Episode 18: What Has Happened in the Mobile Games Industry So Far? With GameRefinery by Vungle’s Analysts

Mobile GameDev Playbook podcast by GameRefinery

As we wrap up the first half of 2021, in this episode of The Mobile Gamedev Playbook, we have asked our analysts to spell out what have been the biggest mobile trends and games of the year so far!

GameRefinery by Vungle’s own Erno Kiiski, Wilhelm Voutilainen, and Kalle Heikkinen join host Jon Jordan to discuss how hybrid game mechanics and particular market trends have rocketed new games to the top of the download charts across the USA, China, and Japan, as well as which games we should be keeping an eye on.

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Topics we will cover in this episode:

  1. What the market landscape looks like so far in 2021
  2. The growing popularity of hybrid game designing
  3. Most exciting game launches of the year so far
  4. The latest highlights from the Japanese market
  5. The latest highlights from the Chinese market

Introduction

Jon Jordan: Hello, and welcome to the Mobile GameDev Playbook. Thanks for tuning in for another episode. This podcast provides insights into what makes a great mobile game, what is and isn’t working for mobile game designers, and all the latest trends. I’m your host, John Jordan. In this episode, we will be taking a look at what’s been happening in 2021. We are halfway through the year already, and we’ve got plenty of trends to look at in the first six months. I have three experts who will be unpicking what’s been going on regarding trends and new launches and all that stuff. Joining me, we have Erno Kiiski, Chief game analyst for the US at GameRefinery. How’s it going, Erno?

Erno Kiiski: It’s going great, John, thank you.

Jon: Good to see you on video. This is new for some of you. We also have a Kalle Heikkinen Chief Game Analyst for China. How’s it going, Wilhelm– Sorry, Kalle?

Kalle Heikkinen: It’s going very well. How about you, John?

Jon: This is good. This is where the video is starting to confuse me now. I’m reading, but I see your faces on the bottom. All introduced incorrectly. Wilhelm Voutilainen, senior games analyst for the US. How’s it going, Wilhelm?

Wilhelm Voutilainen: I’m doing good. Nice to see you, Jordan.

What the market landscape looks like so far in 2021

Jon: Yes, it is. It makes it much easier when we can see each other, doesn’t it? We’ve got quite a lot to get through. We’re going to be digging in, I think, a lot of interesting stuff. Certainly, I’ve been interested in looking at the notes. Let’s start at a high level. Kalle, you’re going to take us through the first six months. What have we been seeing at that high level of what’s happening? What’s new in mobile games?

Kalle: Yes, they definitely are. Thank you, John. I think I could just go through the three key markets that we follow here at the GameRefinery. A good place to start is to take a high-level look at the market landscape, what the market share situation between different genres looks like, and whether there have been any major shifts in the markets that we cover.

First of all, starting with the Chinese market, in the last five months, what we have seen is that the battle royale subgenre has grown. It has about 98% revenue market share in the market. That came with the expense of the 4X strategy declining a little, relatively small shifts only, 2 to 3% shift. Then in the Japanese market, it was very interesting. We saw arcade sports growing 8%, which is quite phenomenal. Why did that happen? Well, we’re hopefully going to discuss that later in the podcast when we’ll discuss the Umamusume, which took the Japanese charts by storm.

“In the last five months, the battle royale sub-genre has grown. It has about 98% revenue market share in the market. That came with the expense of the 4X strategy declining a little.”

Kalle on the Chinese mobile gaming market

Then we have the US market. There we saw the 4X strategy grow. We have some very interesting games that entered into the market, and we’ll discuss the Match3 puzzle genre, which declined a little bit but in relative terms, of course, when we’re looking at the market share.

We all know genres like 4X strategy; they live and breathe on the targeting of these high LTV users. It’s going to be very interesting to see how that landscape will develop with all the changes to UA targeting due to IDFA coming into effect.

“We all know genres like 4X strategy; they live and breathe on the targeting of these high LTV users. It’s going to be very interesting to see how that landscape will develop with all the changes to UA targeting due to IDFA coming into effect.”

Kalle on how IDFA effet 4X strategy games

Related to that topic, one thing that we have witnessed happening in the 4X space is that a lot of these 4X games have experimented with different hybrid approaches, trying other gameplay elements and meta elements and inputting those into the game design. Wilhelm, would you want to walk us through what that means in practical terms?

