Vietnam's mobile game market will continue to grow in the years to come as game developers mature.
Smartphone games such as Bat chu (Catchword), Vua Thu Thanh (Tower Defence) and School Cheater (a puzzle game similar to the hugely popular Candy Crush) have been the best-sellers at App Store and Google Play in recent months. The local mobile community have been especially attracted to such games since early this year. With millions of users downloading to play, the games represent a major success for its developers, local independent game groups WePlay VN, ZoyGame and JUN. The potential rewards in the mobile game market have attracted a large number of start-ups this year compared to even the recent past.
“This is just an initial success and it is difficult for us, as the game developer, to really benefit from it,” said a representative from JUN, which owns School Cheater. Developers must have a passion for gaming and full knowledge of the habits and demand of Vietnamese players, and must continue with innovations to the game to retain existing players and attract new ones. Monetising their games is a challenge for independent game developers, however, because most Vietnamese players prefer playing free games. Some developers have chosen to cooperate with large local distributors and publishers, with profits shared. Others use global app stores like App Store and Google Play to earn money from downloaded apps or the purchase of in-apps (virtual items). “With such a young game market like in Vietnam, there are many opportunities to make profits that we simply couldn’t miss,” said Mr Nguyen Khanh Duy, CEO of the Vietnamese game studio Tofu, owner of Kungfu Stickman, which has been downloaded 1 million times.
Mobile game revenue in Vietnam stood at $25.5 million in 2013, twice that of 2012, according to a recent report from Soha Game, a Vietnamese mobile game distributor. The figure seems certain to continue rising into the future and is estimated at $35.5 million for this year and $52 million in 2016. Mobile-based game apps remain the most consumed content among mobile apps, according to figures from Appota, a Vietnamese mobile app distributor, by around five-fold. The demand for mobile devices, including smartphones, for entertainment is high and will stay that way, creating further opportunities for the mobile game industry.
The increase in mobile-based games has become a threat to PC-based games, with large game companies gradually changing to mobile games. VTC Intecom, a leading distributor in PC-based games, is now focusing on the development of mobile games, launching four mobile games and one PC-based game during the first half of this year. “The game market is more competitive, with new game developers and distributors, so success is more challenging for the company compared to previously,” said Mr Duong The Luong, Director of VTC Intecom. The company’s turnover from PC-based games and digital content is now experiencing decline.
Making mobile games requires less time and money compared to making PC-based games, and the mobile platform is more consistent with the conditions and capacity of local developers. 2014 is the year of casual and clone games, according to Appota. Compared to other types of mobile games it is easier to gain success when focusing on casual games because they are easy to play, but a certain degree of complexity is required to attract players. Most existing games are quite similar. The flappy bird clone wave opened up a new way of game development: cloning successful games. It is also challenging for small game developers to succeed and compete with major rivals from Vietnam and from overseas, such as those from China, Japan and South Korea. There are no official figures on market share between local and overseas companies, but according to Mr Luong local companies account for 60 per cent and overseas companies the remainder. These rates have changed completely over the last five years.
Estimates have the growth in mobile game revenue in the years to come continuing upwards, with over-the-top apps and casual games being the major trends. Large PC-based game companies are expanding into mobile game making, while start-ups are also growing in number. To compete with overseas rivals, however, local start-ups and game studios need to improve their publishing and distribution to reach more users. Their turnover at the moment primarily comes from downloads at App Store or Google Play and the game must rank near Number 1 for success to come. “It’s not easy to reach Number 1 without advertising,” said Mr Le Hong Son, CEO of a Hanoi game studio. “There are thousands of game apps. But the revenue split is 30 per cent for App Store and 70 per cent for the developer.” Another way is to cooperate with publishers. Payment via scratch cards when users download games will also benefit local developers, with the split being 30 per cent for the telecom provider and distributors and the remainder for the developer. The most popular form of payment, however, is via SMS, because of the convenience it provides for the buyer, but this benefits telecom companies more than the developer. “Once payment and publishing are sorted out, there are certainly opportunities for local game developers to succeed,” said Mr Son.