By Slag 25 Comments
While many of us have understandably been wrapped up in EA's Lootboxcalypse, gaming as we know it may have changed in an even more profound way.
Thanks likely due to PUBG's meteoric rise in China, English speakers are now but a fraction of Steam accounts.
an absolutely seismic shift in the space of a single month. Are the numbers reliable? I don't know truthfully. They do come straight from Valve although I don't know their methodology in obtaining them.
but it is consistent with numbers & trends I've seen reported elsewhere. E.g. in 2015 Steamspy estimated that there were 5 million Chinese Steam accounts, earlier this year that was up to 17 million and that was before PUBG went absolutely bonkers. This month likely isn't a blip as much as it's an acceleration of an ongoing trend.
It's way too early to know exactly what this means and how durable & significant this change will be (maybe those chinese players like PUBG and PUBG only. Or maybe they just don't spend as much as Americans even if they are on Steam in greater numbers) but it isn't hard to think of some of what it could mean when the nature of the consumer base changes that drastically. And it's hard to think that the Status Quo (three console makers + Pc + eventually mobile) as we've known it since the Xbox launched nearly twenty years ago will be unaffected.
For better or for worse, pretty much all of our lives Video games have been designed with primarily English speaking American culture and consumers in mind. From setting to character design to gameplay to marketing, you name it. And if the US wasn't the primary market it's basically always been at least the secondary, the market you hope to strike it rich in. But if the US is now only a 1/5 of your market (really even less when you subtract the UK, Australia, NZ etc from the English speaking numbers) does it really make to sense for a AAA company to cater wholly to that market?
It's not inconceivable to me in 5-10 years that may no longer be true for the majority of popular titles. Or perhaps even sooner. Little things American gamers might take for granted like English language translations and Voice Overs might be less common, maybe f2p gachapon/lootbox games becomes the norm for everything as Chinese gamers might be receptive to that business model than paying upfront having cut their teeth on iOS games, perhaps American centric games could conceivably become more of a console exclusive kind of thing while it's only the PC becomes dominated by games aimed at primarily an Asian audience as consoles historically don't have a lot of penetration in China, maybe Niche japanese games don't get ported to the States at all in favor of China, maybe little actually changes as Chinese players end up preferring existing Western IP, maybe entire new exciting genres are created as games are designed from a completely new mindset. Let alone the more fundamental aesthetic and design changes for games now designed for a completely market and culture in mind. Furthermore there's the potential for whether or not the Chinese gov't becomes the de facto arbiter of consumer rights and permissible content in games as they might become the primary market. The default every game maker tries to appease.
Hard to say how it will all play out. I will say if I were a AAA company, I'd be trying to make a title with the Chinese market in mind immediately since PUBG has now proven you actually reach that market now. There appears to be tremendous untapped potential there. You'd be pretty foolish not to try to cultivate a wide open market of that size.
And it's a tricky thing I think for Western companies given that the Chinese government hasn't always been a fan of gaming or that interested in allowing foreign companies a chance to compete on equal footing.
E.g. I don't think it's a given, that the Chinese gov't continues to permit Steam to at least even quasi-operate over there indefinitely. In my mind Tencent's recently revamped WeGame Storefront (formerly called TGP) competitor to Steam could very easily become a dominant force worldwide and possibly displace Steam. Last I looked they were shooting to take it global and already have hundreds of well known titles on it like Don't Starve and Rocket League (there was a furor earlier this year when Rocket League launched as a f2p game on WeGame and was simultaneously completely removed from the Steam store in China as Tencent had purchased exclusive rights to the game). Tencent's current services through their various wholly owned IP like League of Legends (Riot games), Clash of Clans/Clash Royale(supercell) and Arena of Valor (which is allegedly the most profitable game in the world this year) already boasts a userbase far larger than Steam's and to boot it owns WeChat which can be used as a payment service like paypal if I understand it correctly. Not to mention they own minority stakes in Epic and Activision Blizzard. They probably also are much more likely to receive preferential treatment from the Chinese government operating in that market than an American or Japanese competitor platform I'd think. Whatever happens I think it's safe to assume WeGame is going to try pretty hard to make waves worldwide in the next 24 months. And there's other chinese companies like NetEase which are also growing rapidly have their own ambitions. So who knows?
It's easy to read way too much into this sort of data, but at the same time there's more and more evidence that something big is happening and I can't help but wonder if the games industry is about to change forever.
EDIT: November Numbers only continue the trend
Chinese Language Users are now nearly 2/3 of all Steam Accounts!