While messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, MessageMe and Path continue to duke it out in Western markets, the place to watch all the real action continues to be in Asia, where apps like Tencent’s WeChat, Line and KakaoTalk innovate in China, Japan and South Korea.
This week, Tencent, the $72 billion chat and social networking behemoth of China, finally started testing its long-awaited games platform on WeChat, the messaging app that has blown up to 400 million users in about two years. Tencent thinks of WeChat as its first product that might have true global appeal, instead of being limited to the mainland Chinese market. The company said earlier this year that the app now has 70 million users outside of China.
The app’s quick rise as the social networking platform du jour of China has also made it a very interesting target for developers, and the community has been waiting for a games platform to roll out for months. (Think of the anticipation that surrounded the launch of the original Facebook platform back in 2007.)
Why? Look at the singular power that South Korea’s KakaoTalk has been able to have in mobile games distribution there. The messaging app publishes 15 of the highest-grossing games in Google Play, the dominant app store there.
Developers are expecting Tencent to reassert its distribution power on smartphone platforms through WeChat, especially because there are so very many Android app stores that have proliferated in China. No Western equivalent has been able to replicate this power yet, although with Facebook now making north of $300 million a quarter on mobile app install ads and sponsored stories on the mobile news feed, the company is exploring new strategies like becoming a mobile games publisher.
The first game on the platform, WE-LINK, is a game developed by in-house team Tianmei Yiyou. There are 10 more games that are slated to come, including We Love Pang, We Runner and Fight the Landlord, according to Technode, our partner site in China.
The games aren’t available to international users yet, just to Android users of WeChat in China. This makes sense, as Android has emerged as the dominant smartphone platform over the last year-and-a-half locally.
In Tencent’s platform, there are basic mobile-social gaming features like leaderboards against friends and the ability to share scores with friends. Naturally, there is also a payments infrastructure behind the platform, leveraging Tencent’s Tenpay and WeChat Payment.