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Online gaming is huge, and China is responsible for a big part of that growth. With that in mind, one developer is happily partnering with one of the country’s biggest game publishers.

Orcs Must Die Unchained developer Robot Entertainment is partnering with global gaming company Tencent to publish the multiplayer online arena battler in China. While Robot plans to operate Orcs in the West, it required some help bringing it East, and Tencent has plenty of experience with games like this thanks to its stake in League of Legends developer Riot Games. Like League, Unchained is a competitive online game where teams of players must use strategy to outwit an opposing team. Robot is mixing up that formula by introducing booby-trap mechanics that League or Dota 2 are missing.

It’s a game that could perform well with an e-sports crowd — just like the one that is growing in Asia and has helped China rack up $8 billion in client-based PC game spending last year.


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Going East

“I’m not sure it’s even possible legally to publish a game in China without a local partnership,” Robot chief executive Patrick Hudson told GamesBeat. “But, even if it were, we’d still very much want a publishing partner. China is a vast and complex market. It’s necessary to have a partner that knows the market, the tastes of players, and how to best reach them.”

Hudson explained that his team planned from the beginning to expand into China after prepping Orcs for North America and Europe.

“We hoped to work with the biggest and the best publisher in China,” he said. “So establishing a publishing partnership with Tencent was a goal we set 18 months ago.”

For Tencent, Orcs Must Die Unchained is a game that fits with what Chinese players want.

“The first thing we consider is if our partner’s product can create happiness for gamers,” Tencent vice general manager Sage Huang told GamesBeat. “Robot is a great partner, and they have been dedicated in creating fun and making unique gameplay experiences for a very long time, which perfectly matches with our philosophy.”

A game that China will love

Huang points to the previous releases in the Orcs Must Die series as evidence that Robot can deliver something ideal for China. The first two releases are single-player games where players build defensive structures to fight off waves of enemies.

“Those games have proven to be successful with great music and graphics, unique gameplay, and other features,” said Huang. “There is tons of humor in the games, and they are very entertaining. This kind of entertaining style is a rising trend in the Chinese gaming market, and Unchained has inherited all those great features and is pushing the quality even higher.”

That’s exactly what Hudson wants to hear. For a competitive game like Unchained to really take off, it needs to find a global audience — and finding an audience in China is Tencent’s specialty.

“It’s easy to get lost in such a big market,” said Hudson. “Tencent has the platform to help make sure that doesn’t happen.”

At the same time, the team at Robot found that their new publishing partner was in no hurry to rush Orcs Must Die Unchained out the door. Hudson says Tencent has the “discipline” to wait until a game is ready.

Free-to-play versus fun to play

Tencent’s League of Legends is one of the most lucrative games in the world. In the first nine months of 2014, it has already earned nearly $1 billion. If you’re unfamiliar with the game, you might think that the Chinese company is getting those revenues through the use of every dirty “monetization” trick you can imagine. Hudson insists that’s not the case.

“We admire how Tencent thinks about free-to-play business models for games,” he said. “They never once talked to us about driving revenue or ‘average revenue per user’ or lifetime value or any such terms you hear thrown about. They only talked to us in terms of player enjoyment and fun. They prioritize gameplay and innovation, same as we do.”

That’s actually something we noticed in our interview with Huang. He repeatedly emphasized Tencent’s “motto,” which is “creating happiness for users by heart.” Put simply, it sounds like Tencent thinks the money will follow games that people love.

That doesn’t mean Tencent is providing zero support to Robot.

“We have very big user base in China, which provides us fast, accurate, and efficient feedback,” said Huang. “That feedback guides us to optimize our games and other services. So this time, we prepared carefully and setup the Unchained Chinese community, also called Orcs Made. This community is designed to become the community platform between gamers, developers, and Tencent’s operating team.”

“Early on, Tencent brought in Chinese players to test Orcs Must Die Unchained,” said Hudson. “They have a great ability to aggregate the feedback and present it to us in a way that helps us better understand what’s working with our game in China and what’s not.”

Both companies are hoping that the patience, testing, and feedback implementation pay off.

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