How large is China’s untapped female-targeted gaming market? The recent market sensation Love and Producer – a game which enables players to date four virtual male characters at once – may have revealed the answer. The mobile game has been downloaded over 7 million times in the month after it was released on December 20, helping its developer rake in millions of yuan in revenue. The frenzy over the game has given life to a potentially huge female gaming market, where big opportunities and challenges coexist.
How far away are you from being a princess and developing romantic relationships with a legion of rich, attractive and considerate male characters?
Well, that desire is only a mobile game away.
Officially debuting on December 20, Love and Producer, a role-playing mobile dating game which enables users to date four virtual men of different personalities and occupations, is a perfect fit for those with “Mary Sue” dreams.
In the game, players start as a television producer – the only central female character in the story – who must save her father’s film company from bankruptcy by inviting guests and producing popular shows.
As the plot unravels, the player meets four men during a day’s work – police officer Bai Qi, scientist Xu Mo, CEO Li Zeyan and superstar Zhou Qiluo – the beginning of a polyamorous romantic relationship quintessential of a “Mary Sue” fantasy.
The online simulation game has wooed many young women in China and become an immediate hit.
It jumped into the top 10 on Apple App Store’s December free downloads chart for mobile games, positioning it close to the high-ranking and hugely popular Honor of Kings, according to a report by consulting firm App Annie.
So far it has more than 4 million daily active users and has been downloaded 7 million times, where women represent 90 percent of the game’s players, according to industry website GameLook.
When explaining why the game appeals to female players, Wu, a 22-year-old college student studying in Beijing, told the Global Times on Thursday that she was introduced to it by her friends in late December and soon got addicted as it fulfills her fictional romantic needs.
“At night, I’m so thrilled to receive calls and WeChat messages from those characters. Their voices are fascinating,” Wu said, highlighting the game’s interactive function which allows animated men to call, text and send things to players’ virtual WeChat accounts.
But Wu is certainly not alone in her addiction.
A 20-something white-collar worker surnamed Bei cites the game’s “delicate drawings” as another desirable feature.
“I’m immersed in the visual style… It’s like a Korean TV drama with an engaging storyline and I’m eager to see what’s going to happen next,” Bei told the Global Times.
While winning the hearts of young Chinese women like Bei and Wu, the dating game is also luring their wallets. Although the game is free to download, advancing levels and unlocking more plots calls for the injection of a huge number of “game jewels”, which can be gained from transferring money to the game.
Bei worded the game’s slogan as “money and four wise men you will never be able to afford.” She has burned about 10,000 yuan ($1,562) since downloading the game. Wu, however, is more reserved, spending around 200 yuan on the game so far.
The craze for the game reached a tipping point on January 13, the birthday of virtual boyfriend Li Zeyan. That day, a giant digital banner was lit up by fans in Shenzhen, South China’s Guangdong Province as a way to send birthday wishes to the fictional character, according to photos on social media platforms. The cost for the banner is estimated to be over 200,000 yuan.
Female gamers’ strong enthusiasm in turn is bringing bulks of revenue to the company.
Its revenue for the whole of January is expected to reach 300 million yuan, according to GameLook.
The game’s developer and distributor, PaperGames, based in Suzhou, East China’s Jiangsu Province, had not responded to an interview request from the Global Times as of press time.
Experts have pointed out that the rapid success of the dating game highlights a market which leading domestic gaming developers have long been absent from – the otome game (Japanese phrase for “maiden game”).
“We cannot deny that the game has done a good job in design, voice features and interactive functions, but a more important reason behind its popularity is that so far in the domestic female player market, [Love and Producer] does not have any competitors at all,” Wang Guanxiong, an independent industry analyst, told the Global Times over the weekend.
Wang’s opinion is echoed by Wen Shijun, principal researcher of the cultural and media industry in the Research and Development Center under Beijing-based Cinda Securities Co.
“Most women do not like stratey-oriented and fight-oriented games, such as Honor of Kings and PlayerUnkown Battlegrounds, and would rather play relaxed games that are easier to operate and meet their emotional and visual demands,” Wen told the Global Times over the weekend.
Prior to Love and Producer, there were just a few otome games entering the domestic market, such as 100 Sleeping Princes and the Kingdom of Dreams, which were neither well produced nor had any elaborate or touching storylines, Wang continued, pointing to the fact that female gamers’ interests have been underestimated in the gaming sector.
PaperGames also created a game of a similar genre called Miracle Nikki in 2015, targeted at senior high school students.
But for Love and Producer, “the developer pinpointed a specific women gamer group – female white-collar workers aged around 22. That young group has rising consumption power compared with [that of] Miracle Nikki and is also social media-savvy. They share their gaming experiences via social media platforms, prompting the game’s success,” Wang noted.
Love and Producer is therefore just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential of the domestic otome game market.
According to a report by iResearch, women accounted for 24 percent of all gamers on the Chinese mainland in 2016. And women players are willing to spend $0.48 more per game than men, said a study by research firm DeltaDNA.
“China’s mobile game market hit the wall in 2017 as demographic dividends lost streams, and so the rising otome games market is providing new opportunities,” Wang said.
Wang predicted that the domestic market for female-targeted games will surpass that of Japan, whose otome market budded a decade ago, in the next three to five years.
Short life cycle?
The female gaming market is so large and lucrative that competition in the sector will ignite this year, experts say.
“China’s gaming industry has been dominated by online giants like Tencent and Netease, but such scenario may not happen in the female-targeted segment, where independent game studios will also come into the spotlight because they are positioned at the same start line as their gigantic rivals,” Wang said.
But unlike “masculine” mobile games which usually adopt “battle models”, female-targeted games’ life cycles are likely to be much shorter as plots soon finish and players could easily get tired of repetitive game missions. Therefore, a key challenge to their potential market success is to “offer a good experience” rather than simply be a money-grabbing exercise, experts noted.
Wang said that Love and Producer will only end up as fast-food consumption unless its developer can come up with some innovative features, adding it needs to build a game culture like intellectual property.
Source: Global Times