High-speed and omnipresent internet connection, cheap handsets, and people’s hunger for entertainment make China the world’s top mobile game market. Last year, there were over 825 million monthly active users of mobile games in China, driving the industry’s market volume to RMB 185 billion, up 15.5% year-on-year (YoY). The market is led by gaming giant Tencent, with an overwhelming share of 51.9%, followed by NetEase with a 15.8% share.
If you want to take a look at the landscape for mobile games in China, or maybe even want to start playing one of these titles, but don’t know where to start, here at KrASIA we’ve got you covered, with a list of the top mobile games preferred by our staff.
1. Love and Producer (恋与制作人)
“I love the compelling storytelling. This kind of game is like a movie for me. In this game, you become the protagonist of a story to experience one’s life. For female players, the game provides a sense of companion and romantic imaginations, which are needed to some degree.”
– Yaman, KrASIA’s video editor
Love and Producer, or “Mr. Love: Queen’s Choice” in its English version, was published by gaming company Suzhou Diezhi Network Technology in December of 2017. It gained astronomical growth since its release and was a sensation among Chinese young females throughout in 2017 and 2018. The number of daily active users (DAUs) reached 2 million within two months from its launch.
The smash-hit is essentially a dating simulation game, in which gamers play the role of a female television producer, tasked with making a hit show to save her father’s media company. As the game proceeds, players come across four charming male characters and start building romantic relationships.
They are Xu Mo, a 26-year-old genius scientist and university professor with a mysterious superpower (which is called “Evol” in the game, meaning “Evolver”); Bai Qi, 24-year-old special police who always protects the protagonist; Li Zeyan, a 28-year-old demanding boss with time-control Evol, though outside but tender inside; Zhou Qiluo, a 22-year-old perfect and carefree superstar who is actually a skillful hacker. Most importantly, all these characters fall in love with the game’s player, which could be you.
However, “love” could be costly. Although the game is free to download, users might have to pump real cash into it for add-ons like “diamonds” and “cards,” which will allow them to have more connections with the fancier virtual boyfriend or to keep the studio running successfully.
2. Honor of Kings (王者荣耀)
“When playing the game with friends, I feel like it’s a teamwork. Even if we are not physically together, we could communicate through voice call. There’s a wide range of character settings. Details of the game are also really neat and easy to play.”
– Vivian Chang, KrASIA’s analyst
Honor of Kings, also called Arena of Valor in the overseas market, was developed by Timi Studios and published by its parent company, Tencent, in 2015. The multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game is essentially a mobile version of the PC game League of Legends, designed by Riot Games, which was also acquired by Tencent.
With nearly 100 million DAUs, the game is one of the most influential and highest-earning mobile games in China. According to industry data tracker Sensor Tower, it generated more than USD 151.3 million in gross revenue worldwide in January alone (excluded data from third-party Android stores). It reportedly raked in RMB 2 billion (USD 281 million) on 2020’s Lunar New Year’s Eve, January 24.
The hottest title in China is a five-versus-five battle game. Players can choose “heroes” with various techniques in six categories, including Tank, Assassin, Warrior, Support, Archer, and Mage (all these characters are based on Chinese historical figures). Then, team members play different roles and coordinate with each other in order to achieve the final victory, which is destroying rivals’ fortresses. The mechanics in different game modes may vary.
The app is also free to download, but users might also need to pay to unblock or characters’ abilities advance faster, or to equip their heroes with special editions”skins”—virtual costumes.
3. Penguin Isle (企鹅岛)
“The overall design and music in the background give me a peaceful experience. It doesn’t take me too much time or effort to play it. The immersive interface lets me sort of escape from daily hustles.”
– Zhao Xiaochun, KrASIA’s office director
Penguin Isle is a casual game published by Shanghai-based Habby Networks Technology in August 2019, a game publisher mostly targeting the overseas market. The firm has also released games such as puzzle game Slidey and arcade action game Archero.
The goal of the game is to raise penguins and expand their habitat—which is the “territory” a player controls. More animals and more infrastructure on one’s island can, in turn, give more coins, which can be used to exchange more resources. In-app purchases can facilitate the process.
Unlike some of the intense, highly competitive mobile games in China, Penguin Isle, with its comforting melody, the calming aesthetic can serve to slow down the pace of life.
4. Anipop (开心消消乐)
“I downloaded it because all my friends were playing the game. It’s a perfect game to kill time—simple with no need to think too much. And I found it really helps with stress.”
– Deng Yunxi, KrASIA’s new media operation manager
Anipop, or “Kaixin Xiaoxiaole” in Mandarin is the most popular casual game in China. Beijing-based game developer Happy Elements released the match-3 game as browser-based in 2013 and later in 2014 took it onto iOS and Android app stores. Per data from App Annie, Anipop topped the worldwide mobile game chart in terms of monthly active users (MAUs) in 2018, even surpassing Tencent’s Honor of Kings. The app claims to have 800 million users.
The simple mechanism is one of the reasons why it gained popularity, but some factors distinguish it from other apps of its kind. The art design features animal characters with childlike facial expressions, giving the game an overall “cute” appearance.
Besides, Anipop is highly sociable, allowing players to log in via WeChat accounts and share their scores to WeChat Moments or chats, to show off while winning in-game items. Players will however probably hit a paywall when they fail on a level several times running out of “lives”, or when they might need extra tools.
The game has more than 2000 levels for players to complete.
5. Peacekeeper Elite (和平精英)
“During the lockdown period, playing Peacekeeper Elite with my friends helped me deal with loneliness. It’s a social game. Also, in my opinion, the game is so popular because there are many modes for you to choose—some are more entertaining and some are more competitive. “
– Julianna Wu, KrASIA’s visual journalist
Peacekeeper Elite, also translated as “Game for Peace,” was developed by Tencent’s Lightspeed&Quantum Studio and launched in May 2019. The battle royale shooter game is, in essence, an alternative of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Mobile (PUBG Mobile), but with less violent elements, as the latter was deemed too gory by Chinese regulators.
Some tweaks were made when Tencent shifted the survivor-based game to a military exercise game. For example, gamers who get shot don’t bleed. And when characters are dying, they wave goodbye, peacefully.
Despite the first wave of backlashes from existing PUBG gamers complaining that the “game has changed,” Peacekeeper Elite has gained sound performance since its release.
Shortly two months after its debut, Tencent claimed that DAU of Peacekeep Elite exceeded 50 million. In February, per App Annie’s stats, Peacekeeper Elite surpassed Honor of Kings to become the highest-earning among all mobile games in China for the first time. The latest Sensor Tower report shows that in April alone, PUBG Mobile, along with Peacekeeper Elite, generated USD 225 million in gross revenue globally, up 241% year-on-year (YoY). The Chinese market alone is responsible for 58.8% of the game’s gross revenue.
While China mobile games aren’t always accessible due to language, registration barriers, and region setting of app stores, users can try these five China mobile games wherever they are. All these games can be played with international versions or have English settings, so there’s no excuse not to kill time like KrASIA’s resident journalists and ad hoc game reviewers.