By James Kaye, Director of Big Games Machine
Lots of attention is given to helping Western developers launch their games in China. Virtually every gaming conference will feature at least one talk on the topic. Yet, there is little focus the other way round. This is largely because Chinese developers will often use a Western publisher. For the few that decide to self-publish, they will often seek the help of an agency partner.
Over the past few years, we’ve worked with several Chinese game developers wanting to launch their games in the West. As specialists in gaming PR and marketing, this means we often see developers making the same common mistakes, time and time again.
If you’re a Chinese developer, a publisher or even PR who has never worked with Chinese game developers before, here are six core areas we think deserve your attention. If you’re not a Chinese developer, then many of these tips will still likely apply to you.
1. Understand the Difference Between the Chinese and Western Media
There are a few misconceptions about the way the gaming or mobile review media work. This isn’t just specific to Chinese devs. The biggest difference between China and the Western media is to do with influence. More so, it’s the perceived level of influence Chinese companies think that Western PR agencies have over the media. It can be pretty hard to explain to a Chinese client that we have little or no direct influence on whether a journalist decided to write about a title we pitch to them.
Once, I sat on a call with a prospective client who was having an exasperated discussion in Chinese with regards to the fact that we were unable to guarantee coverage (I know this because my colleague who speaks fluent Chinese and was on the call told me!). Ask the team here at Gamesauce, or indeed any journalist and they will tell you the number of pitches they receive per day. A good relationship with a journalist merely means that your game stands a chance of being considered. Only the best or most interesting games will win through.
This means that you have to be creative in your approach. You need to offer something new that will get the attention of the media and engage them.
This sits in stark contrast to China where it’s possible to pay for coverage or influence where articles or reviews appear. The #1 thing that Chinese game developers need to understand is that the Western game review media is fiercely independent. Even though a PR agency uses its best endeavours and relationships, it has little or no say in when or where coverage will appear.
Another common misconception that’s not just limited to Chinese developers is that launches can be neatly separated between the US and Europe and we are often asked to undertake Europe-only launches. While we may be able to geographically segment the media, the reality is that a lot of the important media are based in the US. So, if a game is launched in the US alone and is covered by US sites, a lot of the readership may be outside of the US.
I’ve seen this happen too many times; reading about a game in one place and finding it isn’t available on my local app store. This only leads to disappointment as well as lost customers who may never look for the game again. This is especially true if there isn’t a release date for the game in other markets. Single global launches are best, not just for the media but also for Apple and Google.
2. Understand the Role of the Press Release
It’s clear from working with Chinese game developers that press releases appear to have much greater importance in China than they do in the West. This is why we are often asked to send out many releases, some covering pretty minor news. Unless you happen to be one of the most talked about games at the moment, no-one is going to be interested in minor news. In fact, we have found some Chinese clients wanting to measure performance by the amount of releases that are put out.
In the West, press releases serve a different purpose than they do in China. This is largely because the media are often tired of press releases that can be too corporate or full of PR fluff. Often, media in the West prefer a brief email with the main bullet points. Press releases still have their place if you’re posting to a wire service such as Gamespress, or giving more information, but other methods, such as social media or gameplay videos to convey the game to a journalist are often preferred.
We also doubt that Press Releases are a quick way to get coverage in China. Media in China will still look for the best, or most interesting stories. They also won’t publish every release they get sent. However, there does appear to be more currency placed on press releases from Chinese developers.
3. Plan Ahead
A lot of Chinese game developers appear to have little understanding of the timeframe required to launch a game. I hope I am not making a terrible cultural generalisation here, but one Chinese client told us that doing a lot of planning is not necessarily in the Chinese mindset. This approach is why a lot of things happen in a truncated timeframe with Chinese developers.
Whether this is true or not, a lot of Chinese game developers have approached us to launch a game in a one or two-week timeframe, which is far from ideal. In general, we recommend at least six to eight weeks as a comfortable time frame to work on a game launch although it can never hurt to go even earlier to capitalise on the hype depending on what the game is.
4. Make Sure that You have Good Translation and Localisation
Poor translation is a terrible problem for virtually all the Chinese developers we have worked with. Almost none of them have placed a high value on good quality localisation, and many have seen it as an unnecessary extra expense.
This has led to some hilarious low-quality in-game translations. This is because the job is given to the person in the office who happens to speak English and creates some kind of strange hybrid language, or ‘Chinglish’ as it is commonly known.
This is a bit like Spanglish and Franglais that many of us are used to. While this is fine when you are on vacation, in games it is often jarring. This is a far cry from the required standard.
If you’re a Chinese developer, ensuring that your game is professionally translated is vital to help your game succeed. This isn’t only English that we’re talking about as well. Many developers will also seek quality translation in FIGS (French, Italian, German and Spanish and even Brazilian Portuguese). There are a few key reasons why good quality localisation is essential for your game.
It sends a clear signal to the customer that you respect them and take them seriously. Poor translation may result in the customer quickly deleting your game.
Your game may not be viewed as you intended it and customers will laugh at the bad translation.
Apple and Google expect games to be of a high quality. This not only includes the gameplay and the graphics, but also the quality of the language. This is especially the case in Europe where your game will only really be considered for ‘featuring’ if it has a good selection of languages. If it’s not in colloquial French, you can forget the French App Store featuring your game. Poor translation can drastically lower your chances of being featured as much as good localisation can increase it.
Game reviewers who speak English (most of which are in the US) can give you a bad score or a poor review due to bad translation. It may be a great game, but poor spelling and grammar can make the difference between a good or bad review.
5. Make Apple and Google Store Featuring a Major Priority
Most of the Chinese developers we work with have not had a strong focus on being featured by Apple and Google. Most people know this can often give a huge boost to downloads. Not being focused on featuring often means that games are not optimised for many devices, the UI is too cluttered, or the game may simply be too Chinese for Western tastes. As has also been mentioned, it can often be the case that localisation is poor. It is important to understand what Apple and Google are looking to be considered for some kind of feature placement.
Understanding what motivates Apple and Google is key. This is usually achieved by working with a Western partner who knows how to work with the two app store owners. Ideally, the partner can help build a dialogue with the respective developer relations teams throughout the launch process. It’s also important to begin an open dialogue with the Apple and Google developer support teams who will often give a good volume of feedback and help steer a game towards improvement and hopefully some kind of feature placement.
6. Understand the Importance of Social Media
Social media is increasingly important to the success of a game. Building up a loyal fan base that can be engaged with at key points in the product launch cycle is essential. Many Chinese developers we have worked with are not familiar with Western social media, or have tried to manage it themselves with mixed results. This is often because they have given management responsibility to someone in the office who happens to speak English.
Much like other marketing channels, social media platforms are very different in China compared to the West. Whereas many Western game developers will focus on Facebook and Twitter, Chinese campaigns will be on China-specific platforms such as Weibo.
If you’re a Chinese game developer, it’s not only important to have a social media strategy in place for the months ahead of launch but to also have the ability to engage with English-speaking fans on a common level. This means using a native English speaker who understands the culture of the people that they’re talking to.
If you would like to read some more tips then you can download the full guide ‘East to West: PR Tips for Chinese Companies Launching Mobile Games in the West’ from here.
James Kaye is Director of Big Games Machine, a video games PR agency that specialises in working with indie mobile game developers.