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There’s no question that digital gaming is massively popular in China. By industry research firm Niko Partners’ estimate, there were 503 million mobile gamers in China at the end of 2016, and the country’s mobile gaming market was worth $8.23 billion. By 2021, Niko Partners expects that the number of mobile gamers will balloon to 699 million, bringing in $18.43 billion in revenues for the sector.
And there’s no bigger mobile game in China than Honor of Kings (sometimes also called King of Glory), a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) mobile game launched in November 2015 that is owned by tech giant Tencent.
Tencent’s 2016 annual report stated that the game had amassed 200 million registered mobile users, including more than 50 million daily active users (DAUs).
And according to data from mobile data provider QuestMobile, Honor of Kings led all mobile gaming apps in China with more than 180 million monthly active users (MAUs) in May of this year. HappyElements-owned Anipop was in second place, with 54.4 million fewer MAUs by QuestMobile’s count.
That same month, Honor of Kings became the world’s top-grossing game as measured by revenues generated from Apple’s App Store and Google Play combined, according to data from app market research firm App Annie. And according to gaming industry database CNG, the game generated RMB5.5 billion (roughly $828 million) in revenues in Q1 2017 alone.
Honor of Kings’ popularity has made it close to ubiquitous in China. “Now, wherever you see people using their phones around China, you can see that the game has a huge impact in society,” said Matthew Brennan, co-founder of China Channel. “People are making friends through the game and playing it together as a social activity,” he added.
The hack-and-slash action game uses a freemium pricing strategy, where the game is free to download and play. However, players are enticed to make in-game purchases for things like special abilities, apparel and weapon upgrades for game characters. These purchases are where the game generates its revenues.
The appeal of Honor of Kings across demographic groups has also contributed to its explosive rise. The game has found a somewhat surprising user base among women in China, defying stereotypes that these sorts of action games only appeal to men. QuestMobile’s data found that in May 2017, players were 58% male and 42% female.
However, Honor of Kings players fit a more traditional gamer profile in some other ways. QuestMobile’s data showed that more than half (52.5%) of players were ages 24 and under, and nearly eight in 10 were unmarried.
The surge in the game’s popularity in China has also been attended by increased government scrutiny. In early July, Tencent limited playing time among children a day before it was rebuked by The People’s Daily—a state-run newspaper seen as a mouthpiece for the country’s ruling Communist Party—for being addictive.
Tencent now has plans to take Honor of Kings to markets well outside of China’s borders. Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that the company is going to export localized versions of Honor of Kings to the US and Europe that will incorporate characters familiar to Western audiences, such as Batman and Van Helsing.
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