Video games made their first appearance in the early 1970s. But despite their prevalence in Western society, and a thriving translation supply chain, they have not been as pervasive throughout the world as one may believe. Limitations to the growth of the video gaming population have been around for as long as video games have existed, but largely those barriers are being gradually broken throughout the world. Obstacles which still exist include household income, availability of electricity, access to modern technology, geographic location, as well as linguistic and cultural relevance.
One group that has been partially inaccessible to “Western” gamers and gaming companies up until recently is the population of China. The potential of the Chinese as consumers in almost any market is outstanding, which is why the Chinese government’s 2015 lifting of the ban on video game consoles is so intoxicating to non-domestic gaming companies. Many companies will now have a chance to reach the largest population in the world, but while the need for translation may be self-evident, the question is how these companies can accomplish tapping into this market successfully.
Video gaming in China
China is already a flourishing market for gaming, with players from all walks of life, and games spanning all possible platforms. In 2016, Newzoo, a global market research firm, ranked China as the world’s largest market for video games, with total gaming industry revenue of approximately US$24.4 billion, surpassing the USA and enjoying annual growth of 15%.
According to many video gaming and marketing bloggers both inside and outside of China, while the target audience of video games is currently hardcore gamers, it is shifting from adolescent and young adult men to include women and older audiences. Along with this shift, the government’s support of the gaming industry and modernisation are ensuring that age, education level and socioeconomic status no longer play such a prominent role in determining the target audience for video games.
How China’s gaming population might change
Factors contributing to the expansion of China’s gaming population include the growth of the middle class and the rise of technology.
The rise of the middle class obviously means more disposable income, which has granted many people the means to become gamers. PCs are the main platform for gamers in China, and ‘pocket money’ is a necessity to purchase games and a computer, or to rent a computer at one of China’s many Internet cafes – or wangba (网吧), as they are called in Chinese.
The rise of technology has also contributed to video gaming in China by making gaming more accessible to players through Internet cafes, and the personal acquisition of PCs, mobile phones, tablets and, more recently, gaming consoles. One additional factor is the two-child policy, enacted at the beginning of 2016. Effects on the gaming industry brought about by the enactment of this policy will have to wait to be seen. It seems likely to offset the current demographic shift of an aging population, increasing the potential population of adolescent gamers. Coupled with the fact that a proportion of the current generation of gamers will continue gaming through middle-age, this suggests that demographics will boost the market further.
Government involvement in Chinese gaming
The Chinese government’s involvement in gaming has been controversial, but the law has often been used as a tool to try to resolve the issue of gaming addiction, which is seen as a serious problem in Chinese society. In 2000, the Chinese government banned gaming consoles in an effort to cut down on gaming addiction, but it was soon discovered that consoles were not the root of the problem as Internet cafes became havens for gaming addicts to disappear into for hours or even days at a time.
Another process enacted by the government, which video game manufacturers and retailers are keenly aware of, is the video game screening process carried out by the Shanghai government, which screens games and game updates based on content.
Finally, in 2015, the Chinese government lifted its 14-year ban on manufacturing and retail of gaming consoles. This has transformed the video game industry, but PCs are not giving up their spot as the preferred gaming platform of hardcore Chinese gamers just yet. With government tolerance of consoles now back in place, perhaps we still have a few surprises left to see.
What’s popular in the Chinese gaming market?
When localising and preparing content for the Chinese market, companies may also consider which platforms and types of games are most popular among Chinese players. The market is dominated by client games, followed by web games and mobile games. Social and single-player games make up a very small percentage of the market share. But how can this knowledge of the Chinese gaming market help developers?
Gaming can be a highly personal or interpersonal experience, meaning linguistics are a key element in the gaming world. Imagine trying to follow commands in a video game in Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, or any other language you may be unfamiliar with. For most gamers, it would not make sense to buy a game in a language other than their mother tongue, especially a language of which they have no prior knowledge. Confusion may even be heightened in games where players are interacting with one another instead of just playing alone.
Just as many Chinese gaming developers are having their games translated into English, it is important for those abroad to remember the potential of the Chinese market.
Reaching new cultures with gaming
Finally, just as important as translation, is localisation. Without localisation, the content of a video game even after translation can be elusive, as many legends, historical accounts, famous people, and political movements may be completely unheard of among the target audience.
With this in mind, it is important to proceed carefully when unveiling a new product to a previously untouched market, especially concerning branding. Do not be afraid to ask the opinions of your translation provider when considering exactly what Chinese gamers may think of your game – as well as linguistic expertise, look for insights into a culture which may be alien to you.
In the end, this is the beauty of gaming, reaching out to a world you are not necessarily a part of to connect with people you do not know and experience something out-of-the-ordinary. Games are a beautiful form of human interaction, and with the right touch, can be a stunning bridge between cultures.