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Top 30 Chinese Developer 2014

Who's who in the fastest growing market
Top 30 Chinese Developer 2014

In the west, the fast-growing Chinese mobile games market is typically highlighted as the sector's biggest opportunity. Chinese developers and publishers know the hard reality of that situation, however.

Sure, there are hundreds of millions of potential mobile gamers, but there's also massive fragmentation across the ecosystem, ranging from handsets and app distribution, to promotion, billing, social networks, and even connectivity.

Another challenge arises from the legacy of China's online games sector. Financially, it's still the biggest part of the industry, with large publicly-owned publishers. Yet despite their size, many are struggling to make the transition to mobile games.

The result is smaller pure-play mobile game developers are now highly valuable; something that's been reflected in some eye-watering prices during 12 months of overheated mergers and acquisition activity.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for Chinese developers, however, is quality of their content. Because of its legacy, the market remains dominated by poor mobile versions of existing browser MMOGs. Yet the most innovative companies are looking to combine the best aspects of the past with more enjoyable – and more mobile-centric – gameplay mechanics, as well as better graphics and streamlined user experience.

And it's such developers who are highlighted in our second listing of the best Chinese mobile developers. Only 17 companies from last year's list survive; demonstrating how quickly the market is developing. We expect 2014 to be nothing if not more extreme.

#30: RenRen Games

RenRen Games

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RenRen Games »


Known as China's Facebook, Renren (NYSE: REN) has had a difficult 2013 as it attempts the transition to become a truly mobile company. Mobile games are a key part of this transformation but as with so many established Chinese web outfits, Renren is finding it hard to compete against focused and fast-moving competitors.

One approach is to go international, with Renren setting up offices in Japan and the US. The latter recently released basketball title NBA Rush and casino game I Am Slots. Yet, this expansion, combined with delays to key products, has seen the company's losses widen. In that context, 2014 will be a crucial year in the company's history.

#29: KongZhong


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KongZhong »


One of China's high profile MMOG companies thanks to its local licensing of Wargaming's titles, KongZhong (NASDAQ: KONG) is struggling with modern mobile game development. Its once strong feature phone gaming business is in decline, but competition in the smartphone market means it can't make up the difference. The result is mobile sales are dropping; down 48 percent to $21 million in 2012.

Yet, KongZhong, which includes developers Noumena and Mammoth, should have enough resources to make the transition. It will be looking to build on the start it's made with titles such as Kooky Three Kingdoms, Pocket Fort and Harem Warriors.

#28: EGLS Technology

EGLS Technology

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EGLS Technology »


Starting out making MMOGs such as EvilVon Online and Curse of Land Online for Java and Symbian devices, EGLS (aka Entertainment Game Labs) embraced the opportunities of smartphones releasing its 3D MMORPG Armed Heroes for iOS in October 2012. It shot into the Chinese top grossing top 10 for iPhone and iPad, and it's remained in the top 50 for a year before slipping into the top 100.

More recently, the game also been released on Google Play for the international Android market, while an updated version has hit the App Store, subtitled Black Gate: Inferno.

#27: Droidhen


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Droidhen »


It's been something of a quiet year for the Sequoia Capital-backed and internationally-focused Android developer DroidHen. Its spurt of simple action releases in 2012 has generated over 200 million lifetime download and top developer status from Google.

Now, however, it's looking to mix up its genres. DH Texas Poker was its biggest game in 2013, going top 10 top grossing in 27 countries, and top 50 in the US and UK. Magic Era, a colourful city/army-building game with card elements,which was released in June, is the company's next big project.

#26: WiSTONE Wireless Entertainment

WiSTONE Wireless Entertainment

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WiSTONE Wireless Entertainment »


Like many Chinese mobile developers, Wistone's initial success came as it leveraged the player base of an existing web MMOG. It's continued to support its War 2 Victory franchise with new versions, including for GREE and specific country releases i.e. Germany. Across all platforms, it claims 30 million registered players of War 2 Victory, of which 10 percent are monthly actives.

Extending the brand, another global release is the WWII naval sim Destroyers vs. Wolfpack, while Wistone also switched genres, recently releasing a BMW-branded racer and a social quiz game with betting elements, both in China.

#25: Efun Company Limited

Efun Company Limited

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Efun Company Limited »


A developer and publisher of online mobile games, EFUN operates plenty of titles, ranging from cute Pokemon and Worms-inspired games like Pet Alliance and Bomb Me to core card-based MMORPGs such as Elves Realm and Hero Dream.

