Differences in Game Advertising: China vs. Japan

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Common Practices Change with the Times

It was the same story around the end of the year here in Japan, when you watch TV it seems like there’s an overabundance of commercials and event advertisements for games. That being said, this isn’t anything new. The amount of smartphone game ads has been increasing every year since we entered the 2010s. Indeed, some time slots or channels are totally monopolized by these commercials.

The reason for this increase in promotion, as I’m sure you know, is that when launching a smartphone game without spending money on advertising to snatch up a large number of users and place your game high in the rankings, FTP (free to play) smartphone games won’t increase in popularity. And if there’s no popularity boom, you’ll enter a vicious cycle of being unable to enter the rankings, having no exposure, and only accumulating operating costs.

In the world of smartphone games, “illegal boosts,” buying app downloads to gain more users, has started to be a popular topic of conversation, but this method is not new either. On the contrary, in the smartphone game world this has ALWAYS been an expected method for companies with the finances to achieve it. 

However, in 2019 especially, we’ve started to see that a game’s place in store rankings don’t quite match with the number of commercials it has—games are slithering up the rankings even without them.

 

China’s Overwhelmingly Effective Advertising Strategies

Since 2019, Chinese game publishers we haven’t seen in commercials until now have started entering the rankings in large quantities. While Japanese companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising, Chinese publishers are only spending a few million. And they usually debut in Japan in nonsense Japanese.

This is where the doubts come in. The common practice up until now has been: if you have the capability of boosting your advertisements, you should do it. However looking at the current rankings, it’s evident many game companies are breaking this supposedly ironclad rule. So, is there really a need to invest so much in advertising?

There’s something else of importance that needs attention. What’s impressive is not just that Chinese game companies are entering rankings without spending money, but that they’re winning this battle in a foreign market. I believe the reason for this comes from the culture of consumer games.

The fundamental approach to selling console games in foreign markets has not been developed from numerical data collected by the game companies, but from unfounded information from articles, or conversations with acquaintances. For example:

“There’s been an influx in users in Turkey, so we should translate into Turkish.”

“Indonesian users are spending more money; we should translate into Indonesian.”

“Both Russian and Brazilian Portuguese have been growing markets lately, let’s translate into these languages.” 

And here comes the interesting part: Japanese companies DO target certain markets when it comes to smartphone games, but there seems to be less and less of that for console games. Instead, the concept that’s winning out is to develop in multiple languages. In short, they’re just translating and throwing the game in the store.

However, because Chinese game companies don’t have ridiculous “common practices,” or the burden of history, they do a thorough analyses of their markets and only develop in foreign countries when they’re capable of competing, rather than investing in advertising with no numerical basis. In addition, they carefully research where users are, and implement measures to get good quality users instead of focusing on the number of users. 

On the other hand, Japanese game companies, shouldering the burden of consumer history, tend to believe “translation = sales.”

Where does this belief come from? Well, publishers can increase the number of languages in their builds, and stores have become more convenient, letting users change the language from the store page. There aren’t as many language-related hurdles. 

At the beginning the pioneer was Steam, but now it’s become easy to release games overseas even on platforms like the Nintendo Switch.

In the beginning I said Chinese games are succeeding in Japan without investing extensively in advertising, but for console games you could say the opposite. Those won’t sell effectively unless you advertise, even if you localize them. 


Rigorous Advertising Strategies at this Current Turning Point

Here are two differences between smartphone games and console games.

Number one is fairly obvious, but most smartphone game users are “casual gamers.” They won’t mind a few translation mistakes and won’t write a bad review for every little error.

However, console users all consider themselves “gamers.” Because of this perceived expertise, they’re more likely to write a review. 

Number two: many smartphone games are free, installing them is easy. However, console games are purchased. At a cost of 30-40 dollars or more, if there’s something a little outlandish, or the quality is even a tiny bit lower than expected, people won’t buy.

When calculating how many people will play a localized game, AGM’s customers tend to calculate in terms of population. For example, if there are 30 million players speaking Russian, that’s a 30 million–person market.

However it should be understood that if you don’t advertise to these players, no one will see the game.

Recently the number of ads for Chinese games has increased on YouTube, but why is that? Japanese game companies making console games create the advertising budget based on the game budget. If the budget is some hundred million yen, then the advertising budget will be an amount taken from that.  However, many Japanese companies (not all) take the route of leaving everything up to a marketing agency, as if this is the obvious choice.  

The first thing you can say about Chinese companies is that they are very strict and fussy about their budget. There’s no notion of needing to spend a certain amount on advertising just because you spent a certain amount on the game. There’s also a sense of not wanting to leave advertising to an agency. So the advertising budget gets severely cut. 

And, if you gave two companies the same 5 million yen for advertising, the Chinese company’s ad would be overwhelmingly more effective than the Japanese.

That’s because they take it very seriously, are very detail-oriented, and analyze thoroughly. If they don’t see results, they stop advertising, even if it’s only the second round. In this sense, they’re fussy about advertising in a good way.

Chinese companies are also very good at putting together profitable updates. They give users what they want, when they want it. When they feel users want a certain character, they give it to them. 

China is achieving great results with their promotions and updates.

 

Advertising Effective in Foreign Development

Obviously it’s not feasible for Japanese companies to focus solely at the Japanese market. Releasing in foreign countries is a must, as no matter what genre, the foreign market is larger than the Japanese.

To summarize, I’d like to see companies whittling down the languages they translate and focus on properly delivering to those users, rather than just translating into a lot of languages. Then, get in some solid advertising where people will see it.

In this day and age, rather than paying 10 thousand dollars for conventional advertising, like articles published in places like Polygon or IGN, you need to really think about your advertising plan.

AGM is in the process of changing our services to offer effective advertising, from translating to  foreign development.  From now on, we must come up with advertising strategies that are a little out there. Strategies that are current and match the specific game and its specific users. We can’t just go by the rules that have existed up until now; we need to carefully deliberate what people really want and put that where they can see it. 

AGM not only translates, but also implements plans to deliver games to users. 

If you expect sales in a time where you can’t win by simply sticking with the established status quo, don’t trust your sales to translation. Fight the battle with effective advertising strategies.

Related article : Releasing Games in China in 2020. The ultimate Holy Grail.
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