The Casual Games Association paid for Jeff Grubb’s trip to Casual Connect Asia, where he is presenting a lecture. Our coverage remains objective.
SINGAPORE — Making games in China can deliver huge rewards, but it’s also incredibly risky. But one new company is trying to shake that up by focusing on solving the region’s biggest barrier to entry.
China is already one of the biggest markets in the world for smartphone gaming, but it’s inscrutable and nearly impossible to penetrate for developers outside the country. And that’s for one really specific reason: Android phones run more than 100 different app stores. This has enabled several major publishers to set up shop in the region with the promise to navigate the labyrinthine distribution networks, but they also take a huge cut and keep strict control over every step of a game’s release. That’s where Kick9 wants to step in to provide a different way of doing things.
“You cannot do distribution by yourself in China because it is a lot of work there,” Kick9 founder and chief executive officer Yong Wang told GamesBeat. “In the U.S. market, developers just release their apps without a publisher on the App Store or Google Play. China, however, has too many channels of distribution. Stores like 91.com and others are very powerful. They control the traffic. And for the small developer, they don’t have the time to work with every channel. Publishers, however, have the relationships with all these channels.”
But this knowledge of the market and these relationships gives publishers an unusual amount of leverage over developers. This enables those publishers to take a huge cut of around 70 percent of the total revenue. But China is so huge that most developers are willing to make that deal. And while only getting a 30-percent cut of the money is still a lot if it turns into a Chinese hit, working with a publisher is still risky for other reasons.
“Chinese publishers want many different games,” Wang said. “If they get a hit, they’ll put a lot of resources behind it. But if a game isn’t a hit, however, they’ll give up on it in a very short time — only about three weeks after an app’s release.”
And this makes the current market unsustainable, according to Wang. Developers are risking a lot by building a game, and they’re turning over nearly all control and a lot of the money to someone else just for the slim chance that they’ll get a return in China.
For Kick9, this is an opportunity.
“We know the system, but we want the content provider to have control,” Wang said. “You should be able to control your game and the marketing, and we’re just a service provider.”
Wang calls this “distribution as a service” and compares what he does to eBay. Kick9 wants to connect developers with all the people looking for games in the same way that eBay enables individuals to set up online stores and connect with consumers. But, with both Kick9 and eBay, the store owners control everything about their marketing and management.
Kick9 will provide developers with other services like market research, localization, and QA testing. But this is all optional — it will only handle those areas if the development partners want that help. This is in stark contrast to traditional Chinese publishers, who don’t give developers that choice and demand total control over everything.
And the difference between Kick9 and other Chinese publishers that developers are most likely to notice is that Kick9’s cut starts at only 20 percent. It could grow to as much as 50 percent depending on whether developers opt into the company’s other services. But Wang says that not only are those services optional, but Kick9 has no problem if developers work with other outside company’s on QA, localization, or anything else.
This creates a situation where indie developers from the West could break into China on their own terms without having to surrender their creative vision. Up until this point, studios haven’t had that option — and it could have a huge effect on how games roll out into that country in the future.