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Media & Entertainment

Chinese mobile games gain following in Japan with local flair

Three titles crack top 10, drawing on Tokyo talent and pop culture

A Genshin Impact ad spotted on a train in the Tokyo metropolitan area. (Photo by Shuhei Yamada)

TOKYO -- Ask a mobile gamer in Japan to name popular titles, and the list is likely to include games with a homegrown touch that actually come from China.

Japan is a hub of major video game companies. And while players here have traditionally stuck to domestic titles, Chinese games are making inroads.

The mobile game market in Japan reached about $9.7 billion in the first half of 2021, according to U.S.-based Sensor Tower -- up 63% from the same period of 2017. Chinese-made games have helped drive this rapid growth.

Three titles from China were among the 10 top-grossing games in the just-ended half. Knives Out, a battle royal from NetEase, was No. 7. Role-playing game Genshin Impact came in ninth, while Houchi Shojo was 10th.

No Chinese company had made the top 10 back in 2017. And the top 100 now include 22 titles from China, up from just eight.

After taking other international markets by storm, big Chinese players, including Tencent Holdings, are finally cracking the Japanese market.

The trio in the top 10 are tapping into Japan's gaming industry and popular culture in developing the games. NetEase opened a studio in Tokyo's youth culture mecca of Shibuya in June 2020 and has been recruiting local talent.

Chinese companies' success at gaining market share in Japan owes to efforts over the last four years to invest in localization and recruit Japanese specialists, said Nan Lu, Asia-Pacific analyst at Sensor Tower.

Genshin Impact's publisher, miHoYo, was formed in 2012 by three anime-loving graduates of Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Its advertising for the game -- which features attractive anime-style guys and girls -- on Tokyo's busy JR trains and elsewhere is catching the attention of commuters and shoppers.

To reach a wide audience in Japan, C4games runs TV commercials for Houchi Shojo -- a game with cute female versions of warlords from China's Three Kingdoms period. The Beijing company went under the umbrella of TikTok owner ByteDance this year, seeking to enter international markets quickly.

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