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Written by Steven Bussey
on September 21, 2021

Introduction

The Chinese game market is large and lucrative for those with the right product, an excellent understanding of the market, and a sound game translation and localization strategy. Companies preparing to enter the Chinese market should do considerable research and consult with professionals that will help them develop and successfully launch their products in China. To help companies begin this research, we have prepared an ultimate guide to Chinese game translation and localization. This blog will take a look at the gaming market in China and its opportunities. Then, it will discuss game translation and localization challenges and discuss ways businesses can meet those challenges.

Table of Contents

  1. The Chinese Market
  2. Key Players in the Market
  3. Most Popular Games and Publishers
  4. Diversity
  5. Opportunities Also Exist in Lower-Tier Cities
  6. Lite Games
  7. Localization Challenges in Chinese Market
  8. Language Variations and Dialects
  9. Culture
  10. Space and Font
  11. Payment Methods
  12. Agility
  13. Key Takeaways on Game Translation for Chinese Market 
  14. Expert Help with Game Localization for Chinese Market 


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1. The Chinese Market

The game market in China is the largest in the world; in fact, China generates more than one-fifth of all global gaming revenues. The growth of the gaming market in China will continue, and the market is expected to reach 469.77 billion Yuan or about $72 billion by 2023.

Smartphone ownership is greater in China than in any other country. In fact, smartphone shipments in China in 2020 accounted for more than 25 percent of the global total. Chinese play smartphone games an average of a half-hour a day or more. Because of this high volume of smartphone use and the solid cloud infrastructure in the country, the market is robust in China for tablet and smartphone games. This includes mini-games that are played inside mobile apps such as WeChat. These mini-games are easy to play, and their popularity also is growing. Because almost 900 million Chinese people own smartphones, the mobile market is likely to continue to blossom.

Every major game maker is either already in the Chinese market or is developing a strategy for entry. Game translation for the Chinese market is a critical piece of this strategy.


2. Key Players in the Market

Android-based games are popular in China. iOS also has a large share of the market in China; in fact, about one-fifth of the total sales of iOS games globally currently come from the Chinese market. Google Play and feature phones account for most of the rest of the market. Google Play, however, is banned in most regions of China, so it is less of a key player in the Chinese games market than it is worldwide. Because of the banning of GooglePlay, China differs from most other large markets because the Chinese buy most of their Android games from local app stores. Sales from these Chinese local Android stores alone account for about 13 percent of the global games market.

The fragmentation of the Android market among 20 or more local stores discourages some developers from entering the market outside of Google Play and iOS; however, research demonstrates that a developer can reach most local gamers through just three or four main stores. Being able to market only through these few stores greatly reduces barriers to entry for Android game producers.

The most popular mobile devices used in China are made by Apple. Apple is distantly followed by Samsung and Xiaomi. In particular, the iPhone is very popular in China, and its popularity seems to be increasing, which creates more opportunities for publishers and creators of iOS games.


3. Most Popular Games and Publishers

The local publisher Tencent is, by far, the most popular game publisher in China. In May 2015, Tencent published 29 of the top 100 grossing Android games and 59 of the top 100 grossing iOS games. NetEase, another local player, is the second most popular publisher. PerfectWorld is another high-profile game publisher in China. Western game publishers also are seeing success, however. Blizzard, Supercell, and Mojang, which publish directly into Android App stores, also are key game publishers.

In terms of types of games, the Chinese tend to enjoy shooting games and MMO/MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) games. They also like social casino, puzzles, racing, action, and adventure games. They especially enjoy games that show creativity, which means that game localization for the Chinese market is critical to ensure that the creativity is culturally relevant.

The most popular games for PCs and consoles are casual, puzzle, action, and adventure games. Competition in the PC/console area is particularly intense, especially for puzzle games. To capture market share, publishers must offer something unique.

The top Android games in China include:

  • Happy Lord
  • Minecraft
  • Anipop
  • Fantasy Westward Journey
  • Dota Legend

The top iOS games include:

  • Fantasy Westward Journey
  • WeFire
  • Shen Wu
  • Mu Miracle
  • WeFly

4. Diversity

While the Chinese tend to play games on their mobile devices more often, the key to success is diversification. The biggest game publishers, such as Tencent, have begun to diversify their games. For example, Tencent offers client-based online gaming and browsing gaming, in addition to its popular mobile gaming. Netease focuses both on mobile gaming and browsing gaming.

When expanding into China, foreign companies generally must partner with local ones to meet legal requirements before starting with their game translation for the Chinese market strategy. For example, Netease runs World of Warcraft, a game made by Blizzard Entertainment, in China.


