With China poised to become the world’s top games market this year, our publishing team there took a look at China’s top grossing game genres. Our goal was to identify “red ocean” and “blue ocean” opportunities for game developers looking to gain traction in the Chinese market. All data is from Apple’s App Store as of June 20, 2017.
As shown below, MMOs represent fully one-third of the top 200 games on the list. Card games come in a distant second with about 19%, followed by “simulated life games” (SLGs) at about 17%. There’s also a large group of “other” genres … which masks some important trends at the very top of the list, as we’ll get to below.
So, what to make of this list? A few things stand out to us.
First, the bulk of these games would be what would be considered “core” games in the West. This is consistent with trends that others, including Gamasutra, noted a while ago. As we’ve noted previously on our blogs, mobile is the primary gaming device of most Chinese players, so it shouldn’t really be surprising that revenue trends for mobile in China map more closely to patterns we’d see on other platforms (console, PC) in the West.
Notably absent on this list are the kinds of “social casino” gaming apps that can seem ubiquitous in the Western app stores. These types of games are banned in China. (However, many games in other genres go much further than their Western counterparts in monetizing through gambling-type mechanics, such as complex gachas).
These numbers also mask the massive revenues generated by some “smaller” genres. While MMOs as a category dominate our list of top grossing apps, Tencent’s King of Glory — one of only 2 MOBAs to crack this list — has been at or near the #1 grossing spot consistently since its launch in late 2015. If anything, our list understates the opportunities available in in some of the underrepresented genres. That said, there are likely additional barriers to entry for genres like MOBAs, where the standard challenges of launching a game are exacerbated by the need to have an ecosystem of streamers, media, and tournaments established prior to launch for ambitious titles.
Finally, speaking of MMOs … talk about a crowded genre! MMOs make up almost a third of the list of top grossing games. However, it’s also an incredibly competitive genre. While the relative market share of most genres is fairly stable — at least, in the sense that the snapshot of currently top grossing genres looks similar, proportionally, to the list of top grossing genres comprised only of games that have been at the top for more than 100 days — MMOs show more churn. In the snapshot list shown above, MMOs represent fully 4% more of the total list of top grossing games than they do of the list of games that have been at the top for over 100 days . This implies a genre that is both saturated, and one in which new entrants are prepared to compete fiercely to capture revenue.
Based on our findings, for developers with games in the most competitive genres, we’d recommend being prepared to compete in a fierce market — meaning, make sure you’re working with a top publisher willing to spend resources to ensure success. But for those developers with the ability to shift their development focus, a better strategy might be to focus on less common genres — or, try and carve out a unique niche by incorporating elements of other genres and / or targeting underserved audiences.