The growing popularity of hybrid game designing

Wilhelm: Yes, thank you, Kalle. Absolutely. Basically, what we mean by these hybrid games is either mid-core games or casual games utilizing these elements from the other genre. Well, this has been a huge trend in both casual genres and mid-core genres. I think 4X is one of the best examples lately for this. I could bring it up for you. But, first, all of the new 4X strategy games utilize some kind of hybrid element. Some examples are, for instance, Puzzles & Survival is a really good one. It got launched in the fall of last year. Right now, it’s already in the grossing of 27 in the US. It’s basically your average and normal 4X game, but the core gameplay actually utilizes this puzzle RPG player. So they’re targeting a larger audience than just your average 4X audience.

“All of the new 4X strategy games utilize some kind of hybrid element. Some examples are, for instance, Puzzles & Survival is a really good one. It got launched in the fall of last year. Right now, it’s already in the grossing of 27 in the US. It’s basically your average and normal 4X game, but the core gameplay actually utilizes this puzzle RPG player. So they’re targeting a larger audience than just your average 4X audience.”

Wilhelm on the use of hybridisation in 4X strategy games

Then we have, of course, Top War. It launched at the start of last year. Lately, it has steadily climbed the ranks. Now it’s on the grossing 23 last time I checked. Top War is a game that tries to cater to the casual audience, bringing the casuals or the players to the 4X games. It usually utilizes this Merge mechanic, which, of course, Merge, is a trend itself as well. It uses this Merge mechanic when you’re, for example, leveling up your buildings or leveling up your units. So you’re doing that with the Merge. Also, the art style is a bit different from your average 4X as it utilizes this cartoonish casual style there.

Lastly, I want to mention here that one of the newest additions to the 4X space is the Infinity Kingdom game. It got launched at the start of this year. It just recently broke its way into the top 200 grossing. It’s this sort of auto-battle RBG, 4X hybrid. In your normal 4X game, you’re focusing more on developing units and so on. In the Infinity Kingdom, it’s all about the characters. Of course, when you look at the visuals, the visual style of the characters, absolutely beautiful. The menus are different from your regular 4X game. This is my personal opinion, but I’m not the biggest fan of your normal 4X game UI and graphics and elements and so on. The Infinity Kingdom does exceptionally well here, it’s the whole menu, and all the different actions you take in this game are made much easier for the players. It’s a little bit reminiscent of the Supercell style of game.

Jon: Some interesting points there. I wonder how specifically games companies have been thinking about Apple’s changes to the UI stack because game developers got very good at targeting particular groups of users they knew monetized extremely well—going back to the day when Game of War launched from Machines Zone as it then was, that was the first game where you were like, “There is no gameplay, there’s just meta,” and that was quite a surprising thing.

I guess it’s interesting that whatever, not quite ten years on, but getting on for eight years, the game designer swung back the other way. Those games appealed very strongly to a tiny group of people but brought in a gameplay mechanic. Maybe you can’t monetize it so aggressively, but perhaps you can’t do that anyway because Apple’s broken that ability. Maybe it’s a coincidence. Clever designers out there put those two things together. I guess the proof of the pudding is it seems like these games are doing very well, actually, on monetization numbers. The numbers you were given were top-grossing chart positions, weren’t they?

Erno: Yes, definitely. If you look at it based on IAP revenues and so on, and as Kalle said, 4X is one of the subgenres growing the most during the first quarter or for the first half of the year. Most of the growth, if you look at the games that have been growing the most, they are these games that are already utilizing these various ways of hybridization, whether it’s an RPG layer or whether it’s more casual like a merge mechanic like Top War or then Match3 that Puzzles & Survival are doing.

Definitely, it’s already a thing. At least, I would assume that this approach will continue when the actual impact of the IDFA targeting hits for real, especially for the new games that don’t have an already passionate audience. It will be tough for those games, super hardcore 4X games, to find that audience if the targeting is super hard.

Jon: I guess it’s interesting. Again, another long-term trend we saw was the first billion-dollar game, Puzzle & Dragons, which is Match3 with RPG. We noticed that, and then I guess we had Empires & Puzzles, a city-building with Match3. Not quite the heavy-duty meta. We’ve seen the mashing up of Match3 with various things, and now it’s got to the most hardcore game. Interestingly, we see Merge because Merge is very casual, and Merge is a game mechanic; it seems to be following a similar trend that it’s going, being added in. It’s the new mash-up mechanic that people are putting in. Good stuff.

