Home   >   Features Top 30 Chinese Developers of 2014: 10 to 1

From CMGE to ?

As well as being one of the world's fastest growing markets, the Chinese mobile games market is one of the most lucrative, the most competitive, the most fragmented and the fastest changing.

It's a combination that makes it equally fascinating and complex to analyse; a situation we've been dealing with in this, the second year of's listing of what we consider the best Chinese mobile game developers.

So, after lengthy consultation with industry experts, here is 2014's ranking - from 10 to 1 - which is based on sales performance, critical acclaim of releases, innovation in terms of business approach, and the number and range of titles released.

10. China Mobile Games & Entertainment Group
New entry

Even in a country with plenty of straightforward company names, nothing is more prosaic than China Mobile Games & Entertainment Group (NASDAQ: CMGE). And, as the name suggests, CMGE is all about mobile games. It operate over 500 games, mainly for feature phones, and is rapidly building up its social smartphone portfolio. Currently it has around 60 titles, of which the vast majority are from thirdparty developers. Around a third of the company's $60 million annual revenue comes from its publishing activity.

CMGE is also extending its distribution reach thanks to embed deals with device OEMs such as Coolpad, K-touch, Eton, Haier and Zopo, as well as an exclusive cooperation agreement with mobile advertising platform KuGuo. Key titles include its Joyful card game series, which is generating around $1.5 million per month.

9. Tap4Fun
Up 6 places

Unusually for a Chinese mobile game developer, Tap4Fun has always been focused on international markets. Since its 2011 formation, the now 100-strong outfit has released a series of free-to-play strategy titles in its Empire trilogy - Island Empire, Galaxy Empire (#1 top grossing in 24 countries) and King's Empire. It followed these up with Spartan Wars in late 2012 (#1 top grossing app in 23 countries).

During 2013, Tap4Fun been refining its portfolio, releasing its previous games for Google Play, as well as releasing a version of Spartan Wars for the Korean market via Kakao and supporting emerging US social network Tango with Spartan Wars; Empire of Honor for Tango.

It's also reworked Galaxy Empire as Galaxy Legend, a game which has been top 10 top grossing in 11 countries including #4 in Russia, since its release in August.

8. Digital Cloud
Down 7 places

Following its massive success in 2012, with mobile MMORPG Dragon Bane - China's top grossing iOS game of the year - 2013 has been a period of consolidation for Chengdu-based Digital Cloud.

Dragon Bane remains a top 30 top grossing game on the Chinese iPhone chart and top 20 when it comes to iPad. Extending the brand to overseas markets has proved successful too, with the game being the #1 top grossing app in Thailand, and also doing well in Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines. Equally impressive has been its top 10 peak in the South Korean market, and top 50 placing in Japan although it hasn't had much impact in the US, where its PC-centric design has proved to something of a culture clash.

Digital Cloud isn't a one-trick pony, however. Its Three Kingdoms Online and Kingdom Overlords games remain in the Chinese top 100 top grossing chart for iPhone, but their performance has been highly volatile during 2013.

7. Linekong
New entry

If you want to see how quickly the Chinese games market is changing, Linekong is your examplar. Prior to April 2013, it was a failing web game developer. Now it's a successful mobile game developer.

Outspoken CEO Wang Feng said at that stage of the company's life, he had nothing left to lose, and that despite raising $30 million in investment since Linekong formed in 2007. Luckily, though, one of its first releases, side-scroller action game Excalibur, went top grossing on iOS and Android in China. Linekong says it's been downloaded over 20 million times, now generating around $7 million per month.

More recently, 3D action game Sword of Heaven has launched into the China top 10 top grossing chart, while the company has over 10 games in development for 2014, and is looking to release more titles internationally, as well as considering an IPO, that following an additional $80 million investment round

6. OurPalm
Up 7 places

OurPalm (SHE:300315) has taken full advantage of its floatation on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange in 2012 with a burst of acquisitions during 2013. Key was the reported $400 million deal to buy mobile developer Playcrab (aka Air&Mud, best known for its #1 top grossing martial arts RPG franchise Big Head).

It also bought a 70 percent stake in Shang Game (known for its Three Kingdoms TD game) for $130 million, spending a similar amount to buy web developer Dovo.

