The return of the big factory, can you step on the accelerator for the game industry again?

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According to the “China Game Industry Report from January to June 2022” released by the Game Work Committee in July, it can be seen that in the first half of 2022, the scale of China’s game market was 147.789 billion yuan, a year-on-year decrease of 1.8%. For the second time, the growth rate declined year-on-year. The last time this happened was in 2018.

However, although the “cold winter” in 2018 slowed down the growth rate of the game market that year, the “boutique” did play a positive role in the game market at that time, screening out a large number of low-quality skin-changing mobile game products And related developers, released a lot of player bonuses for high-quality new games with “high investment and high returns”, which is why the game market can quickly “rejuvenate” in the two years after 2018.

However, in the current game market, the number of players tends to be saturated, the head array of each track is seriously solidified, and coupled with various obstacles and uncertainties faced by the industrialization transformation, the spring of the game market is obviously still far away.

Can Tencent and NetEase make explosive models again?

On September 13, the National Press and Publication Administration of the People’s Republic of China updated the version numbers of the fifth batch of domestic online games this year. A total of 73 games have been approved this time, an increase of 4 games from the previous batch. The upward trend is stable, but it is far from the first half of 2020. There is still a certain gap in the approval performance of two batches of version numbers per month and an average of 100 games per month in the whole year. The progress of the pilot work on the localization review of online games is also not ideal. The symptoms of “version anxiety” of domestic games may be gone for a while. Still no relief.

Speaking of which, perhaps because of the need to give priority to helping small and medium-sized enterprises to solve their urgent needs, the first four batches of version numbers after the resumption of version numbers this year did not have the two giants Tencent and NetEase. In this edition number list, the biggest highlight is the return of the two domestic game giants Tencent and NetEase after a year.

In the list, the game product NetEase obtained the version number is the mobile game “All-Star Street Ball Party”, and in addition to the tower defense mobile game “Health Protection War” developed by Tencent, many companies participating in the investment are also listed. Got a version number.

The two giants have regained their version numbers, which is a positive sign in the eyes of many industry analysts. And the reason they gave is also very simple: unlike the small game companies that existed in the previous version list, which mainly focused on light game products, big companies such as Tencent and NetEase have a solid technical foundation and sufficient product reserves, and can regain access to After the version number, it can accelerate the release of high-quality game products, improve the overall product quality of the game market, and then stimulate the growth of players and increase the revenue of game products.

However, players have different opinions on this, and feel that the above situation can not bring any new changes to the game market.

If “Eternal Calamity” is used as the reference standard for the new generation of big game games, Tencent and NetEase’s regaining the version number can indeed bring new impetus to the weak game market, but obviously, it is impossible to maintain the product quality at this level. Level, taking the game product that obtained the version number this time as an example, the game screen from NetEase’s “All-Star Street Ball Party” is no better than the “Youth Basketball” launched by Xinxin Network in 2017, and the sports theme is in China. It’s not a popular game track, and it can be predicted that NetEase’s new game has a high probability of missing the word “explosive”.

The picture above is the game screen of "All-Star Street Ball Party", and the picture below is "Youth Basketball" of Xinxin Network The picture above is the game screen of “All-Star Street Ball Party”, and the picture below is “Youth Basketball” of Xinxin Network

The game industry that runs too fast flashes to its waist

I just mentioned that even if every new game from the big manufacturers can reach the quality of “Eternal Calamity”, it is only “bringing new impetus to the weak game market”, and it does not guarantee that the current situation will be reversed. The decline of the game market.

The reason is also very simple. Unlike the cold winter of 2018, the current dilemma facing the game market is far more than the reason for the version number.

Since the end of 2019, video games can be said to be at the right time and place, with the explosion of boutique game products, the popularity of the metaverse concept, and the heating up of the e-sports (e-sports) industry… A series of favorable events have made the game industry catch up with the rapid development of the game industry. Express train. However, happiness comes and goes quickly. After two years of rapid growth, the epidemic dividend has quietly dissipated, the concept of the metaverse has fallen out of favor, the domestic game market regulatory policies have tightened, and the version number has caused the explosion of “stuck”…

An important reason behind this is the overall improvement of product quality in the game market. However, after the rapid improvement of the quality of game products, global game developers are also facing tremendous pressure.

This pressure can be summed up in one word, and that is “involution”.

“Involution” can be said to be a key word in the game market in recent years. Sean Ryden, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Sony Network Entertainment International, once complained in an interview that “players have become accustomed to playing games every year. Bigger and more beautiful games. This has also caused the game industry to begin to show a different preference for larger and larger worlds and more beautiful graphics.” It has become increasingly difficult to make a profit.