Erno: That’s often how it goes and often at least how I think about it. Usually, innovation is all about mixing and matching different things. Whether it’s genres, whether it’s mechanics, whether it’s specific features coming to new genres, usually that’s something that maybe someone has already done in a separate genre, and they see that let’s try. So how can we innovate in our niche and our subgenre with specific features?

“Usually, innovation is all about mixing and matching different things. Whether it’s genres, whether it’s mechanics, whether it’s specific features coming to new genres, usually that’s something that maybe someone has already done in a separate genre, and they see that let’s try. So how can we innovate in our niche and our subgenre with specific features?”

Erno on innovation and creating new mobile games

Jon: We get to see the graphics get a lot better. Those 4X games were just those static 2D menus that were kind of like, not a lot of work is put into that graphics. So it’s good to see the– It could be more 3D.

Most exciting game launches of the year so far

Jon: They’re just some of the games – Puzzle & Survival, Top War, and Infinity Kingdom. Those are some of the ones that have been during the first half of the year rising the top-grossing charts even if they launched a bit before. So what do we see about new games that have launched in the first half of 2021? I guess there’s always a bit of a regional variation, but should we start with the US? Erno, I think you’re going to kick us off?

Erno: Sure. Many of the games came into the market during this first half, but we picked a couple of really interesting ones. Firstly, I want to highlight Royal Match, which is a Match3 game. We all know that Project Makeover, the game that came last year, became a huge hit. It entered the top five Match3 games in the US market, and not a single game has been able to do that for years. The Scapes games and Toon Blast and games like that were the latest entries in the top five, and now, Project Makeover did that.

Now, after that, quite quickly, Royal Match was launched, and it’s basically been scaling ever since, and now, its average monthly ranking, if we look one month back, is around the top-grossing 29. So it’s up there on the top-grossing charts. Interestingly, if we look at the previews of big hits inside the Match3 subgenre, most of those have been playing around with different kinds of metas. So, for example, construction metas like the Scapes games introduced or, let’s say, the home design metas with home design makeover or Project Makeover, which had the home design and makeover side.

With Royal Match, their metal-layer is super, super simple. They have this little construction meta close to what you have in Coin Master. You’re just basically accumulating currency, and then you push one button, and then something appears on the map. When you have completed that, then you go to the following map. There are no decorative choices like you have in Scapes games or Project Makeover, but that’s the only proper method.

One interesting fact that I want to highlight is that Royal Match uses these classic wrapping mechanics in its core gameplay. Then they have social mechanics close to what you have in Toon Blast. The company behind this game consists of a lot of ex-Peak Games guys. That clearly can be seen from Royal Match that it has a lot of recent blends, a lot of similarities with the Toon Blast, even with its UI and so on and how the social mechanics’ works, and so on.

Also, Project Makeover did that. If you look at the market and look at the charts of the markets and so on, a couple of years ago, when all the games that hit the high top-grossing charts, every single one of them was using the Blast thing. We had Lilly’s Card, and we had the Property Brothers and games like that, and that was clearly a trend, but now, if we look at one year back, not a single game using that mechanic has been able to enter the charts.

“If you look at the top-grossing charts a couple of years ago, every single game was using the Blast mechanic, that was clearly a trend, but now, if we look at one year back, not a single game using that mechanic has been able to enter the charts.”

Erno on the decline of blast mechanics

Now, we’re back to these wrapping mechanics. We see Project Makeover. We see Royal Match. We also saw last year Harry Potter: Puzzles & Spells and so on. We have again gone back to the traditional wrapping mechanics in the new hit Match3 game, like matching mechanics.

Jon: I have said this before on other episodes, but it’s striking just how versatile Match3 is. Obviously, Match3 existed before mobile games. We had Bejeweled, which was the first big one. It’s incredible that it can be used in so many different ways and for so many different genres and can be reinvented over this decade. As you said, fashion becomes circular in games. It goes one way and then comes again. It’s just something obviously, very psychologically fulfilling in our brains about just matching pretty things up and seeing them disappear is fascinating, isn’t it?