5. Opportunities Also Exist in Lower-Tier Cities

Because China is such a large market, game translation for the Chinese market means opportunities exist across all cities, regardless of size. China's tier 1 cities, such as Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen, do account for a large share of the population and economic opportunity. Tier 2 cities, such as Lanzhou, Changchun, Chengdu, Wuhan, and Changzhou, also are key population and economic centers. These Tier 2 cities account for more gamers than cities in other tiers, in fact. Tier 1 and 2 cities have rapidly become industrialized and modernized and have experienced considerable economic growth over the past 30 years.

However, many gamers also live in Tier 3 and Tier 4 cities. Also, because development is reaching the saturation point in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities, the Chinese government is encouraging and promoting development in these lower-tier cities. Government policies are encouraging more individuals and families to move to these cities, and young professionals who have large disposable incomes also are moving there to work. Working hours and commuting times are shorter in these cities, as well, creating more free time to play games.

So, game publishers are beginning to see revenues increase because of government support and the sizable number of gamers residing in these Tier 3 and Tier 4 cities. As the government continues to promote development in and migration to these cities, that revenue growth is likely to continue over the long term. Those publishers who choose to target and cater to gamers in these cities are expected to thrive.


6. Lite Games

Globally, mobile game publishers are beginning to broaden the market by creating "lite" versions, and the Chinese market is no exception. In fact, "lite" apps are gaining in global popularity, with lite gaming apps leading the way. These versions can run on phones with less computing power, making the game accessible to consumers who may not necessarily be able to afford or desire the newest and fastest mobile technology.


7. Localization Challenges in Chinese Market

Foreign companies who hope to tap into the Chinese game market must not only translate their games but also localize them. Translation involves expressing the content in another language. Localization, however, goes further. Localization also ensures that images, and other aspects of the game are culturally appropriate and that the games are marketed in culturally appropriate ways. Without an excellent localization strategy and process, foreign companies will have difficulty succeeding in the lucrative Chinese market.

Game localization for the Chinese market, however, provides some particular challenges for Western publishers. Upfront knowledge of these challenges can help game publishers to develop a strategy to meet them.


8. Language Variations and Dialects

One major challenge is that Chinese has several variants for its written language and several hundred dialects for speaking. Dialects in China differ from those that people in many Western countries might expect. For example, English has several dialects, but people who speak one dialect can understand those who speak different ones. In China, however, the dialects can be very different from each other, and speech can sometimes be unintelligible to someone who speaks a different dialect.

Linguists have split these speaking dialects into seven to 10 major groups, each with subgroups. Mandarin is the largest dialect group and the official dialect in China. Even within Mandarin, different dialects exist that a Mandarin speaker from a different locality wouldn't understand. Cantonese also is widely spoken; however, minor differences also exist by region. Though mutually intelligible, the Cantonese spoken in Hong Kong differs from that spoken on the mainland, for example. When translating scripts for Chinese voiceovers for the Chinese market, companies need to realize that the gamer's dialect may differ depending on the region and then consider which dialect to use based upon which region they are targeting. Typically, voice-overs are done in either Mandarin, Cantonese or both. The Mandarin or Cantonese may be modified by region.

Written Chinese has several variants as well, and characters appear differently depending upon the variant.

Simplified Chinese is most often used on the mainland. It has fewer characters than traditional Chinese and sometimes uses the same character to represent words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings.

Traditional Chinese is used mainly in Taiwan and Hong Kong, although variations exist between the traditional Chinese used in each region.

Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese English 發 发 to become, to issue, to send 髮 发 hair (2)


When undergoing the process of game translation for the Chinese market and localizing a game for Chinese-speaking audience, companies need to choose the correct spoken and written form of Chinese and contract translators who are native speakers for the chosen variant. Variants used in individual regions do not only vary in character form but also in idioms, vocabulary and overall expression.

Whether a company chooses to localize in just one dialect or variant or more than one depends entirely upon its expansion goals. Most developers choose simplified Chinese because they are aiming for the larger gaming population of the mainland Chinese market; however, many developers also choose to support traditional Chinese to tap into the smaller but still lucrative gaming markets of Hong Kong and Taiwan.


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9. Culture

Game localization for the Chinese market also involves cultural sensitivity. Successful games weave in Chinese stories, myths, or poetry. For example, one successful game was Dou Dizhu themed, a genre that is unique to China. "Dou Dizhu" is translated as "Fighting the Landlord.” The game imitates the class struggles during the Chinese “Cultural Revolution.”

To be introduced in China, games also must be acceptable to the Chinese government. Those that government censors view as detrimental to China's politics, military, or image are banned.