In the domestic market, the situation of manufacturers’ “involution” intensifying competition is far more severe than that in the overseas market. Because in the overseas game market, console and PC games can also compete with mobile games. On the first two platforms, most of the single-player game products with a short life cycle are sold. Unless the gameplay theme of such products is highly consistent, in fact There is no particularly fierce competition, and players will not buy “Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2” just because they bought “God of War: Ragnarok”.

However, in China, the game market has been dominated by mobile games for many years, and the mobile game market is dominated by service-oriented commercial games. One of the characteristics of such games is that most of them have a long lifespan and require players to retain for a long time. Had to fight to the death for a limited number of players.

Of course, the domestic mobile game market has not always been in this state. In fact, in the era of “channel is king”, most mobile games in the domestic market are skin-changing mobile game products that imitate popular gameplay and themes. The product lifespan is relatively short, so a delicate balance can be achieved between these short-lived and low-cost game products. Once a game earns enough money to close the server, another game can “take over” the released game. Players, and after the manufacturer of the previously closed server game quickly developed another game, the market will release new players for it to harvest due to the closure of other games. Because this style of play is relatively simple and efficient, it once supported many small game companies.

However, since around 2016, the quality of products in the domestic game market has continued to increase, and some high-quality game products that can maintain a stable flow for a long time have appeared one after another. More and more generated between these types of games. This leads to a consequence: because high-quality game products can maintain a stable flow for a long time, their shutdown time will continue to be delayed, and their lifespan will be much longer than that of cheap skin-changing game products, and most players can play at the same time. The number of service-type game products in China is quite limited, and if this part of players is “occupied” by long-lived high-quality games, it will be difficult for them to be released back to the market again.

What are the consequences of this? On the one hand, these “occupied” players’ requirements for game quality will be greatly increased, so that they will hardly have the will or time to choose to play low-quality and short-lived game products developed by small-scale game companies; on the other hand On the one hand, these players will continue to provide high turnover for manufacturers who have developed high-quality games, so that they can prepare new high-quality game products while maintaining the long-term operation of the game, making the “polarization” of the game market change. The more serious the situation, the more competitive the leading manufacturers in the market have become, and finally the game market structure tends to be solidified.

Under such a background, if small and medium-sized game companies want to continue to survive, they can only be forced to “roll in”, constantly chasing trends, updating art styles, using 3D modeling, and following the trend of popular gameplay, but obviously, all this will undoubtedly directly Raise the development cost of games, which is difficult for small and medium-sized game companies that used to develop cheap skin-changing mobile games or light games in the past.

Diablo: Immortal game screen Diablo: Immortal game screen

It is foreseeable that for small-scale game companies in the world, they will still have to survive in the cold winter for a long time to come.

However, perhaps for the entire game market, there are not so many game companies in the first place?

Going overseas, stand-alone, ultra-light games, manufacturers are struggling to “trial and error”

Having said that, it would be cruel to kill people who dreamed of entering the game industry. As the cold winter continues, game practitioners are constantly looking for ways to reactivate the market.

For example, the strategy of going overseas that has been continuously promoted in recent years.

For different game companies, going overseas has different meanings. For many small-scale game companies, going overseas is a helpless move when they cannot obtain a version number. Under the background of stagnant growth, going to overseas markets can create new growth points for the company’s revenue, and the relatively relaxed overseas regulatory environment can also give manufacturers the opportunity to try more diversified game themes and gameplay types.

At a time when the domestic game market is sluggish, the trend of domestic manufacturers going overseas has intensified, resulting in a rapid increase in competition in the overseas game market. Going overseas is not like traveling, you can “just go”, from understanding local regulations and policies, to understanding local players’ preferences, to investigating local platforms to prepare for purchase promotion, and then to the localized operation of games, domestic game developers need to pay. A lot of extra costs, in all fairness, the weight of this cost of going to sea is not much lighter than the pressure faced by manufacturers to continue to “involute” in China.

The threshold is gradually increasing, so that the coup of “saving the country by the curve” from small factories is gradually becoming a “globalization game” that only large factories with strong financial resources can participate in.

For domestic game companies that cannot afford the cost of going overseas, all they can do is to work harder on game products, and some of them choose to give up competition with top service games and turn to low-cost buy-out game products .

Such a choice has certain merits. With the gradual improvement of domestic players’ copyright awareness, the increased willingness to consume buy-out games, and the continuous launch and improvement of Steam, Epic, and some domestic digital game sales platforms, the performance of domestic buy-out game products has been quite remarkable in recent years. Especially in 2021, the success of game products such as “Ghost Valley and Eight Wilderness” and “Dyson Ball Project”, which were born in “small workshops”, will encourage many small-scale game companies.