I guess it is also interesting that you say, we’re seeing in the games you’ve been mentioning, they’re coming from, say, Royal Match coming from a Turkish developer, and I think some of those other ones, Russian developers as well. It’s been for a while now, but we’re seeing the big hits coming globally now. It’s not just the big Western, European, or American companies. This innovation is happening globally, which is excellent from a cultural point of view. What else have we got? It can’t just be Match3. There must be some other games launched that have been doing well that aren’t Match3.

Erno: Definitely, there is something else also in the market, luckily. The Match3 is great, but it’s great to have something else as well. The recent addition to the market that I find interesting is this game called My Hero Academia: The Strongest Hero, an action RPG that just launched on the 19th of May. It’s been in the market only for a couple of weeks, but what makes it super interesting is that it had a really strong launch. It’s been basically around top-grossing 20 and almost at the top of the download charts ever since the launch.

What makes it really interesting is that it’s an action RPG game. If you look at the Western market, action RPGs struggled hard on mobile until Genshin Impact launched. It was last year. If we look at the subgenre market share, Genshin Impact before this game generated almost 80% of the action RPG revenue in the US market. A new action RPG with super high production values uses this anime brand of My Hero Academia. We see this new blood for the action RPG market. It’s interesting to see. Is it able to sustain similarly to Genshin Impact in the market? At least the start is super, super strong. We’ll see what happens, but it’s an interesting new trend that we see that, finally, action RPGs on mobile and the West are seeing success, and there are plenty of these games coming. Netmarble is working on a game with Marvel IP called Marvel Future Revolution that should be coming this year, at least for a soft launch. It’s also an action RPG with really high production values. They have some open-world elements there, like Genshin Impact apparently and stuff like that. It’s interesting to see this genre finally finding life in the West.

Kalle: All of these come from Asia if you think about Genshin Impact, this one, and then the Netmarble game. There’s a connection there.

Wilhelm: Don’t forget Diablo Immortal also.

Erno: Yes, that’s also in the action RPG.

Jon: That will be interesting to see, particularly the Western reaction to that one. Anyway, we have some other big brands or game brands. We’ve got a League of Legends: Wild Rift, which has come out. Wilhelm, I think you’re going to walk us through that one. What’s that been like?

Wilhelm: Yes, exactly. We finally got the global launch from the Wild Rift. I checked the ranks, and basically, I think it started pretty strong, so it bounced straight into rank 30, grossing in the US. They added, actually brought in with the global launch update, they brought even more heroes from the PC version. They had some events. LiveOps has been good in the Wild Rift. They have lots of unique, different kinds of events.

Also, they added their battle pass plan. Since then, since the launch, it has declined quite a bit. I think it’s struggling to be in the top 200 grossing right now. It’s interesting to see where they will take it next because I believe it was yesterday or today they added a new feature entirely– I think it’s the first feature that they don’t have in the PC version of the game. It’s called this “friends feature.” You’re building this friendship level with one of your friends.

I’m guessing that maybe, this could hint to even more mobile-only features, perhaps even more social features like the Opera Mobile company does have, for example, guilds. I think pretty much every single top-grossing mobile has guilds and so on. It’s good to note that here the top competitor of Wild Rift in the US, Mobile Legends Bang Bang, is still doing extremely well. It’s sustaining the rank of 70.

Jon: I can imagine it’s quite a difficult game design process when you have something that’s such a big hit on another platform, particularly PC or console. MOBAs for a long time, people were throwing out designs for mobile MOBAs, and nothing stuck for a long time until, I guess, Tencent finally made it in China at least. I think not in this genre, but we have Apex Legends coming to mobile. We’ve had Valorant announced this week as well. Diablo Immortal is coming out as well. That’s a true mobile game.

It is good that we have these big console IP games, PC/console is coming as well, but they’re getting the balance right. I think it is almost impossible without launching, and then I guess you have to feel your way to the audience and see how they want? Do they want the entire thing on their mobile? Do they want a slightly changed session like that? So I guess you need to have as much of the actual game that people want, the fans want, but then it has to be something to make them want to play on mobile.

You want some new features in there, don’t you? You want something to give one of the things for mobile rather than PC. Cool. What else did we get? Another big brand, Magic: The Gathering Arena.