Designers must avoid images of blood and guts, drugs, sexual themes, or gambling. The government typically bans games with these types of images. Designers can make the blood in popular shooting games acceptable by making it black or green, rather than red, however.

Of course, changing names from a foreign language into popular Chinese names also is critical.

Engaging a professional linguist who is a Chinese native to localize the game is important for including messages, characters, images, designs, and culturally and politically appropriate stories. Sharing the context of the games and stories in the original version with the localization expert will help them develop them more creatively for the Chinese market.


10. Space and Font

Chinese is a concise language, and the same text often requires considerably less horizontal space than Western languages. For example, these two Chinese characters, , correspond to eight English characters. On the other hand, Chinese characters are more complex than those of Western languages, so to enhance readability, developers should put them in a larger font. This requires greater vertical space than English. Providing scalable text boxes during development can allow for easier localization between the two languages.

Chinese has about 80,000 characters; an average reader understands about 5,000 to 6,000. Games with bitmap fonts may face memory problems with this many characters. One way to meet this challenge is to scan the translated text and output all Chinese characters on a large bitmap to use as a font reference. This way, you spend memory only on characters that you actually use. However, the downside of this approach is that it doesn't work well in dynamic situations, such as when players generate names. Another way to meet this challenge is to use a system font, if available. 


11. Payment Methods

Another key factor in game localization for the Chinese market is accounting for the differences in payment methods. Western cultures typically use credit cards and online platforms such as PayPal for online gaming and buying games in app stores. However, these payment methods aren't supported or trusted in China, so companies that try to use them will fail.

Instead, mobile payments such as AliPay, TenPay, and UnionPay are often used in China. Chinese gamers also are used to scanning and paying with a fingerprint rather than typing in credit card numbers. Adding a QR code, then, will be important to a game being easily accepted in China.


12. Agility

Chinese games typically have shorter product cycles than Western games. To compete, game publishers will need to be able to implement new features and strategies quickly to keep their audience.


13. Key Takeaways on Game Translation for Chinese Market

  • The Chinese gaming market is large, especially the mobile gaming market. It is likely to continue to grow.
  • Major game publishers either are already active in the Chinese market or have developed a strategy to be there.
  • The Chinese market differs from Western markets in that most players buy Android games from local Android stores rather than GooglePlay.
  • Chinese enjoy shooting, and MMO/MOBA games the most; however, designers need to be careful to make blood a color other than red to avoid government censors.
  • While more gamers live in Tier 2 cities than cities of other sizes, major opportunities also exist in Tier 3 and Tier 4 cities.
  • Localization involves translating games into the appropriate variant or dialect of Chinese and making them culturally relevant. Localization is critical for successful expansion.
  • Variants of Chinese include Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese. Traditional also breaks down into Hong Kong traditional and Taiwan traditional. The two main spoken dialects are Mandarin and Cantonese.
  • Successful games use Chinese stories, myths, and poetry.
  • Game designers must take into account the amount of horizontal and vertical space Chinese requires relative to Western languages.
  • Chinese use different payment platforms and methods than Western gamers.
  • Competing in the Chinese market requires that gamers be constantly innovating their games.

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14. Expert Help with Game Localization for Chinese Market

China is a lucrative gaming market, but it is also a complex market. Its cultural differences, unique payment schemes, and many language variants and dialects can challenge foreign companies that hope to capitalize on its robust and growing market. Expert localization assistance often can make the difference between successfully launching a game in the Chinese market and having one banned or boycotted.

Andovar offers premium localization services for enterprises. We have a specific division that specializes in gaming. We translate and localize texts, scripts, and user interfaces. We cast and record voiceovers. We can localize games for any device, genre, or platform in more than 80 languages, including the major Chinese dialects. We use local linguists to ensure that the dialect and written variant is suitable to the region where you will expand. These local linguists also help us incorporate Chinese themes into games and to make them acceptable to government officials. We have all the technology we need to ensure your localization is done efficiently, and we double-check for accuracy. Millions of people are playing games we localized.

Andovar is also a full-service firm. When you expand into China, you'll need to localize your marketing materials, including social media, as well. Andovar also can localize these materials and increase the opportunities for success, as well.

Andovar has a follow the sun mentality, which means we have strategically located our offices so that you can speak to us anytime you like, 24 hours a day, regardless of where you're located. Our offices are in Singapore, Bangkok, Medellin (Colombia), Kolkata (India), Budapest, and Miami, Fla, United States.

Game localization for the Chinese market is a specialty that requires a passion for gaming, excellent native linguistic skills, cultural sensitivity, and a flawless representation of key gaming ideas. The expert team at Andovar can assure your localization is top-notch. Fill out our contact form today, and a representative will contact you to discuss your project.


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