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A year ago Chinese mobile gaming companies barely had a presence at the nation's largest interactive entertainment exhibition, but this year, they were at the center of the 11th ChinaJoy event, drawing tens of thousands of gamers to the July 25-28 party in Shanghai.
For the first time, mobile game developers and operators were welcome to the main exhibition area with Beijing Chukong Technology Co, famed for its deep-sea fishing game "Fishing Joy," occupying a 690-squre-meter space at the show - gaining much interest from event sponsors and more importantly, attention from visitors.
Beijing-based startup Luobo Interactive Studio also drew a long queue of gamers to its booth during the event with its "Carrot Fantasy," a self-developed tower-defense mobile game that topped the download list of free iOS applications in the first three weeks of its release in August 2012. To date, the game that remains free has been downloaded nearly 110 million times, according to the year-old startup.
"We gain over 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) in income from Carrot Fantasy every month, which is enough to support our daily operation. And Carrot Fantasy 2 will hit the market in the fourth quarter," Carrot Fantasy's founder Chen Jianyu, told the Global Times on Wednesday, adding that the company plans to focus on developing more games and improving existing ones to further fuel momentum.
As more mobile users prefer to use their devices instead of clumsy personal computers, there appears to be a growing market for games played on smartphones and tablets.
According to a three-party report released last week by Game Publishing Committee (GPC), chinanews.com's game research center GNC and US research firm IDC, China's mobile game market saw a 100.8 percent year-on-year growth in sales volume, reaching 2.5 billion yuan in the first half of this year and amassing 171 million users - up 119.3 percent from the same period last year.
The numbers fall in line with a predication made by GPC at the start of the year that expects the market value of the country's mobile gaming industry to overtake the browser gaming industry by up to 10 billion yuan this year.
Foreseeing the trend three years ago, Beijing game developer and operator ICC GAME established a special investment fund for mobile game startups - and has since put its money on five mobile gaming projects. It also plans to roll out another 50 million yuan to invest in the emerging sector this year, founder and CEO Chen Shu told the Global Times on Tuesday.
ICC GAME is not short on competitors today. Hundreds of other mobile gaming startups have sprouted up since the second half of last year, and as many as some 700 of them have formed in the last two months alone, according to media reports.
Indeed, the entry of the mobile Internet era means that products in the mobile sphere like games are positioned to do well, Xue Wenfeng, a gaming analyst with Beijing-based Internet consultancy Analysys International, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
Firms from outside sectors are also swarming into this new world through acquisitions.
Huayi Brothers Media, a domestic film production company, is among them and announced its entry into the mobile gaming industry on July 24, with a 50.88 percent-stake in mobile game maker Guangzhou Yinhan Technology.
But Xue said that the rush will be short-lived for many players - a majority of them have blindly and hastily sped into the sector that has grown too quickly. He expects the first round of bubble-bursting to occur early next year.
ICC GAME's Chen said that to ensure his company is not one of the ones brought down in the coming months ahead, his team is working on developing high-quality games that will oust lesser rivals to ensure the firm's survival in the crowded and competitive market.
Xue added that while games like Fishing Joy or Carrot Fantasy are likely to be popular for some time yet, few of the average 400 games released per month are even predicted to make it to the end of next year.
And while no one can deny that the user-experience is crucial, the promotion of a mobile game can also be something of a life or death matter in determining the success of a product.
"For mobile games, platforms play a more important role than each individual game as mobile games tend to be smaller in scale and have a shorter lifecycle than MMO [Massive Multiplayer Online] games," Chen Tianqiao, chairman of Nasdaq-listed Shanda Games said in a press release on July 28.
The domestic online game developer and operator also announced the acquisition of platform-related affiliates from its parent Shanda Interactive Entertainment Ltd, which it said "is a strong step forward in strengthening our mobile business."
Unlike Shanda, however, most game developers, which tend to be much smaller in scale and unable to establish their own selling channels, look to promote their products through third-party platforms, such as Apple's App Store, Google Play and 91 Wireless, currently the most widely used promotional channels in the mobile gaming sector.
It may be early yet to say, but Shanda could be smart to develop their own channels as the payments that gaming companies have to make to get on the platforms could really hurt them in the long-run, a Beijing-based mobile game developer told the Global Times on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"The expenses are very high, usually accounting for 70 percent or even 80 percent of the revenues a game company gain from its product," he said.
And as Analysys International's Xue puts it, "The over-reliance has directly influenced the profitability of game developers and third-party app marketplaces will further devour developers' profits in the next two to three years."
He said that less than 20 percent of domestic mobile game developers make a profit at present.
ICC GAME's Chen added that he hoped the app marketplaces could be better regulated soon to keep the fees for mobile gaming firms from getting out of control.
Yet either way, gaming companies will need to find a way to cut promotional costs to up their profit margins - which generally now sit below 30 percent for most firms - if they are to truly take off in the market where the sky could be the limit, so long as demand for new games remains charged by this new crowd of mobile gaming-addicts, said Xue.