Erno: Yes. That’s also an exciting launch in that sense, that CCG, so Collectible Card Games. They have been struggling a little bit in the market recently. Hearthstone naturally was for years the big CCG game in the West if you look at the market. But, at least on the mobile, it has been on a relatively steady decline for a while now. It’s not even a top-grossing 200 game anymore. It used to be over there on the top 50 and so on, but it has declined from the market.

“Hearthstone naturally was for years the big CCG game in the West if you look at the market. But, at least on the mobile, it has been on a relatively steady decline for a while now. It’s not even a top-grossing 200 game anymore.”

Erno on the decline of Hearthstone

Then Legend of Runeterra, also from Riot. They launched a while back, and they haven’t made much of a difference on mobile, at least in terms of IAP revenues. So they are not making a big dent in the subgenre for that.

Then we have the Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links from Konami, which is the again, using an anima brand and is biggest in terms of revenue, and quite easily the biggest CCG currently in the market.

Now, Magic launched a couple of months ago, and it’s now sustaining around grossing rankings 150, and it’s been doing quite well. So if you compare that game for this Q2, which is still ongoing, but if we compare the revenues to this day in the Q2 of 2021, it has made over double the revenue of Hearthstone. So it clearly has been able to find an audience who like the Magic Gathering mobile experience; what’s interesting also about that game, that because anyone who has played Magic, it’s quite a hardcore game, and it’s not super easy to get into. Suppose we compare it to Hearthstone, a much more approachable game for a more casual audience. Also, the Magic: The Gathering Arena, it’s true to the original tabled-up version, and it’s hardcore with a lot of, lot of rules, and so on. Still, the big audience already has taken it warmly, and the game has succeeded quite well in the Western market.

Jon: Often wonder with those games, because they are– You said it’s like a sub-genre, so there is a real fan base for them, but I think it’s tough to expand that fan base. I’m really not a fan of that game. When that game came out, I fiddled around with it for a little bit and then realized I didn’t really have much of a clue. It is a genre where I feel like I should spend a bit of time trying to do it, trying to get a bit more into it.

Those games tend to cannibalize each other. There are only so many people who play them, and maybe they play Hearthstone and Magic, but they’re not going to play five of those games at the same time or spend on five of those games.

Erno: Yes, definitely; I totally agree that the entry-level for those games is so high because you have to study those cards. You have to know what each card does, and then actually start playing when you have already studied so much about the different possibilities and cards and so on. So to start that kind of a game, there’s such a high entry barrier, at least also, personally for me, but then I get the depth they offer in terms of gameplay when you are there.

Wilhelm: The game is easier to start with the mobile than actual physical playing cards.

Kalle: I also wonder, now that we have the pandemic situation going on, and obviously, people have not been able to play these card collection games in person with their friends. There is particular demand for these kinds of experiences, and like Magic, the physical version has a significant fan base. I can imagine that a lot of people are craving for getting back to playing Magic. Then again, this is how you can channel that demand.

Jon: Yes, that’s a good point. Okay, so we’ll do one more. Wilhelm, you’re going to talk about the new game in the Summoners War franchise. How’s that being?

Wilhelm: We can go quickly through that as well because it’s quite an interesting case.

Jon: Yes, I think so.

Wilhelm: I think basically, everybody knows Summoners Wars, a huge classic still in that sustained top 50 grossing, but they finally actually launched a spinoff from the game. Summoners Wars: Lost Centuria just launched in April, so it’s a brand new game. The game instantly bounced to rank 60-ish but declined since that. I think one of the reasons for the decline was the first-time user experience. The game starts in a unique way. Auto-battle RPG is less tactical, but they’re PvP hybrid game, but still, you have —

Jon: It’s a title.

Wilhelm: Exactly. Well, that’s like the hybrid of the hybrid. The game starts with a really quick tutorial. Then, they let you know how the actual core gameplay works, but it is all about the spells and different charter combinations. What they do after the tutorial is they throw you straight into the rank and PvP mode, which is, of course, now you’re playing against real players in the rank and PvP, and you’re going to get annihilated there.

Basically, for me, it took a couple of playing sessions to get into the game, and when I got into the game, it was entertaining. All the different combinations and the core gameplay were super good. So I see a lot of potential in that. But, on the other hand, I’m pretty sure that the day-one retention is probably not the best for the game.

