The9, the sizable NASDAQ-listed Chinese game publisher and developer, has made quite a few investments in the U.S. gaming market over the last year. (Reflecting, it seems, a rising Asian interest in U.S. companies, especially gaming.) As part of its international strategy, The9 has been full-steam ahead on creating better ways for international gaming companies and developers to make inroads into the Chinese mobile and social gaming markets, which have been traditionally difficult areas for non-Chinese developers to access effectively (and profitably).
In May, The9 teamed up with Intel and Time Warner to make a $23 million investment in CrowdStar, for example. Earlier this year, it also created a $100 million fund (called Fund9) to focus on investments in Chinese gaming companies, as well as those overseas.
At the same time, The9 also announced a 5-year licensing agreement with Aurora Feint to allow it to use the company’s OpenFeint mobile social gaming network software (which operates on both iOS and Android) in China.
Shortly thereafter, the company began using the $100 million fund, in partnership with OpenFeint, to bring select games from international Android developers into the Chinese market.
Today, The9 is adding the remaining piece, again utilizing its OpenFeint licensing agreement and sizable gaming fund — but this time with iOS. The company today announced that it is releasing the an iOS software development kit (SDK) for its mobile and social gaming platform, called The9 Game Zone ( which is, of course, powered by OpenFeint). This is of interest for the very reason that Game Zone on iOS enables international developers to “implement social features in online and mobile games” that are tailor-made for “China’s 800 million-strong gaming market”, said The9 VP of Mobile Business Chris Shen.
When it comes to entering the mobile gaming market in China, U.S. and international developers are met with a number of obstacles, including localization requirements and fragmentation. Compared to that of the U.S. and the Western World, said Shen, the app market in China is complicated, as there are more than 100 app stores in operation, and each of the big Chinese OEMs along with tons of third parties are trying to enter the market. So there’s the issue of accessing these many app stores to guarantee large-scale distribution, localization of foreign apps for the Chinese market, monetization for that specific market, and so on.
The advantage then, of The9′s platform and SDK is that the company already partners with more than 30 of the largest Chinese app stores (which according to the team make up about 90 percent of the country’s apps), including the app stores launched by the three major Chinese telecom carriers.
So, by using the9 Game Zone on iOS, mobile game developers can revamp their standalone mobile games into interactive, social games optimized for the Chinese market. And soon, developers will also be able to cross-promote their games on those 30 app stores, monetize with virtual goods and currency, take advantage of display advertising, etc.
The9 is really attempting to provide international developers looking to access a Chinese audience with a one-stop solution. Because the majority of China’s app stores have different requirements for game packaging, The9 helps developers to localize and package their games, publishing them to these various channels, giving them access to a much larger section of the market than they’d be able to access otherwise.
The9 has also developed a consulting service for game developers, which is free to use, that will provide them with the various social and interactive integrations, as well as assisting them in translating China’s in-app microtransactional models into their games. Chinese gamers predominantly avoid paying for games, Shen said, which makes it essential for game developers to monetize through in-game ad solutions, virtual currency, etc., which their consulting service will help developers undertake more effectively.
The9 (and the distribution channels, i.e. app stores) then apply a revenue sharing model, taking a cut of the game’s revenues, which will be around 50 percent. Not exactly favorable, but with access to the enormous mobile/social audience in China, likely worth the price of entry.
Thanks to The9′s partnership with OpenFeint, developers using Game Zone on iOS will be able to access the company’s gaming features like leaderboards, achievements, challenges, forums, and chat — and integrate them into their Chinese versions. The9 also allows integration with Chinese social networking sites, like Sina Weibo (China’s Twitter), Tencent, and Renren.
There are currently over 120 game developers and publishers collaborating with The9, publishing more than 500 games in China. Game Zone is available both on iOS and Android, both of which offer features from OpenFeint.
Considering the platform enables developers around the world to cut through the fragmented Chinese mobile gaming market, accessing the second largest app market in the world, and is a one-stop shop for American developers looking to get free packaging and localization services for the Chinese market, this is a pretty sweet solution.
Check out Game Zone and its SDK here, and let us know what you think.