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Narrative Driven Mobile games finding its niche in China

Updated: May 26, 2021

Back in April 2012, Square Enix carved out a new niche market by releasing Million Arthur, A heavily narrative driven game. During this time, Japanese social game companies were spinning out a Trading card games by the dozen as this model was a proven cash cow that eclipsed anything and everything the mobile gaming industry was doing at present. This was also when Kompu Gacha was legal.

What Million Arthur did was identify with a core audience that was neglected on the mobile platform since the inception of Smartphone.

“Narrative Driven Games”

The Japanese culture is a very heavy reading culture with a very strong Manga market. From boys to girls, Salary man to Office Ladies, porn to Boys love, manga has effectively developed niche markets for all the different demographic audiences in Japan..

Understandably, narrative driven games was a really effective design for console platform as Triple A studio spent millions of dollars developing high fidelity cut scenes that felt more like a movie than playing a game. This was something that was very difficult to re create on the mobile platform.

But that didn’t change the ideals of the narrative driven fans that yearned for a deep story line that actually made sense with the game system that was offered in a mobile game.

Million Arthur effectively did this.

For the average player, playing Million Arthur felt like a massively extended tutorial, but for those players that enjoy narrative, Million Arthur created a story that pulled them into the game, providing a lot of character building moments and wanting to know more about how the story progressed..

Along with implementing all the hooks and nobs that provided a proper trading card game experience and Square Enix had a massive hit on their game that reached Top 2 in Grossing but never really hit No. 1 as Puzzles & Dragons held that spot permanently in Japan in 2012.

This game educated the Japanese market that narrative driven games has its place in the mobile market and is a viable approach in designing games and from that game a new niche genre was born.

China mobile market has been growing exponentially over the years and their smartphone is thriving like no other. Recently, Net Ease’s Ying Yang Shi has been making a lot of headlines as it sits comfortably in the top grossings ranking in China.

Yin Yang Shi (Chinese Title) or Onmyoji (The Japanese Title)

Yin Yang Shi is a role playing game based on folk stories from Japan’s Edo Period. The game became available for download the week of Sept. 2 on Apples, iOS and launched on Androids stores on Sept. 9.

This heavily narrative driven game that emphasizes on high quality design of characters, storylines and scenes. This game reminds me of that Million Arthur moment when a the player feedback and following was enormous from release and made its way in carving out a new niche in the Chinese Market. Netease realizes they have a massive hit on their hands and are effectively leading the narrative driven movement in China.

As of March 18, 2017, Ying Yang Shi, sits comfortably at the 2 spot in Top grossing, which is very similar to what Million Arthur experience during its hay day.

For any product manager that is looking to incorporate narrative driven design in their game, Ying Yang Shi is a good baseline on how a properly implemented narrative driven game should look like. First Japan with Million Arthur, than China with Ying Yang Shi, it’ll be interesting what studio comes up with the first narrative driven mobile game in the States, that actually reaches the top grossing and how it affects the game dynamic. Looking at the top grossing, i surely believe there is a place for this type of game to thrive alongside the rpg games that are sitting in the top rank currently.

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