Erno: Can you, Wilhelm, be a little bit open? What’s the basic idea of the game? How does it work?

Wilhelm: In a normal term or auto-battle RPG style, you build a team of, I think you’ve got six characters, you enter a battle. It’s auto-battle, but you have these skills—similar to what you would have in these card battle games. Basically, you’re utilizing those skills, and usually, in auto-battle RPGs, the sort of the damage that’s significant, you don’t have to focus that much on what spells are you clicking, but in this game, it’s all about the different spells, how you’re utilizing them.

You have to learn the different synergies. There are also really interesting elements so you can basically see when another player has played a card; you have maybe half a second to reply to that card you encountered, so your card plays before that. So it’s a skilled-paced game, especially for auto-battle RPG, but I’d say the tutorial would maybe start differently. Also, something quite interesting is that the whole game opens up through the ranked mode. So when you rise ranks, of course, you’re going to get a lower rank if you lose.

You have to win games to open up levels in the normal mode. You have to win games even to open up the casual PvP mode. Even for a PvP game, that’s a unique way to do it. It’s like an RPG matched with asynchronous.

Jon: An RPG game match with asynchronous PvP style battle like Clash Royale, if I understood correctly.

Wilhelm: Yes, exactly.

Erno: Again, hybrids.

Jon: I guess they’re probably just spending much marketing money and just cross-promoting the Summoners Wars, and maybe it all works, so they don’t worry about that retention that way. We’ve talked a lot about the US, but the US is not the only place in the world. Kalle, you’re going to run us through some of the other launches that have happened in Japan and China.

The latest highlights from the Japanese market

Kalle: Yes, for sure. Let’s start with highlights from Japan. There’s a game called Umamusume that was released; I believe it was in February. That took the top one-grossing position relatively quickly, and I think it has been hovering around top 1, 2, 3, grossing ever since. That’s one reason why this game is so interesting. The very top of Japanese top-grossing, it’s not that volatile. Whenever there’s a new top grosser in the space and that top grosser that is able to sustain, that’s always interesting. Because of the games that we have there, they are these Monster Strikes and Puzzles & Dragons that have been there for basically forever. That’s one thing. Then, about the game itself, I would say that the game’s premise, it’s pretty bizarre. I think saying that it’s bizarre is the understatement of the year. The basic idea in Umamusume, Pretty Derby, is that you train these derby horse girls. These horse girls are the legendary racehorses that have been reborn into mostly human shape. I guess that must have been quite a sales pitch someone has made down the line. I’m not going to go–

“Then, about the game itself, I would say that the game’s premise, it’s pretty bizarre. I think saying that it’s bizarre is the understatement of the year. The basic idea in Uma Musume, Pretty Derby, is that you train these derby horse girls. These horse girls are the legendary racehorses that have been reborn into mostly human shape.”

Kalle on the premise of Uma Musume, Pretty Derby

Erno: It works.

Kalle: It works; it seems to be working. I’m not going to go into the nitty-gritty of how Umamusume works. However, we have a very good blog post on the GameRefinery website If anyone is interested, please visit there and read the blog post where we go into full detail on the game.

In essence, it’s all about these gameplay loops that you make, and within these loops, you make decisions on how you train these horse girls to get them to perform in the best manner possible. You decide, for example, on whether you take them on an outing or have them rest, go to the infirmary to heal or participate in these races, which are the culmination of these training loops. Then, after that loop finishes, the horse girl you’ve been training will then enter your character roster, and then the loop is restarted, and you can use the character as a supporting character in your following training loops. This is a Japanese top-grossing game, so there are narrative aspects; you have solid event support. One interesting tidbit is that there’s a live victory performance after these races, a musical pop rock performance that the race participants will then perform. Why is this game so popular? I don’t know. It’s an IP-based game. There’s a manga behind it and a huge fan base familiar with the IP, so that’s something that may have pushed it into popularity. There is a lot of gacha as there is an excellent character collection mechanic in place that is supported with high-quality gacha systems. The game looks good, so outstanding visual performance as well.

Erno: On that subject, I think it’s an interesting case because it uses that kind of a gameplay loop. Because in mobile, we see many similar gameplay loops in RPGs, or whatever it is, whatever the genre. I read the blog post about this game, and it’s something different from how the whole game works. So it’s a fascinating use case for sure for anyone to check out.

