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Five Chinese and Japanese mobile gaming myths investigated

GameRefinery gets out its magnifying glass
Five Chinese and Japanese mobile gaming myths investigated

This is a guest colum from Kalle Heikkinen, Chief Game Analyst at GameRefinery.

There are many common stereotypes about Chinese and Japanese gamers.

  • Are first-person shooters still a turn-off for the Japanese?
  • Is casual all but dead in China?
  • What about Japanese gamers and their alleged "multiplayer phobia"?

We know that many of these assumptions are around PC and console gamers, but what about mobile ones?

We took a look at some of the top iOS grossing games in China and Japan to see if the kinds of games being played lend weight to any of these stereotypes?

Myth # 1: The Japanese don't like shooters

This has to be one of the longest-lasting puzzles relating to Japanese gaming culture. Why have many kinds of shooter, especially FPS games, been marginalized in Japan?

Is it because the Japanese have a different attitude towards guns and popular FPS themes such as WW2, compared to Americans? Or does the market's history of neglecting PC gaming for a substantial period have something to do with this?

What the data says:

It should be noted that we are only looking at mid-core FPS/TPS games here, not more casual shoot-em' ups.

From this, it's clear that there are less of these kinds of games in Japan than in China and the US mobile charts.

We can see that the Battle Royale genre is the most prominent subgenre in Japan among shooter games.

Based on this market comparison of shooter games in the US, Japan and China of the top 500 grossing mobile games, we have several interesting findings.

  1. The amount of shooter games in Japan is lower than in China or the US.
  2. Battle Royale is the most popular shooter subgenre in all three markets, including Japan.
  3. No home-grown shooters exist in the Japanese top 500 grossing market, leaving the market up for grabs for overseas publishers.
  4. The biggest shooter in Japan is NetEase's Knives Out, which enjoyed a first-mover advantage in this space way before Fortnite, PUBG or Call of Duty managed to blast their way in.

Verdict: More true than false. Japanese gamers are not particularly keen on shooters, and they aren't keen on developing them locally either.

Myth #2: You need to have a battle pass in your mobile game

The incredible rise of the Battle Pass is something we've covered in numerous blog posts already, so no need to go into a lot more detail here.

But, maybe, battle pass mania isn't such a universal phenomenon as one might think.

What the data says:

While the battle pass has seen a surge in China and the US, the same cannot be said about Japan, where non-Japanese titles mostly fuel the (comparatively speaking) modest growth in battle pass utilization.

It remains to be seen when, if ever, Japan-made-games will start experimenting with this mechanic.

Verdict: False. Japanese top-grossing games have not jumped on the battle pass bandwagon (yet).

Myth #3: There’s no room for casual games in China

China is known for its gaming culture that favours deep mid and hard-core game types that can be experienced through genres such as (MMO)RPGs and 4X strategy games.

For many Western developers focused on the casual space, this raises questions on market demand for "lighter" experiences.

What the data says:

The amount of "casual" (i.e. non mid-core) games in China is much lower than Japan and the US.

Match-3 and Tycoon are the top Casual subgenres in China


From this, we can make a couple of interesting observations:

  1. China pales in comparison to the US in terms of market penetration of casual (i.e. non-mid-core) games.
  2. Casual subgenres that seem to be working in China include Match-3 and Tycoon.

Verdict: More true than false. There is no denying that getting to the top 500 grossing with a casual game is more difficult in China and Japan than in the US.

However, this is not to say it's impossible as some of the most successful foreign games in the market are Playrix's Scapes Match-3 titles.

Myth #4: Japanese gamers prefer co-op and single player experiences over PvP

Another common belief about Japanese gamers is their preference for single-player and co-op experiences over player versus player multiplayer action.

What the data says:

Looking at the top 200 grossing market as a monolith, we observe PvP being more popular in Japan than in the US, but falling short to China. 

A potential shortcoming of this comparison is the fact that implementing PvP happens to be more challenging in some genres than in others. For instance, in the US, certain popular game genres – such as slots games – don't bend so well into incorporating PvP.

Perhaps more interesting, then, is to zoom into mid-core, as practically all mid-core subgenres can reasonably be loaded with PvP.

Here, we can see that Japan has fewer PvP games than China and the US. For instance, hit mid-core games such as Puzzles & Dragons and Monsters Strike don't have PvP.

Verdict: More true than false. As much as one-fifth of Japanese top-grossing mid-core games have managed to find success without PvP. In the US and China, 95% of top mid-core games utilize PvP.

Myth #5: Top grossing Chinese games are largely PC ports

Console gaming has never really had a chance to take off in China due to the bans imposed by the local government. That's why many popular console brands such as Mario don't resonate with local gamers the same way they do in other markets.

However, the opposite holds for PC IPs, as computers were the number one gaming platform before mobile.

What the data says:

First, let's take a look at how popular is it to utilize an IP in general, no matter the type (gaming, movie, anime, etc.).

Next, we can drill down to see what percentage of games utilizing an IP are based explicitly on a PC IP.

  1. The majority of top-grossing licensed games in China utilize a PC gaming IP. Even IPs commonly associated as console IPs in the West – such as FIFA and Need for Speed – are prominent in China. This isn't due to their console history but because of their popularity on PC.
  2. Big PC IPs in China include Fantasy Westward Journey, CrossFire and Perfect World, to name a few.

Verdict: More true than false. In China, half of the top 200 grossing games are based on an IP, and among them, the usage of PC brands is very high, especially when compared to the US and Japan.


  • Top-grossing shooter games do exist in Japan, but their number is smaller than in the US or China. And where are all the successful made-in-Japan shooters?
  • Battle Pass is all the rage in China and the USA. However, the Japanese market shows that it's not utilized in all markets.
  • Casual games are overshadowed by mid-core in China, a clear difference to the US
  • While having PvP in a mid-core game in the US or China is an absolute must, some of the Japanese mid-core top grossers, such as Monster Strike, can thrive without it.
  • PC IPs are more widely used among hit games in China than in other markets.

Discove more insights at GameRefinery.