The company particularly focuses on the southeast Asian markets, targeting countries including Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam, where recent release Hero Dream (developed by Pitaya) is riding high in the top grossing charts. And unusually for a Chinese games company, EFUN has also been busy on the Amazon Appstore.

#24: Elex Technology Co. Ltd

Elex Technology Co. Ltd

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Elex Technology Co. Ltd »


Another big online games company that's been developing mobile games since 2011, Elex Wireless - which also releases under the names Silent Ocean and Free Thought Labs and runs the web portal - is best known for its strategy MMOG franchise Age of Warring Empire.

It's been downloaded over 30 million times, gaining #1 top grossing status on Google Play in 28 countries since its September 2012 release. To-date, it's been less successful on iOS, but a new version released in mid-2013 for international markets has slowly been gaining traction.

#23: Guangzhou Yaowan Entertainment Network Technology Co., Ltd.

Guangzhou Yaowan Entertainment Network Technology Co., Ltd.

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Guangzhou Yaowan Entertainment Network Technology Co., Ltd. »


Although its main business is telecommunications hardware, Datang (SHA: 600198) is one of the large Chinese companies who is now investing heavily in social and mobile game developers. It owns Zhuhai Keyrun and Yaowan Entertainment, acquiring the latter in July 2013 for around $275 million. It dropped plans to buy Sanqiwan Network Technology, however.

Currently more heavily skewed towards web games, in mobile the group is best known for business simulation series Regal Legend (aka Business Life), which in various releases has been a top 20 top grossing game in China since July 2012.

#22: Haypi Co. Ltd

Haypi Co. Ltd

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Haypi Co. Ltd »


Demonstrating both early mover advantage into mobile and the importance of games-as-a-service, Haypi is best known for its 2010-release MMORPG Haypi Kingdom, which is still being updated and still being played.

It's a similar story with the 2011-released Haypi Dragon, and the company's most recent release, the Haypi Monster series. Currently only available in iOS, this builds on a Pokemon theme, adding online PVP, with the October launch of Haypi Monster: The Lost Tower refining the gameplay within one global server to focus the competitive edge.

#21: RedAtoms


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RedAtoms »


With over 200 employees and offices in Beijing, Tokyo and San Francisco, RedAtoms is one of the Chinese developers looking at the global opportunity.

It's had plenty of success in China too. On iOS, its music game Activity D and Three Kingdoms card battler Sanguo Now have sat in the top 50 top grossing charts since their 2012 release. Indeed such as been the success of Sanguo Now that RedAtoms has just released a companion social app for it. Recent western-targeted card game Pantheon the Legends has found it harder to find an audience, though.

#20: Hoolai Games

Hoolai Games

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Hoolai Games »


Bursting on the China mobile games in 2011 with its iOS top grossing Hoolai Three Kingdoms game, the 600-strong Hoolai Games operates across the web, social and mobile markets. It has a particular focus on city-building strategy games, with other titles including the WWII-themed Checkmate and the western-oriented Rise of Olympia.

It's big new project is the mobile version successful MMOG Wartune, which it co-developed and for which it has the Asian rights. The game is already a top 20 top grossing hit in China, and Hoolai is working with Kabam, which will publish the western version in 2014.

#19: Camel Games

Camel Games

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Camel Games »


An Android specialist, Camel Games' big hit came when it ditched simple action games for its F2P city and army-building game Little Empire. Released in mid 2012 - making it a contemporary of Clash of Clans, rather than being a clone as many Chinese developers have since released - it's found a strong audience, being downloaded 10 million times.

Regularly updated, Little Empire has been consistently in the Chinese top grossing top 100 on iPhone since its launch. And it's been an international success too, gaining an audience in southeast Asia and Korea, and more recently in parts of Europe.

#18: ZQGame


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ZQGame »


Best known as an MMOG company, ZQGame (SHE: 300052) is one of the many such Chinese outfits that is expanding fast into the mobile sector. As part of this shift, in August 2013 it acquired 51 percent of Chinese developer MoreFun in a $60 million deal, and 51 percent of Small Technology in a $15 million deal.

MoreFun, which has annualised sales of around $13 million, is best known for its Kings 2 Online mobile RPG. ZQGame has also recently launched its western-oriented card-battler Pocket Knights, which is generating over $1 million a month in China.