Kalle: Exactly.

Jon: Yes, absolutely. Although it is interesting that this– I was going to say the simple thing was it’s probably just this simple Japanese game. The Japanese have these very concrete specific experiences they like, and obviously, a lot of it is based on manga and anime. There have been interesting cases, I guess, where those things have broken out globally because they are just so different from anything else other cultures have that a certain group of people who are interested in new experiences go, “Let’s go and check it out.”

Maybe we’ll see wider interest. I’ve played other games where you had these women who were battleships and stuff. I think there was in Asian culture this general kind of way of swapping human beings into other forms. Finally, China, we’re running overtime now, but there has been some stuff going on in China. Do you want to cover what’s been going on there quickly?

The latest highlights from the Chinese market

Kalle: For sure. In China, we’ve had some interesting game launches as well, like a new trend-based RPG based on the One Piece brand, but if I had to highlight one thing from the last six months, it would be the lack of certain kinds of games. To be more precise, I would say that the lack of non-Chinese games or Western games, or even other games, from other Asian countries. To be clear, the Chinese market has never been much populated with non-Chinese games.

If you compare, for example, the Japanese market, there is a much higher presence of, Western games, but it’s still very striking to see that there are only a couple of games in the top-grossing charts. We have Playrixes, Scapes games, we have Hearthstone, and a couple of Supercell games. Then, very interestingly, we have the Sky: Children of Light from that game company, which is published by Netizen in China, but still, it’s very interesting to see it sustain its rankings there.

Anyway, the point is that the presence of non-Chinese games is non-existent, and of course, the question is, why is that the case? The biggest ones are that the regulations and the scrutiny that you have when it comes to publishing a publisher’s games in China have just gone stricter and stricter and stricter. The timelines that you have to wait for getting your games published, all the red tape that is involved, has just increased and increased.

“The point is that the presence of non-Chinese games is non-existent, and of course, the question is, why is that the case? The biggest ones are that the regulations and the scrutiny that you have when it comes to publishing a publisher’s games in China have just gone stricter and stricter and stricter. “

Kalle on the lack of non-Chinese games in the Chinese market

Then, on the other hand, the market landscape as well, it’s very tough. If you look at the products that we have in the top-grossing market in China, they are very much populated by games that are expensive to make, require a lot of content, a high level of cadence, and stuff like that. It could be an easier market to enter for sure. I want to close off with some of the strangest things when we see the non-Chinese games entering the top-grossing space in China. This spring, we’ve had The Elder Scrolls: Blades and Pokemon Quest, for example, which tells the story that it just takes quite a lot of time for getting your games out there because Pokemon Quest, for example, has been out there for some time already.

It’s very interesting to look at the Chinese market from the perspective of how Western games are, for example, populating the market.

Jon: I think that’s the sort of broader trend now. Maybe five years ago, there was this idea that the mobile market was going very global. Not every game would be successful everywhere, but you could kind of start to see that it was a very open market, and I guess we’ve seen that change in particular in the case of China and their regulations, and obviously, there’s a cultural aspect to that as well. Cool. Good. That was a fun pro edition of the podcast. This episode, that’s great.

We’ve gone into a lot of detail. We’ve given people a lot of homework, many games for people to begin loading and checking out and seeing how these mechanics are being mashed up. Puzzles and Survival: Top War, Infinity Kingdom as hybrid games Royal Match, and MHA: The Strongest Man. What else do we get? League of Legends: Wild Rift, Magic Gathering Arena, Summoners War: Lost Centuria. I forgot the other one.

Kalle: Umamusume.

Jon: You say it. Pretty Derby.

Kalle: Pretty Derby. Yes.

John: Umamusume. Yes. Cool. Just to say thanks very much to our experts. I know Wilhelm and Kalle.

Kalle: Thank you.

Wilhelm: Thank you.

Jon: Thanks for listening and watching. Every month we are taking a deep dive into what’s going on in the world of mobile games. There is just this continually crazy, enjoyable, fascinating stuff happening. We hope you are going to join us for the ride. You can get us through your podcast channels and on YouTube as well, and if you enjoy it, please give us a review, particularly on the podcast’s site. That’s very helpful. Anyway, thanks for being involved with the Mobile GameDev Playbook, and come back next time to find out what’s going on in the world of mobile games.

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