The result is OurPalm is now a potential powerhouse across mobile and web gaming, albeit at the cost of a mountain debt. During the first nine months of 2013, it had sales of $40 million, up 53 percent, with profits of $15 million. (These figures exclude acquired company sales.) Now, in 2014, the challenge will be to drive the synergies between its new studios and release more hits like Big Head.

5. NetDragon Websoft
Up 16 places

It's been a fascinating year for NetDragon Websoft. The Hong Kong-floated online and mobile game developer and publisher (HKG:0777) divested itself of its 91 Wireless Android app distribution business, gaining just over $1 billion from the $1.85 billion Chinese search giant Baidu paid for the unit.

Half of that money has been paid out to investors, but it's looking to use the rest to supercharge its games business in 2014. Still, with its mobile games (both internally-developed and the thirdparty titles it publishes) likely to generate over $100 million in FY2013, it's already performing well.

Key titles in this context include a mobile version of its web game Eudemons Online, and original mobile games side-scrolling beat-'em up Fatal Fighter and mobile MMORPG Conquer Online. It's also signed a deal that saw MMOG outfit Changyou publish its mobile title War of Gods.

4. Shanda Games
New entry

As with many big Chinese game companies, Shanda Games (NASDAQ: GAME) generates the vast majority of its revenue from online games including licensing international games such as Dungeons & Dragons and Ragnarok Online. Its mobile game sales are rising very fast, however, generating $60 million in the first nine months of 2013.

Shanda has been particularly successful in terms of mobile publishing, with Square Enix's Million Arthur being a top grossing game in China, Korea and Taiwan. And it's recently licensed Sega's Chain Chronicle for China and Korea. But the company is heavily involved in development too, with over 30 games in the works, including versions of MMOG Dragon Nest and Legends of the World. Other titles due in 2014 include Guardian Cross and Hell Lord.

CEO Xiangdong Zhang has also been outspoken in his argument that Chinese developers need to improve the quality of their products, especially in terms of differentiation to PC games.

3. Chukong Technologies
No change

2013 has been another strong year for Chukong Technology. Most notably it closed a Series D funding round of $50 million, bringing its total to-date to $83 million. It will use the cash to invest heavily in developing its Cocos cross-platform engine, which is used by many 2D games in the Asian market, as well as building out its development and publishing businesses.

Of course, Chukong is already well placed in China, where its Fishing Joy franchise has been downloaded over 200 million times, generating more than $6 million on a monthly basis. It's also worked with publishers such as Gameloft to release some of its titles in China.

And the company has a strong international presence too, developing Contra: Evolution for Konami (it was released via Chukong's Punchbox Studio label), and publishing US developer Faceroll's Galaxy Factions strategy game globally under its new Coco Entertainment label. Other games released via Coco include Ring Toss Arcade and Chaos Fighters.

2. Locojoy
New entry

Released at the start of 2013, Locojoy's card-battler that was inspired by Blizzard's World of Warcraft game and an unofficial anime show, has been the smash hit of the Chinese iOS mobile games market.

Akin to being a Chinese version of GungHo's Puzzle & Dragons, I AM MT was the #1 top grossing iPhone title for nine months, before slipping to its current #3 position. Its performance has been similar on iPad, ranging from #1 to #5.

It's been a impressive turnaround for Beijing-based developer which CEO Shanhu Xing revealed almost shut down during 2012 after its first five games flopped, only generating $150,000 in revenue combined.

In fact, its only disappointment has been the comparative failure of I AM MT when released globally under the name Epic Heroes, although it's gone top 100 top grossing on iOS in 49 countries, including the UK, Spain, Canada and Australia.

1. Tencent Games
Up 17 places

One of China's internet giants, Tencent has been leading the charge from PC to mobile, most notably with its QQ instant messenger and the WeChat (Weixin) mobile social platforms. As well as enabling hundreds of millions of people to communicate, these networks are now being used to bring virality to social mobile games; something Tencent has demonstrated with its own titles such as WeRun (aka Cool Running) and Tiantian Ai Xiaochu (aka We Love Erasing Everyday) and Fei Ji Da Zhan (Airplane War).

They have been downloads hundreds of millions of times, generating tens of millions of revenue, and boosting Tencent into the #1 position.

Now, what the entire industry is considering is how Tencent will open up WeChat for thirdparties. Only western titles such as Plants vs Zombies 2 have been released to-date, but if Tencent decides to enable access, it will be the dominant mobile games company in China during 2014.

You can read the complete coverage of the Top 30 here