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WeChat game platform will have an impact, but it won't be like Kakao, reckons i-Free

WeChat game platform will have an impact, but it won't be like Kakao, reckons i-Free
The vast majority of publishers successfully releasing mobile games in China are Chinese.

But one company bucking the trend is i-Free.

Headquartered in Russia, with offices in Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, India and Brazil, the mobile services outfit also has 40 staff in Beijing.

It mainly sources games from Russian developers, working with them to localise and culturalise content, before dealing with the complexities of publishing into the Chinese market.

Local conditions

"We're looking for good quality games that are different from those Chinese developers release," explains i-Free's Asia CEO Evgeny Kosolapov.

The company's most high profile releases have been Drag Racing from Creative Mobile, and Cut the Rope and Pudding Monsters from ZeptoLab.

It also publishes a lot of what Kosolapov calls 'connected games', as these match local tastes - the PC MMOG market remains strong in China - while making piracy more difficult.

"The piracy situation is improving though," Kosolapov says.

He explains it was bad, particularly on iOS back in the days of iOS 5, when the majority of people jailbroke their devices. This has changed with iOS 6 and 7, although around 30 percent iOS devices are still reckoned to be jailbroken.

i-Free works closely with Chinese app stores to remove pirated apps, replacing them with legitimate versions.

"You have to share some revenue with the channel, of course," Kosolapov explains.

Feeding the pipes

And, more generally, when it comes to being successful in China, it's these channels which are key.

Kosolapov takes a broader view than some in the industry, who see the launch of platforms such as games on Tencent's WeChat as radically changing the ecosystem.

"There are cycles," he says.

"Last year, 91 Wireless was top. Now it's 360, but you can't just bet on one. We work with 100 app stores when we launch a game."

Indeed, he argues you can't even ignore stores that only generate small numbers of downloads.

"Next month, they might suddenly get big," he says.

As for WeChat, Kosolapov reckons it will have an impact, but won't revolutionise the situation.

"It will be another top channel, but it won't be like Kakao [the Korean mobile platform]," he argues.

"Kakao has operator billing, but in China, billing is fragmented."

And as if to back up his point, rumours from Tencent suggest the company is still unsure whether to use a proprietary billing system or open up to work with the three big Chinese carriers. 

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at PG.biz which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.

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