No country spends more on mobile games than China, but even Chinese companies are struggling to get a piece of that money.
China has overtaken the United States and Japan as the top country for spending on mobile games at $7.1 billion in revenues, according to the latest report from intelligence firms Newzoo and TalkingData. This comes as the country’s smartphone-device and distribution market mature in a number of important ways that mean foreign developers, and even Chinese studios, will keep getting pushed out. This confluence of megaspending and regional complexities also means that a handful of Chinese entertainment companies are locking up the rights to nearly a fifth of the $36.9 billion worldwide mobile gaming industry through at least 2016.
Mobile gaming in China saw a 57 percent year-over-year increase in spending, and the analysts at Newzoo and TalkingData expect to see continued gains in this space. For 2016, Chinese mobile gamers will spend $10 billion before dropping $13.9 billion by 2019. Most of this money goes to companies other than Apple and Google because Android is the dominant platform in China, but the Google Play story — like all Google services — does not work in the country.
In lieu of an official Android app market, Chinese gamers get apps from hundreds of different distribution channels. And it is looking more like all of this growth is primarily benefiting the core group of Chinese publishers that run the largest of those platforms.
In Q4 2015, China had 31,800 “content producers,” which includes publishers and developers. That’s up 5.6 percent from the previous quarter. But that’s down from a 24.7 percent spike in content producers from Q4 2013 to Q1 2014. This isn’t necessarily a reflection that the market cannot support more developers. Instead, this is a sign that Tencent, Netease, and a few others are acquiring more of the smaller and medium-sized businesses while also driving up the costs to compete.
“As the mobile games market began to consolidate to a few large game companies, resources such as channels, talents, and IP were hoarded by them,” according to the TalkingData report. “These companies invest heavily in R&D, developing multiple product lines, and marketing on mid-to-heave content games. By doing so, the life time value of a game or gamer increases, while the risk of failing with one single product decreases. The big companies raise the cost standard of R&D and user acquisition in the industry, making it difficult for small and medium companies to survive.”
Recent rumors suggest that China is potentially working to bring Google back, and that could potentially open up the country to a lot of developers who don’t want to deal with the confusing distribution channels. But at this point, companies like Tencent have such a stranglehold on how apps are delivered that even the presence of Google Play might not