LBGT mar­ket grows

En­trepreneurs de­velop prod­ucts for emerg­ing con­sumer group

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at shan­juan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Zhu Qim­ing, CEO of mo­bile game devel­oper Star-G Tech­nolo­gies, fore­sees rosy prospects for China’s emerg­ing “pink econ­omy”, a new business model that caters mainly to the life­style sand de­mand soft he LGBT com­mu­nity.

Zhu’s com­pany, a startup in Bei­jing, has re­ceived sev­eral rounds of in­vest­ment after re­leas­ing a business plan to de­sign and de­velop mo­bile games ex­clu­sively for gay men in China.

“With ris­ing so­cial tol­er­ance, peo­ple in the LGBT (les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual, trans­gen­der) com­mu­nity have be­gun to demon­strate their iden­tity and meet other mem­bers of the com­mu­nity through a range of so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing games,” he said. “I see strong de­mand go­ing un­ful­filled, and that pro­vides us with ‘pink’ op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Zhu first found in­spi­ra­tion in a pop­u­lar mo­bile game, Green Moun­tain Fox Leg­end, which al­lows vir­tual mar­riages among play­ers, re­gard­less of gen­der.

“It’s not a gay game, but that novel func­tion man­aged to lure many sup­port­ers from the LGBT com­mu­nity,” he said. “We see a lot of same-sex unions in the game.”

The dearth of mo­bile games tar­get­ing the LGBT com­mu­nity is ex­actly the sort of op­por­tu­nity that star­tups such as Zhu’s have been look­ing for, be­cause the main­stream game mar­ket is dom­i­nated by large, es­tab­lished com­pa­nies and a spe­cialty prod­uct is “our last chance”.

The com­pany is now de­vel­op­ing three mo­bile games tar­get­ing gay play­ers, known as “gaymers.”

One is an openly gay role-play­ing game that al­lows gaymers to choose their own im­ages, clothes and ac­ces­sories, such as watches and jew­elry. It will al­low play­ers to net­work and in­ter­act with their peers, and even marry (within the game). Ty­ing the knot makes cou­ples el­i­gi­ble to par­tic­i­pate to­gether in as­signed tasks, such as plant­ing trees and fight­ing mon­sters, he said.

The game also al­lows cou­ples to up­load their own pho­tos and dis­play them for other play­ers to rate. If the cou­ple gets enough points, they can re­ceive “vir­tual gifts” such as fancy tuxe­dos and brand­name watches.

Zhu said the game will be open to straight men, but “it’s a queer thing— I don’t think straight peo­ple would ap­pre­ci­ate it.”

As a 32-year-old well-ed­u­cated gay man, Zhu said his claim is not only based on his own ex­pe­ri­ence and emo­tions, but also on in­ves­ti­ga­tion and anal­y­sis. Ac­cord­ing to Zhu, the essen­tial in­gre­di­ents of games for gay men are good-look­ing char­ac­ters, com­mon hob­bies — such as work­ing out, healthy life­styles and fash­ion — and a touch of eroti­cism.

Pro­mo­tion, co­op­er­a­tion

To pro­mote the games, Zhu plans to co­op­er­ate with Blued, an in­ter­na­tional gay hookup app head­quar­tered in Bei­jing that has more than 27 mil­lion users, about 20 per­cent of them from out­side China.

With such a huge, strongly tar­geted user base, Blued has so far at­tracted five rounds of in­vest­ment to­tal­ing tens of mil­lions of dol­lars, ac­cord­ing to Geng Le, the CEO.

He de­clined to dis­close the fi­nan­cial de­tails, but said business is a smart, sub­tle way of rais­ing the vis­i­bil­ity of China’s LGBT com­mu­nity and gain­ing greater so­cial tol­er­ance.

“That’s one of the so­cial mer­its of the boom­ing pink econ­omy that we cher­ish most,” said the for­mer po­lice of­fi­cer, who is gay.

The com­pany has forged part­ner­ships with other busi­nesses that want to tap into the “pink mar­ket,” par­tic­u­larly in ar­eas such as entertainment, shop­ping, travel, in­sur­ance and even as­sisted re­pro­duc­tive tech­nolo­gies, he said.

In Oc­to­ber, Blued jointly launched China’s first Pink Econ­omy In­no­va­tion and En­trepreneur­ship Con­test in con­junc­tion with Mars, an in­vest­ment man­age­ment com­pany in Bei­jing.

The win­ners will re­ceive fund­ing from in­vestors will­ing to fi­nance their plans, and as of last week, more than 60 business plans had been re­ceived from both home and abroad, ac­cord­ing to Zou Shen­g­long, Blued’s se­nior pub­lic re­la­tions man­ager.

Huge po­ten­tial

The pink econ­omy is set to be­come a ma­jor mar­ket. In­dus­try an­a­lysts es­ti­mate that there are 400 mil­lion LGBT peo­ple world­wide and they spend more than $3 tril­lion each year.

