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Overview of China's Information and Communication Technology and Gaming Market

Gaming

China is the world's largest and most lucrative gaming market, accounting for one-third of the global games market, with over 600 million active gamers.

YearGlobal MarketChina
Revenue (bn Yuan)% Growth rateRevenue (bn Yuan)% Growth rate
2013467.65.2%89.232.9%
2014519.711.1%110.523.9%
2015571.810.0%143.630.0%
2016647.413.2%178.924.6%
2017707.99.3%235.531.6%

Source: iResearch 2018 China’s Mobile Games Industry Report

Segments

Nowadays, the experience of games on mobile devices is almost as good as that on the PC, which leads to a reduction of the market share of the PC client games. Going forward, mobile gaming will be the major segment in the industry. However, the decline in PC client games will not be rapid, due to the rise in esports.

YearPC client gamesPC web gamesMobile gamesOther games
201545.8%15.1%39.2%N/A
201633.9%8.9%57.2%N/A
201729.5%6.6%62.1%1.8%
201824.8%4.3%66.7%4.1%
2019e20.6%3.2%69.4%6.8%
2020e17.2%2.4%70.9%9.5%

Source: iResearch 2018 China’s Mobile Games Industry Report
Foreign companies play a minor role in the Chinese market, accounting for only 20% of revenues from China’s gaming market. According to Niko Partners, South Korean gaming companies enjoy 14% of the market share in China’s gaming industry and American developers claim just five percent of the industry’s revenue.
Market share of South Korean games in China have significantly reduced in the last decade, mostly due to issues of local copyright infringement. The market share was further impacted in March 2017, when China refused to issue new licenses for South Korean games for distribution in China amid disputes regarding the deployment of a US missile defense system in South Korea. This ban led to widespread copyright infringement and the use of pirate servers. The negative impact on South Korean game developers was further magnified due to the failure of developers over the years to properly copyright and protect their games. In the last few years, the Chinese courts have focused on ensuring intellectual property protection, however, they tend to be more stringent when it comes to foreign rights holders operating in China.  

eSports

The market size of esports, a form of competition using video games in China reached RMB 94 billion (US$13.99 billion) in 2018, according to iResearch.
Global esports revenues are expected to reach US$1.1 billion in 2019, with China accounting for 19% of the total, according to data from Newzoo.
Major sources of revenues include spending on games, earnings from esports clubs, live streaming, and competitions. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (CMHRSS) has officially recognized “esports professional” and “esports operator” as two new professions.  

Games approval process

Chinese law prohibits foreign and foreign-invested gaming companies from publishing and operating video games in China directly. The Chinese government identifies video games as an internet cultural activity, which is a sector that bans foreign participation.
To enter the general Chinese market legally, foreign companies are required to license their games to a Chinese domestic company for distribution. Tencent has licensed ‘Call of Duty’, ‘NBA 2K Online’, and ‘FIFA Online 3’ from American developers for operation in China. As a result, these foreign companies share a part of the game sales with domestic distributors. Chinese companies offer American developers only 30% to 50% of PC games’ sale and 15% of revenue from mobile games in China. In comparison, foreign companies receive 70% to 85% of their game sales in China when using Apple’s App Store.
Game companies must file applications to local authorities for approval from the Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee. Following regulatory reform in March 2018 in China and the formation of the Ethics Game Committee, it will be difficult for publishers to easily release games in China. To adhere to the new committee’s standards, foreign companies must invest time and resources to adjust their titles and make significant localization changes to their games before publishing. As of December 2018, there were 5,000 games waiting to be approved by the central regulator.

Opportunities

China is one of the most localized games markets in the world. In 2016, 93% of all revenue from iOS games in China was generated by games belonging to China-based games companies, compared to 86% in Japan and 63% in Korea.

For foreign game developers and investors, China is one of the most challenging markets in the world, because of regulatory issues and the dominance of domestic companies. However, the domestic market is huge, and it is only expected to witness substantial revenue growth in the coming years.

Developers and investors need to work with Chinese technology partners who can assist in sales/marketing activities, cloud storage facilities, monetization strategy, as well as localization of the games, for a better chance at success.

Large game developers will continue to dominate the market in the near future, hence small- and medium-sized developers need to focus on niche segments such as indie games, female-centric games, animation, and comic-based games if it wants to compete with the big budget companies.

Going forward, apart from mobile, PC, and console games, other areas of opportunities will include virtual-reality/augmented reality games, PC to mobile adaptations, and HTML5 games.

For more information on the gaming market in China, please refer to A Deep Dive of China's Games Industry.

Information and communication technology (ICT)

China is the world’s second largest ICT market. In 2017, the sector’s production growth outperformed GDP growth driven by technologies such as Big Data, Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, and advanced manufacturing. According to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), the total output of the sector in 2017 reached RMB 18 trillion (US$2.68 trillion), up from RBM 16.96 trillion (US$2.52 trillion) in 2016.

Going forward, the ICT market is expected to see a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.6% from 2016 to 2021, faster than the 5.6% predicted for the global ICT market, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC). According to QY Research, the ICT investment market is predicted to reach USD $191 billion, by 2023. The overall market size is expected to be USD $844 billion by 2020 according to IDC.

In the 2017 ICT Development Index, which is used to monitor and compare developments in information and communication technology (ICT), China ranked 80th amongst 176th economies, while Canada ranked 29th.

Trade

Service exports

YearICT Service Exports (US$ billions)ICT service exports (% of service exports)
201317.098.26
201420.179.2
201524.5511.29
201625.4312.20
201726.9813.07

Source: International Monetary Fund - Balance of Payments Statistics Yearbook

Goods

ICT Goods Exports (in US$ billions)  
YearTotal ExportsComputers and Peripheral equipmentCommunication EquipmentConsumer Electronic equipmentElectronic ComponentsMiscellaneous
2013605.75214.12175.7769.89130.4115.55 
2014607.57215.85196.2671.10107.2717.08 
2015603.90183.86213.7674.09116.9315.26 
2016555.82165.69202.4670.53102.2814.86 
2017612.66195.11220.2472.34109.2415.74 

Source: UNCTAD

ICT Goods Imports (in US$ billions)
YearTotal ImportsComputers and Peripheral equipmentCommunication EquipmentConsumer Electronic equipmentElectronic ComponentsMiscellaneous
2013400.6748.9847.0419.1275.679.97
2014386.1650.7143.9916.38264.110.97
2015392.1244.4948.5215.15273.1310.83
2016377.2240.5846.0411.47266.612.53
2017418.8942.6247.8810.86301.5715.96

Source: UNCTAD


Share in total trade (%)
YearICT Goods Import (% of total goods imports)ICT Goods Export (% of total goods exports)
201320.5527.42
201419.7125.94
201523.3526.56
201623.7626.5
201722.7227.07

Source: UNCTAD

Opportunities

Dominated by domestic players, the ICT sector in China is vast and includes the sub-sectors hardware, software, telecommunications, and IT services. The country is trying to build a strong domestic ICT industry, which offers a long-term opportunity for foreign SMEs involved in consultant and training in all the four sub-sectors to partner with domestic firms. For example, the government encourages integrated circuit design companies to work with foreign companies due to the lack of technical expertise and talent.

In addition, opportunities are also opening up in segments such as semiconductors, cloud computing, gaming, IT outsourcing, and the internet of things that covers transportation, healthcare, smart home, and communication technologies.

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