Thoughts about 2019

An unfashionably late (as usual) post about 2019 and the big games industry themes that I found interesting. Similar to last year’s post this will be focused on the China perspective.

Further global footprints

A continuation of the past several years – 2019 saw Chinese devs & publishers continue to expand globally. Representative titles such as PUBG Mobile continued to gain ground, ending the year as one of the year’s biggest games in terms of revenue and active players. (Note that the game’s revenue is going to be meaningfully higher than popular estimates, as the game is integrated with various non-Apple/Google 3rd party payment channels that are significant – or even the majority in terms of payments market share – in Southeast Asia and other emerging markets.)

Similarly, Garena’s Free Fire was also raking it in – primarily from Southeast Asia and South America – reporting over $1B in lifetime revenue since its 2017 launch. (Garena is based in Singapore, though Free Fire‘s dev team is based in Shanghai if I’m not mistaken.)

To sum it up – real-time competitive PVP mobile games (by Chinese developers) PUBG Mobile, Free Fire and Mobile Legends are now household names across the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and South America.

It wasn’t just about emerging markets – Call of Duty Mobile blew open the gates to the prestigious North American market. While it has a lot to work to do to lift monetization, it is likely changing the perspectives of the gamers who have the most platform choice (and who have been the most snobbish towards mobile gaming).

IP partnerships

Staying with Call of Duty a bit more: I’m very confident we are going to see a lot more of these types of East-West IP partnerships, purely out of necessity. Simply put, I’m not aware of any western studio that have the proven capabilities today to execute in-house against the development and publishing of a mobile game similar in technical complexity to PUBG Mobile or Call of Duty Mobile. Epic and Fortnite is the closest example I could think of – but even there, their mobile optimization and global footprint pales compared to the above.

In a way, these partnerships, or talks of such partnerships, are nothing new – for example, over the past few years, Blizzard have certainly talked several times with Netease, Tencent et al about mobile projects around all of their various IPs. (Personally I’d love to see a Starcraft game on mobile.)

But what is likely new is the seriousness of these conversations now – the Chinese devs have a lot more proven successes to point to, and the western IP holders are a lot more educated about the proven market demand. So expect to see a lot more of these, and possibly a lot sooner than you’d guess.

Chinese design innovations

What I personally found most interesting last year though, was the startling success of Chinese devs when it came to their biggest deficit traditionally – game design innovation. It was truly a break-out year.

Consider the following list of titles:

  • Auto-Chess
  • Archero (I wrote about it here)
  • AFK Arena
  • Punishing: Gray Raven

Each of these games were hugely successful in 2019 in some way. Auto-Chess spawned a esports genre after itself (and certainly disrupted the landscape of adjacent CCGs). Archero caught lightning-in-a-bottle with its surprisingly elegant (and highly addictive) core combat. Arknights and Punishing: Gray Raven both represent best-in-class games in their respective genres today (tower defense and 3rd-person action), on top of stylishly creative original anime-IP (interestingly, both were apocalyptic sci-fi in theme). And mobile developers couldn’t seem to stop talking about AFK Arena, a brilliant iteration from Lilith Games on a genre they themselves largely created half a decade ago.

Also – almost all of these games on the list come from relatively unknown developers (the exception being Lilith). This certainly feels like the silver lining in the deep winter that Chinese devs have inhabited the past 2 years (venture funding has been nonexistent since 2017, and the game license issue has froze up the domestic market). I look forward to the many pleasant surprises that the surviving studios will bring to market – whether it’s aspiring blockbusters from known studios such as Genshin Impact (by miHoYo), or the next wave of indie hits.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts about 2019”

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.