China is the world’s third-largest LGBT mar­ket, after Europe and the United States, and is val­ued at $300 bil­lion per an­num. The 2016 China LGBT Com­mu­nity Re­port es­ti­mates that China’s LGBT com­mu­nity num­bers at least 70 mil­lion peo­ple. The re­port — jointly re­leased in Novem­ber by or­ga­ni­za­tions such as Blued, Rela (a widely used les­bian so­cial net­work­ing app) and the global pub­lic re­la­tions agency We­ber Shand­wick — said the ar­eas with the great­est po­ten­tial in­clude tourism, fash­ion, cos­met­ics, mar­riage plan­ning, entertainment, and even sur­ro­gacy — which re­mains a gray area in China’s le­gal frame­work.

A re­port on LGBT travel, pub­lished in 2012 by the World Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion, showed that mem­bers of the com­mu­nity tend to travel more and spend more than straight peo­ple dur­ing their trips.

Thomas Roth, pres­i­dent of Com­mu­nity Mar­ket­ing & In­sights, a con­sul­tancy in San Fran­cisco that is­sues an an­nual re­port about the LGBT com­mu­nity, said the com­pany is just set­ting out in China, and many other in­ter­na­tional busi­nesses with ex­pe­ri­ence of serv­ing the LGBT com­mu­nity will soon be­gin look­ing at the emerg­ing mar­ket in the coun­try.

“Chi­nese com­pa­nies will also ex­pand their business fo­cus into this new area very soon,” he said.

Geng Le, of Blued, is ahead of the pack. In De­cem­ber last year, the com­pany launched a livestream­ing plat­form that quickly be­came a ma­jor source of rev­enue. It now has more than 100,000 users and is ex­pected to gen­er­ate hun­dreds of mil­lions of yuan by the end of the year.

Geng is mak­ing big plans and aim­ing high. “We are try­ing to form a business cir­cle to tar­get LGBT com­mu­ni­ties and be­come a lead­ing gay net­work­ing com­pany,” he said.

“Business development is the big­gest char­ity (in the sense of rais­ing aware­ness), par­tic­u­larly in the fight against LGBT-re­lated so­cial dis­crim­i­na­tion and stigma,” he added.

Pos­i­tive signs

Zhao Ke, edi­tor-in-chief of Gayspot magazine, said the fact that the com­mu­nity has man­aged to at­tract at­ten­tion in a neu­tral, un­bi­ased man­ner is a pos­i­tive sign, be­cause for many years, LGBT peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly gay men, were only men­tioned in the con­text of HIV/AIDS con­trol and pre­ven­tion.

Wu Zun­you, direc­tor of the Na­tional Cen­ter for AIDS and Sex­u­ally Trans­mit­ted Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion at the China Cen­ter for Dis­ease Con­trol, said that per­cep­tion is not al­to­gether sur­pris­ing given that gay men are at greater risk of con­tract­ing HIV/ AIDS com­pared with other sus­cep­ti­ble groups such as sex work­ers and peo­ple who in­ject drugs.

Sen­tinel sur­veil­lance con­ducted by the cen­ter shows that in somecities one in 10 gay men tests pos­i­tive for HIV, while the na­tional preva­lence of HIV among the straight com­mu­nity is 0.06 per­cent.

Wu Hao, direc­tor of the Department of In­fec­tious Dis­eases at You An Hos­pi­tal in Bei­jing, one of China’s largest HIV/AIDS treat­ment cen­ters, said more than 80 per­cent of HIV/AIDS cases di­ag­nosed so far this year were gay men.

He urged busi­nesses that tar­get the LGBT com­mu­nity to em­brace so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity, and em­pha­size AIDS pre­ven­tion and con­trol in their prod­ucts.

Ac­cord­ing to Geng, Blued’s plat­forms — in­clud­ing the dat­ing app, the web­site, and the livestream — of­fer value-added ser­vices that pro­vide users with in­for­ma­tion about HIV pre­ven­tion and sup­port.

“The pro­vi­sion of such ser­vices helps to pro­tect our users from HIV while pro­vid­ing us with a bet­ter re­la­tion­ship with the gov­ern­ment and a smoother development en­vi­ron­ment,” he said.

In ad­di­tion to the on­line de­liv­ery of ser­vices, such as HIV pre­ven­tion ed­u­ca­tion, Blued has part­nered with Bei­jing’s dis­ease con­trol and pre­ven­tion de­part­ments to es­tab­lish HIV test­ing sites that pro­vide free tests.

Feng Zi, a gay man in Bei­jing and an ac­tive Blued user, said that ev­ery three months he re­ceives an alert via the app re­mind­ing him to take a free HIV test.

“I meet friends and land dates there, but they (Blued) are also re­spon­si­ble for pro­tect­ing me from HIV/AIDS,” he said.

PHO­TOS BY BLUED / FOR CHINA DAILY

Con­tes­tants and or­ga­niz­ers pose for a photo at China’s first Pink Econ­omy In­no­va­tion and En­trepreneur­ship Con­test that was held in Bei­jing in Oc­to­ber. The com­pe­ti­tion was aimed at com­pa­nies hop­ing to pro­vide goods and ser­vices for the coun­try’s LGBT com­mu­nity.

Zhu Qim­ing, CEO of mo­bile game devel­oper Star-G Tech­nolo­gies, makes a speech at the business in­no­va­tion com­pe­ti­tion.

A gay man (right) pre­pares to have a free HIV test at a test­ing site jointly es­tab­lished by Bei­jing’s dis­ease con­trol and pre­ven­tion de­part­ments and Blued, a gay hookup app head­quar­tered in the cap­i­tal.

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