Releasing Games in China in 2020. The ultimate Holy Grail.

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Alright, so this is gonna be a salesy article, but we have to say it: The Chinese game market is growing so much it can be called unique compared to the rest of the world. China IS the ultimate Holy Grail in our industry.

In 2019, the consensus seemed to be that licensing games to Chinese companies was a better bet than attempting to self-publish games in China. There are probably a lot of companies with this mindset because the requirements for publishing licenses are unclear and stringent.

However, even with all the difficulties posed,  giving China up is unwise. 

First off, it’s important to differentiate between “selling a game in China” and “releasing a game geared towards Chinese people.” Even if you don’t release in China, it’s possible your game will still reach Chinese gamers, by releasing on Steam, for example.

For instance, distributing games to Chinese fans through platforms like Steam and Wegame is already fairly sufficient expansion into China (A detailed article on this issue will be published in the future, but to start, it’s enough to have the game properly localized into Chinese).

At AGM, we’ve helped localize and promote games for overseas developers who want to roll out their games in Japan for many years; but in 2019, for the first time, we had more customers request consultation about expanding into China than Japan. And this is a worldwide trend. 

It brings me great pleasure to see game companies all over the world trying to expand into the Chinese market, because that means there are increased opportunities for localization. However, much of the Japanese game industry still seems to zero in on the US and Europe, either unmotivated or reluctant to push into China. 

Expansion into China is predicted to be a pretty hot topic from 2020 all through 2021. Nintendo Switch sales began in China on December 10, 2019, and the Chinese game market is now worth about 5 trillion yen. Nintendo failed trying to expand into China twice before this.

The Nihon Keizai Shinbun wrote an article titled “Nintendo Releases Nintendo Switch in China on 12/10, but Still Faces Three Hurdles to Market Growth” [Translated from Japanese title]. In this article they explain how difficult it was for Nintendo and the challenges they faced. So what exactly makes it so hard?

(Source: Nihon Keizai Shinbun)

In order to release a game in China, you need a publishing license. To apply for this you must be a legal entity with publishing certifications registered in China. It is extremely difficult for non-Chinese individuals or corporations to obtain publishing certifications in China, and virtually impossible to sell games there without relying on Chinese publishers. Unlike Japan and other countries, game ratings aren’t done by private organizations, but rather by the State Administration of Press and Publication (SAPP). What is and what’s not allowed in games changes often, so remaining appraised of the requirements is vital (we’ll speak about the rating process on another occasion). 

And remember to expect the unexpected. Last year there was an approval freeze, and over 6,000 titles were awaiting review. 

Meanwhile, at AGM we are actively distributing titles to Chinese fans and have helped European game companies get their games to China through Steam. We’ve also succeeded in self-publishing. “Success” is a vague word, and unfortunately, we cannot make the number of downloads from our customer’s games public, but it’s not at all an exaggeration to say that there are far more than would be possible in Japan! 

AGM has Chinese staff stationed in Shanghai, and we focus not only on Chinese companies expanding into Japan and companies from all over the world expanding in China, but also regularly collecting information on the ever-changing requirements. 

For those thinking about expanding into China in 2020, don’t hesitate to contact us!

Related article: AGM’s Chinese Staff Discuss the Current Game Market in China
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