How to Protect Your Game IP in China - Taming the Wild, Wild East of Smartphone Gaming
Western mobile game developers who want to succeed in China face an all-too common challenge: Rampant piracy of their titles by unscrupulous copycats and pirates, often abetted by Chinese app stores, which sometimes aren’t even aware they’re distributing pirated versions of official apps. As a publisher of Western mobile games in China, we hear a lot of stories from Western game developers who helplessly watch as knockoffs of their top games attract millions of downloads here. Sometimes their games are outright hacked, with their advertising networks replaced by a Chinese ad service, so the hackers can redirect the game’s revenue right into their own pockets. To make things even more challenging for Western games developers, awareness of this problem doesn’t necessary mean they can do anything about it.
To illustrate all this, let me tell you about the troubles that one leading Western game developer has been having in China: The company discovered that pirated versions of their top games were rife on many of the Android app store in China, with over 190 different pirated versions of their top five titles getting millions of illegal downloads. They spent months contacting these stores about removing pirated copies of their games, but to no avail.
Long story short: It’s a wild frontier out here in the Middle Kingdom, partner. And if you have a good smartphone game, the reality is that it’s going to be big in China too — whether you like it or not.
But while China’s smartphone bandits were busy profiting off Western game titles, our team at Yodo1 has been putting together a posse to help tame the Chinese smartphone gaming frontier, with the help of some leading Western game developers. Armed with a letter of authorization from our game developer partners in one hand, and cease-and-desist letter from our local lawyers holstered in our back pocket, we ventured out to contact every major Android app store in the Chinese market, Fortunately, we’ve never had to reach for the legal letter. Instead, most Chinese app stores have actually been happy to work with us, and help us take down the pirated versions of our partners’ games. Surprisingly, some of the same app stores who ignored takedown requests from Western game developers were glad to work with us, when we’re working on the developer’s behalf. We believe the rationale for this is as follows:
Good games are an app store’s air and water: Without access to the top smartphone games (currently dominated by Western titles) an app store loses its user base. Hence, if someone submits what looks like a top game, most stores are happy to distribute it, and drive user traffic — whether or not it’s the official version.
Western game developers can’t police all China’s app stores by themselves: With hundreds of app stores operating in China, it’s almost impossible for a Western developer to monitor and control their IP rights across the country. A Western developer can ask one of them to remove pirated copies of their games, but the store owner knows his competitors will still carry them. That’s a big disincentive to comply.
App stores would rather work with a Western developer’s local partner: For the same reasons app stores are reluctant to work with Western companies, they’re eager to work with developers who have a local partner, such as Yodo1. We can offer them fully localized versions of hit games, which are not only legitimate, but designed to attract Chinese gamers with additional localized content and game mechanics. They know that we will bring them more hit game titles, which will in turn drive even more user traffic. Most importantly, they know we can be a royal pain in the ass about protecting our partners’ games… so it’s in their best interest to work with us, rather than against us.
By now, you’re probably wondering what we do about the millions of pirated game downloads still floating around in China’s mobile game market. Here comes the best part:
Typically, we ask app stores to switch out the knockoff copies with our developer partners’ legitimate versions. Then, the next time gamers turn on their Android phones, they get a push notification to update to the latest version of the game — and that update is the legitimate, fully localized game, created and published by Yodo1 and the developer. Now the fans of the pirated game get a totally functional, Chinese version of the official game, while the app stores get a better game to distribute. And the game developer can now start monetizing their games in China through advertising and in-app payments.
And China’s IP bandits? They get one less merchant to hornswoggle. And that, my friend, is what I call poetic frontier justice — Eastern style.