#17: PinIdea


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PinIdea »


PinIdea's rise has come with its release of mobile version of a highly popular web game. With over 30 million active players, Road to Immortal simplifies the gameplay of a fully-featured Chinese MMORPG, combining it a beautiful painted-style of graphics. The result is the iOS/Android release has been one of the top grossing mobile games in China through 2012 and 2013.

It isn't the only game from PinIdea, though, which has released its Warcraft-inspired Triple Defense: Goblin's Revenge, and worked with developer Xindong to create a mobile version of its God: Three Strategies game.

#16: iFree Studio Ltd.

iFree Studio Ltd.

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iFree Studio Ltd. »


Demonstrating the confusion that can be created in China, Muhe Network goes by the label iFree Studio in English, despite the presence of the unrelated Russian outfit i-Free in the Chinese market. Nevertheless, the 300-strong Hong Kong-based developer is building on the foundations created back in 2011 by its MMORPGs such as Emross War with more sophisticated games like Lies of Astaroth.

Corporately it received a boost in 2013, with the deal that saw Phoenix Publishing pay $50 million for a 64 percent stake. Meanwhile its Elemental Kingdoms game has been released internationally by Perfect World.

#15: Mad Head

Mad Head

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Mad Head »

Hong Kong-based Mad Head games is one of the new generation of upwardly mobile Chinese developers. It's released over a dozen games, but early casual action titles and entertainment apps such as Meowlody and Speedy Rhythm Dinner have now been replaced with more complex games.

Its key title is Tower of Saviors, a hybrid match-3 card-battling RPG, which has performed strongly in southeast Asia, gaining over eight million downloads. And now Mad Head has signed a publishing deal with US powerhouse Storm8 to bring the newly culturalised game - renamed War of Dragons - to western markets.

#14: KoramGame


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KoramGame »


Part of the Kunlun web game company, Koram Game has always been the most international-focused part of the business. It's also leading the charge when it comes to mobile games, bringing Kunlun's popular browser MMORPGs to mobile devices. One of its early success was Kunlun's Chronicles of Merlin, while Kunlun has licensed NetDragon's Crazy Hordes for mobile.

Koram Game's most recent success, however, has been martial arts card-action title Q Chuan (developed by Firevale), which was the #1 top grossing iPhone game in China in September 2013 as well as going top 10 top grossing in Korea.

#13: Yinhan


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Yinhan »


Established 12 years ago, 2013 has been a strong year for Yinhan. Its game Space Hunter generated around $7 million in revenue within six months, while its latest release - Ghost, a reworking of the classic Journey to the West theme - has even more successful, being a top 20 top grossing game on iOS, in part thanks to its celebrity endorsement by singer/actress Angelababy.

On the commercial side, Yinhan found success with investment from Chinese film-making outfit Huayi Brothers. It paid $110 million for a majority 51 percent stake in Yinhan, and also has a 13 percent stake in Ourpalm.

#12: Happy Elements

Happy Elements

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Happy Elements »


With a strong background in social network games like aquarium sim Happy Fish, Happy Elements focus on mobile games came with a $30 million investment round in mid-2011. Since then it's been busy both within the Chinese market and internationally.

As well as working with partners in Japan, it has an operation in Korea, releasing games such as card-battler Majoca Majoluna (aka Luna Witches) onto Kakao during 2013. It's also worked with US publisher Kabam over title Legend Four, and currently has its sequel - called Dragon Rising - in beta ready for an early 2014 launch.

#11: Magic Universe

Magic Universe

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Magic Universe »


It's been a big year for Beijing developer Magic Universe. Established in 2009, it's built its reputation with two games; Latent Dragon Online and Forget Sin. Both released in 2012, Latent Dragon Online generated around $3 million in the first half of 2013, while action RPG Forget Sin - which has remained in the Chinese iPhone top grossing top 100 since launch - is now making $5 million a month.

The result is floated publishing company Tangel (SHE:300148) acquired Magic Universe for around $200 million including $60 million in cash in August. Not bad considering its 2012 turnover was just $11 million.

#10: CMGE


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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


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Tap4Fun »


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

Digital Cloud

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Digital Cloud »


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


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LineKong »


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


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OurPalm »


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

NetDragon Websoft

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NetDragon Websoft »


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

Shanda Games

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Shanda Games »


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

Chukong Technologies

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Chukong Technologies »


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


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Locojoy »


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


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Tencent »


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.