If you’re working on a gory game filled with zombies and skeletons, it might not be the best idea to bring it to China. But you might get a pass if they’re cute.
Cultural taboos and other differences were one of the topics at the Going East or Going West talk at the GamesBeat 2016 conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. The panel of experts outlined just how different Asian consumers and their tastes are compared to their Western counterparts in Europe and the U.S.
James Zhang, the chief executive of Spellgun (a company that helps bring Western games to the Chinese mobile market), spoke about the way China’s game-infused culture affects people’s behavior. He said that while young Chinese players don’t make a lot of money, games are still their No. 1 pastime.
“Our receptionist in China for example. Her salary is a few hundred dollars a month — which is fair in China,” said Zhang. “Her way of saying ‘I love you’ to her boyfriend is [buying him] $300 worth of virtual goods in his favorite competitive game.”
Another big difference are multiplayer leaderboards. In Western games, this is usually a reflection of skill. But in China, it’s an indicator of who spent the most money on in-app purchases.
“In China, the wealthy people want to show off their wealth. They wear all the name-brand stuff — spending $10,000 on a watch is like a badge of honor,” said Zhang. “You want to show that off. In the West, most people talk about how much money they save. That’s a reflection of the economy.”
According to Roy Liu, general manager at developer Linekong USA, the lifetime for a game in China is much shorter than in the West. Studios have to make their money from quick hits and then move on to the next project. What makes it even more challenging is the little time players have for games.
Liu quoted a recent report that said the average consumer only has 36 minutes per day to devote to games. And those games have to compete for people’s attention from other forms of media, including livestreaming, which has grown extremely popular in China. To stand out from the noise, local companies rely on marketing their games through traditional means — through billboards, buses, and TV commercials.
“[Billboards matter] because the cities are so condensed. … People stay in the city center. That’s how a lot of people spend their daily lives,” said Liu.
Offline marketing is just as important in South Korea.
“A lot of Asian countries are surrounded by major cities, and they use public transportation,” said Daniel Cho, chairman of mobile publisher Innospark. “They spend a lot of time traveling from one place to another through buses or subways. … And they consume a lot of time watching TV.”
The Western games that perform well in South Korea are usually the games that do well globally, like Clash of Clans and Candy Crush. But Cho said beyond those big brands, it’s “very difficult to break through.”
“Every country, like Korea, has certain tastes that people like. [It’s] very different from China,” Cho added. “They want [games with] long playing times — that they can play for the next two or three years. Even mobile.”
Cho and the other panelists agreed that the best way for Western studios to make games in Asian countries is to work with a local partner that can help them understand the cultural differences. You can watch their full discussion in the video above.