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This design deep dive is a collaboration between Tom Hammond, CEO at UserWise which is a company providing live-ops tools, Eva Grillova, Senior Game Designer at Socialpoint and my long time deconstruction partner, and me (Manyu). Read the full deconstruction here, where we break down the company behind the game, the game itself, and the three things it means for the future of mobile.
Every once in a while, there comes a game that marks the start of an inflection point in mobile games. Major tectonic shifts were felt with the launches of Angry Birds, Candy Crush, Clash of Clans and Clash Royale, to name a few. More recently and in 2019, it was Archero, which marked the beginnings of the Hybridcasual movement. The game took the market by storm, found growth opportunities in the current market, and opened the industry’s eyes to a new world of possibilities. In 2020, there is one game that holds similar characteristics - Genshin Impact.
Genshin Impact (GI) is developed by miHoYo - a Shanghai-based studio best known for producing high quality F2P mobile titles like Honkai Impact 3rd (HI3), which is the company’s most successful game to date. GI rivals top console titles with an estimated $100M development + marketing budget, a 4-year production timeline and over 300 people working on it. It is available across PC, PS4, and mobile, enables cross-play, and a Nintendo Switch version is in the works.
With that level of investment, GI leaves a strong first impression across platforms. It is stunningly beautiful, content-rich, highly engaging and aurally pleasing, which isn’t surprising, considering the soundtrack was recorded by the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, who also did the music for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Overall, the game experience truly feels like playing a full-fledged console title on your mobile phone, except it is free to play.
On its September 28th 2020 launch, GI made headlines across the industry. Not only did it break international launch records for a China-developed game, but it also grossed more than China’s TikTok on launch day and captured more Twitch viewership than Fortnite at the same time.
Two month’s hence and according to Sensor Tower, GI has brought in ~$400M in revenue on mobile, thereby averaging $6M a day and has broken into the top 50 highest grossing mobile games in history! Add in additional revenues from PS4 and PC, and the game is strongly ROI positive for miHoYo and seems like it is on track to be a billion dollar game. For comparison, HI3 has grossed ~$500M over 5 years, therefore making GI’s monthly revenue rate 24x that of HI3’s - not many studios can say that about a successive title launch. Finally, in terms of critical acclaim, GI has a Metacritic score of above 80, won Apple’s "iPhone Game of the Year 2020" award, and also won Google’s "Best Game of 2020" award.
With all this context, there is no question that the game is a huge success for miHoYo. But the question still remains - why does GI mark an inflection point for mobile games? The short answer is - GI has set a precedent by opening the eyes of developers across the world to a new level of gaming experience that is possible to create for mobile audiences. The long answer - well, it starts with understanding the beginnings of the company behind the game.
miHoYo’s otakus and their audacious vision
The why of miHoYo is most succinctly captured in the company’s mission statement - “Tech Otakus Save The World”. And the way we see it, it is the “Otakus” using “Tech” to “Save The World”. Here is what that really means.
"Otaku” is a Japanese term for people with consuming interests, particularly fixed in the Japanese ACG (Anime, Comics and Games) culture. miHoYo was founded in 2011 by three students, Cai Haoyu, Liu Wei and Luo Yuhao, of the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. All three identified themselves as Otakus. The founding trio also all had backgrounds in computer science engineering, which is where the “Tech” comes in. And how did they plan to “Save The World”? The answer to that is of course obvious. Read more about the beginnings of miHoYo here.
Since its inception, miHoYo’s vision has unwaveringly been twofold. First, they hope to create ACG moe games, in which players develop strong emotions and connections with the characters and their stories. Second, miHoYo wants to push the boundaries of their creations from a technology perspective. In other words, that means creating technical marvels through their games. Both elements of their vision can be clearly seen in the image below that captures how all their titles have strongly maintained a strong ACG thematic, while technical fidelity and resulting production value has improved with every successive title.
It was only after understanding this background that GI’s existence, scale and vision started to make more sense to us, and it is clearly rooted in everything that miHoYo has always been about. To peel back a few more layers, the audacious vision for GI can be broken into four key components. To find out what those are and more, read the full deconstruction here! We break down the company behind the game, the game itself, and the three things it means for the future of mobile.