Considering that buy-out game products can be sold on the Steam platform, there is no need to wait for the release of the version number, and the buy-out game process is short, and the localization cost is much lower than that of overseas service-based games. Therefore, the buy-out system Games can also be regarded as a substitute for the overseas option.

However, having said that, the small-cost buy-out game products also have obvious disadvantages, that is, the game products have a short lifespan and cannot form a stable and loyal player group like service-based games. Profit depends entirely on the game itself and the announcement. Quality, there are still many difficulties to stably produce “explosive models” to maintain the running performance of the track.

In the first half of 2022, domestic developers also launched a lot of new buyout products on the Steam platform, but because the overall quality of new games is not as good as last year’s products, the overall performance is not good. According to the statistics of Guoyou Sales Bar, the total sales of the top 10 domestic buyout games in the first half of 2022 will be 92 million yuan, compared with 388 million in 2021, a year-on-year decrease of 76%. Among them, “Warm Snow”, which sold the best, only sold 700,000 copies in the first half of the year, with a sales volume of 41 million yuan. As the popularity of “Warm Snow” is currently declining, it can be predicted that the final result of this game will probably not catch up with the “Dyson Ball Project” with a sales volume of 1.9 million and a sales volume of 160 million yuan in 2021.

"Warm Snow" game screen “Warm Snow” game screen

Obviously, for the domestic buyout game market, the situation is not very comfortable, and growth and experience will be their themes for a long time in the future.

In addition to going overseas and buying out games, there are many manufacturers who plan to continue to cultivate the once “outlet” – the ultra-light mini-game track.

Ultra-light mini-games were once quite popular before the outbreak, mainly because the gameplay perfectly fits the entertainment needs of modern people’s fragmented time. It is very easy to play and stop without downloading. It is worth mentioning that, thanks to the advantages of H5 technology, many H5 mini-games can be easily launched across platforms and devices, thus greatly improving user experience and communication efficiency. They are often played on social platforms such as WeChat Moments and Weibo. Trigger a “viral” marketing spree.

And this super-light mini-game can produce explosions almost every year, from “Animal Restaurant” in 2020, to “Synthetic Big Watermelon” in 2021, to today’s “Sheep and a Sheep”, almost all of them are Traffic harvester. This kind of light game that can be mass-produced with a low cost and a short cycle, the feeling of going to a popular carnival traffic flow is probably no different from the thrill of a lottery.

Since ultra-light games can easily drive netizens into madness, then the game companies that are deeply involved in this field are naturally doing well, right?

Somewhat abnormally, although the super-light mini-games have been a big gimmick in recent years, the overall development has not been outstanding. Even the industry star, Egret Technology, which has been in business for 13 years and valued at 2.5 billion yuan, has ushered in the end of bankruptcy this year.

According to the data of the Game Work Committee of the China Audio and Digital Association, from 2015 to 2021, the actual sales revenue of Chinese web games has been declining year by year, from 21.9 billion to 6.03 billion, and the market size has shrunk by 70%. Among them, there are many ultra-light games represented by H5 games.

The reason for this is very simple. Just like the criticism of “The Sheep” by game practitioners who have come back to their senses, the quality of the game products presented on the market is generally poor due to the extremely low development threshold for this type of game. High, the gameplay is relatively simple, and it is impossible to retain players for a long time. Therefore, such game products often earn “quick money” by being highly bound to advertisements. The quality of the game itself lacks polishing, and there are few later stages. The situation of maintenance and expansion is not so much a game as it is an interactive advertisement in the form of a game.

This kind of nature makes super-light mini-games drift away from mainstream game products. Under the trend of improving the overall quality of game products, prolonging their lifespan, and increasing player retention rates, super-light mini-games still maintain low cost and short lifespan. The state of the game makes it almost impossible to produce high-quality new game products on the track that can lead the transformation of the track, and it fits the advantage of fragmented time, and it is meaningless because the game quality is too poor to attract players to play repeatedly. In the end, just like PC and console games with better graphics and richer gameplay “killing” web games, ultra-light games are gradually being “invoked” by other platform games that are more fun in this era. replace.

At this point, it is not difficult to find that the methods of avoiding “involution” in front of game manufacturers, such as going overseas, developing buyout games, and developing light mini-games, are also facing an anxiety-provoking status quo. . As the saying goes, breaking the bottleneck is extremely difficult for every industry. If the game industry wants to break the “ceiling” in front of you, it also needs to pay a lot of ingenuity. As for how long it will take to break through the “ceiling”, I am afraid that Only God knows.

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