Hope you all are safe. This week I’m writing from Zhuhai, the southern coastal city across from Macau as I’m stuck in a hotel room doing a 2-week quarantine in preparation for my trip to my parents’ in Shunde for Chinese New Year. I intentionally chose to leave Hong Kong via Zhuhai because quarantine hotels here are supposed to be better than those in Shenzhen. So far, the gamble seems to have paid off.
Anyway, before I do another news round-up piece, a list of 2021 predictions from me is long overdue. Truth is, I’ve been trying to catch up with all the prediction lists people have published in the past weeks. So don’t be surprised if I’ve borrowed some pieces of wisdom from others. As the old Chinese saying goes, 如有雷同，算我抄你。
#1 Investment spree to continue
Let’s start with a timely one.
So last year, Tencent has invested in about 30 game companies, roughly 3 times more than it had in each of the past years. And just in January, we’re already seeing Tencent pumping money in seven game companies. The deals in Klei Entertainment and Dontnod have caught the most attention in the West.
Clearly, Tencent is not slowing down, and instead it is putting its pedal to the metal. These two early deals may well be just a prelude. Reports in January said that Tencent is looking to raise US$1 billion to buy game companies. While details remain scarce, people familiar with the matter said that target companies are likely based in the US or South Korea.
With a recent rally, Tencent is on pace to become Asia’s first company to reach a market capitalization of US$1 trillion. With Chinese New Year just weeks away and the Covid-19 situation taking a turn for the worse, Tencent may be soon getting another revenue boost as people are stuck at home playing games during the holiday.
Needless to say, this ambitious push to invest in the global gaming market extends beyond Tencent. With Chinese games going overseas being the main trend of the sector, more investments from Chinese game companies can certainly be expected in 2021.
#2 Propaganda games for the CCP
As Charles Barkley would say, this one is a guarantee.
This year, we’ll be seeing a flood of propaganda games. The reason is simple: it’s the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party.
Words on the street are that the Publicity Department had already summoned multiple Chinese tech giants to brainstorm ideas for their forthcoming gifts to the party. When it came to Tencent’s turn, the department asked Tencent to make a game.
I’m pursuing a story on this one. Should you have any tips, feel free to send me an email or message me on Twitter.
And this will not be unprecedented. In October 2019, Tencent released an idle clicker called Homeland Dream just in time for the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
This is what was written in the story at the time:
Homeland Dream is playable propaganda. The game tasks players with picking a Chinese city -- including Hong Kong -- and watching it grow richer and more popular no matter what you do. If you want to make it richer faster? Just go ahead and enact China’s Belt and Road Initiative for an instant boost…At first glance, Homeland Dream resembles games like SimCity. While it shares the same look and does involve placing buildings on a map, this is really an idle clicker, a type of game that’s automated to play itself.
(For the record, I didn’t use the phrase “disturbingly addictive” in my draft. It was part of an edit. Sounds a bit biased and emotional to me. But that’s for another story.)
#3 Going overseas, an unstoppable trend
As mentioned above, the main theme of the industry right now is to go overseas, or Chuhai in Chinese. Last year was a historic year.
According to the 2020 Chinese Games Industry Report, the revenue Chinese games have hauled in from overseas markets has reached a whopping US$15.4 billion, up 33.25% from the year before. Put differently, that is the equivalent of 100 billion yuan.
There is no reason for this trend to deaccelerate anytime this year. If anything, they may crank it up a notch. One sign of it is how Alibaba is now taking its highly popular strategy game Romance of the Three Kingdoms: Strategy Edition to Hong Kong in the new year.
#4 IP games continue to impress
Another trend that will maintain momentum this year is the proliferation of IP games.
This weekend, I’ve published a big focus piece highlighting this trend.
January 30th 2021
With deep pockets and years of experience in adapting games for smartphones, these Chinese companies are driving that effort through partnerships with foreign studios in their quest to dominate the world’s video games market, which reached US$175 billion in revenues last year, according to industry research firm Newzoo.Tencent is already widely known for its mobile versions of hit games like Pokémon, Call of Duty and Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG). The next game to get the Tencent mobile treatment could be Assassin’s Creed, which is expected after a recruitment ad from the company earlier this month featured a Chinese warrior striking a classic pose from the game with arms crossed over the chest. Tencent bought a 5 per cent stake in Ubisoft, the French owner of Assassin’s Creed, in 2018.While many gamers have traditionally perceived mobile gaming as an inferior experience to playing on consoles or PC, Tencent has been largely responsible for helping close that gap. Some of its mobile versions of popular games have gone on to surpass the success of the original titles.PUBG Mobile, for instance, was the highest-grossing mobile game in 2020, generating US$2.6 billion in revenue, according to data from Sensor Tower. The rapid growth of Call of Duty: Mobile, which launched internationally at the end of 2019 and in China a year later, suggests it has potential to become even more popular.
ICYMI: Assassin’s Creed in China and on mobile is happening. CODM developer TiMi, which is also tasked with making Pokémon Unite, had put out a not-so-subtle recruitment ad.
The ad is for the company’s Shanghai office. Although it did not explicitly say Assassin’s Creed, the big text reads, “International AAA studio. A world-class IP.”
#5 Genshin Impact lookalikes to emerge
Genshin Impact lookalike games are coming.
In fact, right around Genshin Impact’s record-breaking launch, we’ve already seen multiple Chinese game studios putting up trailers showcasing their answers to Genshin Impact. Chief among which are Tower of Fantasy and 狩猎时刻 (English translation: Hunting Time).
Tower of Fantasy, in particular, has come under the spotlight a bit. If the look is anything to bo by, it does look impressive. Unfortunately, reviews of the game’s earlier beta build have not been the most glowing, to put it mildly. However, it now has just undergone an overhaul, and buzz around the game is finding its way back.
Nike now makes jerseys for teams in the LPL.