-game, show off their sheep wearing decorations, and other things. Within a week after launch, we saw many Sina Weibo updates with Clouds & Sheep photos. This created a nice viral growth mechanism. We weren’t surprised to see that the hundreds of personalized Clouds & Sheep screenshots being shared were mostly from young female players.

For instance, one talented player created and posted a Clouds & Sheep screenshot to her blog, adding characters from a popular Chinese TV series. In the first three days after she posted it, the image went viral – it’s already been reposted by other Sina Weibo users 2754 times (and counting), which means hundreds of thousands of new eyeballs looking at Clouds & Sheep content.

On the monetization side, Chinese players hate waiting, so we provided an option to buy stars (Clouds & Sheep’s currency, usually earned by accomplishing in-game goals) with a diverse pricing structure, so players could buy a pack of stars for the Chinese equivalent of $1, all the way up $60. Even for a casual title like Clouds & Sheep, we’ve see Chinese gamers buying the high priced packages, which reflects another rule I like to follow: Make the monetization options flexible enough so that all kinds of customers can buy them. (And don’t be surprised that some Chinese customers are willing to pay hundreds of dollars a month on your game,  because that happens fairly often.)

Don’t just translate to Chinese language — translate to Chinese culture

While the basic gameplay of Clouds & Sheep and other HandyGames titles are easy to understand in China, a lot of the slang often found in Western games (Awesome Dude, OMG, etc), simply doesn’t translate well in Chinese.

During the localization process, many game publishers just do a literal translation of the game’s text, but we knew that would only make HandyGames seem foreign. The literal translation for “Cute!” in Chinese is “ke ai” but the popular Chinese word is “meng“,which is the equivalent of “chic cute.” As a result, a lot of Chinese gamers tell us they assumed that Clouds & Sheep was actually made by a Chinese studio — a huge compliment.

So far, the results are pretty positive: Clouds & Sheep has been a top game in China’s Apple Store for two weeks since launch. It’s also one of Apple’s featured apps. HandyGames is also incorporating what they’ve learned in China with the launch of Clouds & Sheep to the rest of the world.