Will the feminine touch make King potent in US?
Female gamers hold key to Tencent’s overseas release of its profitable game
BEIJING — When it comes to converting women to gaming, China’s Tencent Holdings Ltd might teach the US market a thing or two.
Its King of Glory, which has generated success, controversy and regulator scrutiny in China, has not only broken sales records but the gender barrier, and may well do an encore in the US.
It belongs to a genre typically favored by male players, but King of Glory has become popular even among female players, typically the under-30 generation.
Despite the male reference in its title, King of Glory’s ability to engage the long-neglected constituency of female gamers has buoyed Tencent.
It is now Tencent’s most profitable mobile game ever, having raked in more than 5.5 billion yuan ($818.15 million) in revenue in the first quarter of this year, according to an estimate of Gamma Data Corp, a Chinese gaming industry database.
Another reason for the success of King of Glory is Tencent’s dominance over Chinese social media through its all-inone killer app WeChat, which boasts 870 million users a month in China alone, according to tech media company PingWest.
WeChat helped funnel a diverse audience to King of Glory, which has a broader palette of playable characters than most games of its ilk.
Female players accounted for 54 percent of the 200 million gamers as of May, according to a recent report by Chinese mobile data intelligence firm Jiguang.
Zhang Tianjiao, 26, a civil servant based in Wuhan, Hubei province in Central China, spends an average one hour a day to battle in the online fantasy blockbuster.
Zhang, whose favorite characters include Cai Wenji, an image based on famous Chinese poetess Cai Yan, started playing the game from April, after her roommate invited her to check it out. She now uses the game to further expand her social network online.
“It is a new type of social networking,” she said. “We all love playing and taking the game face to face or on WeChat. And it’s a good way to keep in touch with friends and make new ones on social networks.”
Agreed Dong Zhen, interactive entertainment analyst at internet consultancy Analysys in Beijing. “A major factor in its (King of Glory’s) success is the billion-plus users on Tencent’s social networking platforms WeChat and QQ. For smartphone users, it helps them to kill spare time.”
King of Glory’s mass appeal will be put to test again as Tencent prepares to release it in the United States, a market dominated by mobile game powerhouses such as Activision Blizzard Inc and where WeChat is largely non-existent.
While dominant on its home turf, Tencent has yet to demonstrate an ability to woo foreign audiences.
Its biggest overseas hits — Riot Games Inc’s League of Legends and Supercell Oy’s Clash of Clans among them — were acquired at a steep cost. Those very same acquisitions, however, handed Tencent a major global platform that could help its biggest in-house title connect with foreign gamers.
Tencent has certainly clicked with the home crowd. King of Glory’s cocktail of social media and gaming (allowing users, for instance, to add actual friends) won it some 108 million female players, according to Jiguang.
That females outnumber men in a violence-laden game is remarkable, for an industry notorious for its fraught relationship with women.
From the 2015 Gamergate harassment campaign to criticism of gratuitous sexualization in staples like Grand Theft Auto, girl gamers have seldom felt completely comfortable in the testosterone-fueled world.
While women are the majority in casual fare such as Candy Crush Saga, they are distinctly under-represented in hardcore and mid-core titles.
King of Glory is an adaption of the better-known League of Legends in which players, usually in teams of five, hack and slash their way through battle arenas. It is free to download but generates revenue from users who buy upgrades to improve their odds in battle.
Because a single session only lasts about 20 minutes, the game demands less commitment from its players, who can polish off rounds in fragmented time slots. That in turn lowers the entry barriers for female users who’ve had scant exposure to mid- or hard-core games, said Marie Sun, a Shenzhen-based analyst at Morningstar Investment Service.
A global market report by research group Newzoo said mobile gaming is expected to generate $46.1 billion this year, accounting for 42 percent of all gaming revenue.
By 2020, mobile gaming is predicted to account for 50 percent of the market. And gaming in China is also projected to generate $27.5 billion with most of it coming from the mobile market.
“The rapidly growing mobile gaming sector in China is fueled by a large user base, and this market will continue to grow,” said Teng Hua, founder of Gamma Data.
The rapidly growing mobile gaming sector in China is fueled by a large user base ...”
founder of Gamma Data
Cosplayers resembling characters from King of Glory perform at a provincial-level competition in Nanjing, Jiangsu province.