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3 Ways Your Mobile Game Can Go Big in China -- Lessons from HandyGames' Clouds & Sheep Launch

Oct 11, 2012 | By:

Note: A shortened version of this post originally appeared on Inside Mobile Apps

Clouds & Sheep

Opening menu of HandyGames’ Clouds & Sheep – English and Chinese language versions

HandyGames recently debuted its latest game, a pet-raising sim called Clouds & Sheep, in Apple’s App Store, but if you’re an iOS gamer in the West, chances are you haven’t seen it there yet. That’s because it first launched in China’s App Store: “We wanted to underline how important China is for HandyGames and provided the titles first to Chinese consumers” as HandyGames’ CEO Christopher Kassulke explains. The country is estimated to have about 200 million iOS/Android owners, making it “the high potential growth market,” as Chris puts it. However, he adds, it’s also “one of the most challenging markets in the mobile game space”. Among the challenges: It’s difficult to get your games noticed in such a huge market, and the cultural divide between Western developers and Chinese gamers can often be a problem.
Could Clouds & Sheep and HandyGames’ other games work in China? After all, the company is based in Germany, and its titles come with very Western elements, like castles and cowboys, while Clouds & Sheep might just seem too weird for Chinese gamers. So when Chris chose Yodo1 as HandyGames’ local partner in China, we recommended a number of features to change or emphasize when they launched there. Many of these tweaks also apply to many other Western developers who want to get their games into the Chinese market, so I wanted to share them here:

Play Up Cute

Unlike a lot of Western games in China, Clouds & Sheep has one very big thing going for it: Cute. (In the game, you raise and breed a flock of adorable cartoon sheep and try to keep them happy.) Because much more than in the West, Chinese gamers love cute — cute game art, cute game play, you name it.

This is especially true with one of the top audiences for iPhone games in China — young professional women between 20-28. Unlike most of their peers in the US and Europe, Chinese in that age range are still very much into Hello Kitty style and other cute fashion accessories.  “Kawaii”, Japanese  for “cute”, has now become synonymous for the Asian style of chic cute fashion that is tremendously popular with the Asian female demographic.All that in mind, we made sure that the game’s cuteness was emphasized in all its marketing material.

Make it Easy to Share – and Spend On

If there’s anything Chinese love more than cute, it’s sharing. With Clouds & Sheep,
we integrated the game with Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo, Twitter-style social networks in China (that are a lot bigger than Twitter.)

Comparison of Clouds & Sheep social sharing: Facebook (in the West), Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo in China

That way, people could share photos they take in-game, to show off their sheep wearing decorations, and other fun stuff. Within a week after launch, Sina Weibo updates were filled with Clouds & Sheep photos. This created a nice viral growth mechanism.  And we weren’t surprised to see that the hundreds of personalized Clouds & Sheep screenshots being shared were mostly from young female players. For instance, one talented player created and posted this fun image on her blog, a C&S screenshot adding characters from a Chinese TV series that’s huge young folks here:

In the first three days after she posted it, the image went viral – it’s already been reposted by other Sina Weibo users 2754 times (and counting), which probably means hundreds of thousands of new eyeballs looking at Clouds & Sheep content.

On the monetization side, Chinese players hate waiting, so we provided an option to buy stars (Clouds & Sheep’s currency, usually earned by accomplishing in-game goals) with a diverse pricing structure, so players could buy a pack of stars for the Chinese equivalent of $1, all the way up $60. Even for a casual title like Clouds & Sheep, we see Chinese gamers buying the high priced packages, which reflects another rule I like to follow: Make the monetization options flexible enough so that all kinds of customers can buy them. (And don’t be surprised that some Chinese customers are willing to pay hundreds of dollars a month on your game,  because that happens fairly often.)

Don’t Just Translate to Chinese Language — Translate to Chinese Culture, Too

While the basic gameplay of Clouds & Sheep and other HandyGames is easy to understand in China, a lot of the slang often found in Western games (ie., “OMG”, “Awesome Dude”, “hit the ball out of the park”), simply doesn’t translate well in Chinese.

Translating Clouds & Sheep game dialog for the Chinese audience

During the localization process, many game publishers just do a literal translation of the game’s text, but we knew that would only make HandyGames seem foreign. Instead, we went through the HandyGames game text and made it relevant to everyday Chinese. (Pro tip: The literal translation for “Cute!” in Chinese is “ke ai” but the popular Chinese word is “meng“,which is the equivalent of “chic cute”) You can see this approach in the Chinese language promotional animation we made for HandyGames, introducing three of their titles to China’s gamers:

In the video, a bandit from Guns n’ Glory travels from one HandyGame game to the next. Along the way, he’s pooped on by a bird who says something in Chinese but expressed in English phonetics (As you might guess, young Chinese find this part pretty hilarious.)  A lot of the text we added is actually mainland Chinese slang, which wouldn’t make sense to someone in Taiwan or Hong Kong. For example, the road sign in the first scene are all local Chinese slang or play on words.  In particular, the words “坑爹”are popular Chinese Internet slang for “deceiving” or “fraudulent” but literally translated, has absolutely no meaning (i.e., it translates to “Pit Father”). The goal here is to contextualize HandyGames to make them seem very local. That’s also why, when the bandit jumps into Clouds & Sheep land, he thinks of different kinds of lamb dishes that are delicacies in China, and when he travels to the world of Townsmen, the road signs as he travels through the town resemble the ring road design of Beijing, with property prices becoming more expensive the closer he gets to the city center. We did this to play up the social phenomenon of young Chinese professionals (i.e. the folks most likely to own iPhones) having trouble finding affordable homes. As a result, a lot of Chinese gamers tell us they assumed that Clouds & Sheep was actually made by a Chinese studio — a huge compliment.

So far, the results are pretty positive: Clouds & Sheep has been a top game in China’s Apple Store for two weeks since launch, where it’s also one of Apple’s featured apps, and Townsmen, which also just debuted in China, reached the top ten paid downloads chart shortly after launch. HandyGames is also incorporating what they’ve learned in China with the launch of Clouds & Sheep to the rest of the world.

“We are analyzing the data of course,” Chris told me recently. “We will also check out what wishes our consumers in China have and react on it!”

More updates are coming soon. As for the Chinese market, Chris’ advice for other Western developers is worth keeping in mind: “Visit China, try to understand the Chinese consumers, the Chinese developers, and publishers,” he says. “Trying to conquer China from abroad is close to impossible. So open up an office or cooperate with a Chinese partner who understand your needs.”

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