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Tencent talks how to tempt Chinese gamers away from a diet of rice and noodles

Tencent talks how to tempt Chinese gamers away from a diet of rice and noodles
It's one of the most pressing questions for any western developers looking to expand their userbase: How can I make it big in China?

Speaking during his talk at GDC Europe in Cologne, Tencent VP Peng Lu didn't attempt to downplay the difficulties – the sheer number of different app stores and Android handsets is impossible to ignore – but he was keen to stress why western devs can't afford to ignore the region.

In short, it's the world's largest smartphone market.

Big opportunity

"It's estimated that there are going to be 900 million smartphone shipments by the end of 2013 worldwide," said Lu.

"To put China in some context, it's expected close to one third of those shipments will hit China – and that's not including the fact that most of those handsets will be made there. We're talking about shipments to consumers here."

Mobile games, too, are also set to rise as a result - the market it set to be worth $1.6 billion by the end of 2013.

"The first half to mid of last year, the amount of revenue raised by mobile gaming was still relatively small – you used to be able to make the top 10 with $1.5 million generated a month," informed Lu.

"The highest monthly revenue is over $8 million now, however – you'd struggle to make the top ten now with $1.5 million."

To 3G or not to 3G

If the opportunities are plain for all to see, what exactly are the drawbacks? Lu claimed connection speeds and data limits remain an issue.

"There are still a third of people in China whose mobiles are still on 2G connections – 3G usage is just slightly over 22 percent," he said.

"However, because the telecom carriers are actively upgrading their networks, however, we expect 4G to roll out before the end of this year. Things are changing quickly, really quickly."

Lu also warned that games with an installation package size over 30MB may struggle to break out beyond a core base of users.

"Some people will tolerate a larger file size, but most will ignore it," he said.

"You also need to think about how heavy your game will rely on data – a lot of Android users are on low incomes, so they are very very price sensitive.

"You tend to get more users at the beginning of the month. We did a lot of research and found out that those users were running out of data on their mobile package, so they would stop playing and then come back the next month."

The diet debate

But perhaps one of the biggest issues is to do with taste. Gamers in China were brought up on a diet of RPGs, and they're reluctant to move away from the genre.

"The hot games in China are different from the most popular games in the western world," added Lu.

"In the top 10 games, four are RPGs, and four are card trading games. You need to understand what Chinese gamers are like [if you are going to be successful]. They like to try steak, they like to try hamburgers, but for the long run, they're still going to buy rice and noodles over everything else."

Those rice and noodles – RPGs and card battlers in this analogy – can pay weighty dividends, however.

Lu noted that Chinese gamers tend to be willing to spend more in play, with a higher proportion of people who download the game going on to spend money. It would appear making it onto the menu in the first place, however, is no simple task.

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.

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