Yodo1 raises $5M in Series A funding, CEO Henry Fong on the company’s partner selection process

Full-service Chinese mobile games publisher Yodo1 announced it has secured $5 million in Series A Funding. The round was led by SingTel Group with additional funding from original investor Chang You Fund.

Yodo1 CEO Henry Fong said in a statement that the main challenge for the company now is keeping up with Western developers eager to join its roster of partners. For this reason, the new funding will be used to expand Yodo1′s production capacity to work with more Western game companies and build the company’s platform and production team.

Yodo1, which came out of stealth in June 2012 with $2 million in seed funding, helps its publishing partners crack the Chinese market by focusing on app store distribution, social distribution, payments and advertising. Yodo1 also does a deep dive into the localization process with a fully-staffed studio of artists and developers who work with Western partners to adapt their games to Chinese tastes.

The announcement comes as Yodo1 reported 25 million active Chinese players of its many popular iOS and Android games, including Defiant Development’s Ski Safari, XMG’s Powder Monkeys, HandyGames’ Clouds & Sheep, and Robot Entertainment’s Hero Academy.

It’s clear that other developers are seeing the benefit of having a full-service partner in China that can help them navigate that complex and fragmented market. At the Game Developers Conference 2013 Fong told us that more than 250 game studios have approached Yodo1 for their services in the last four months.

“Obviously, we can’t help all of them,” Fong said. “So far we’ve signed up 25 game studios. Every game that comes through the pipeline is played and reviewed by at least two of our Chinese game designers. We rank everything from gameplay, cultural fit, monetization potential, ease of cultural adaptation, etc. Any game that ranks 70 points or higher gets fed into the game selection committee, which is myself, my game production studio director and four of our producers.”

Twenty-five points of the evaluation goes towards gameplay and are determined only by Chinese players.

“I’m more of a Western gamer,” Fong said, “and I found that what I like and what Chinese players like can be totally different, so we always have the Chinese local players play it first.”

Then Yodo1 looks at the monetization framework with games that lean more toward premium models getting lower scores. This is because many Chinese players have very low incomes when compared with Western markets, and the fact that the free with in-app purchases model has been popular in China even prior to the explosion of mobile gaming with PC games.

For game theme, localization and “culturalization” potential, Fong tell us that, for example, a game about the American Civil War is not going to connect with Chinese players.

“We look for a game with a globalized theme. That’s why science fiction works really well, and to a degree fantasy as well. It’s all a make-believe world, so you don’t need any context.”

Alternatively, Yodo1 will pick games that can be easily modified with a Chinese theme, as it’s done with Ski Safari.

Finally, build size is also really important. Yodo1 discovered that the games that distribute the best are optimized for download speed and size because a big part of the demographic on Android in China uses cheaper, slower mobile networks with bandwidth-limited plans.

“A lot of people only have a plan of 100mb per month,” Fong told us, “If you have a 800MB download people will just not download your game.”

Out of the starting 250 games this year, only 30-40 got through the initial selection, and Fong has played every one of them. He said that it’s important that he play every game the company commits to because Yodo1 is looking to build long-term relationships.