This is the fifth post of “Now in Vietnam“, where TechNode visits Vietnam’s leading companies, to explore the next startup ecosystem to emerge among Southeast Asian countries. Vietnam GDP growth could surpass China by 2020 according to Turicum Investment Management.

Chinese mobile games have greatly appealed to the Vietnamese gamers in recent years, thanks to its similar cultural background and its convenient paying system. Vietnam’s top game publishing companies, notably VTC Online and SohaGame have constantly expanded their business in publishing foreign games, the former started out with publishing Korean games including hit game CrossFire, while SohaGame focused on Chinese games.

Early 2000’s: Korean games take the lead

CrossFire, a free-to-play online military shooter game made by Korean developer SmileGate in 2007, raked in US$ 1.3 billion in global sales in 2014, and still has solid sales in Vietnam.

In 2002, Yongdeuk Lee opened an internet cafe in Ho Chi Minh city, which he later had to shut down because it was too early for the market then. Korean games got popular in the mid-2000s, and his Vietnamese friends wanted to purchase Korean games and distribute them in Vietnam. Lee started working as a middleman to cherry pick and purchase quality games from Korea and publish them it in Vietnam.

“We earned 50 million KRW (US$ 44,100) a month, a lot of money at that time. Later we wanted to purchase more copyrighted games, so I joined VTC Online in 2006,” Lee says.

VTC Online started with 23 employees, grew up to a company of 1,000 employees with its branch offices in Korea, China, Laos, and Cambodia. CrossFire was a big hit in Vietnam when published in 2008 by VTC Games. With earnings coming through Vcoin as cash currency, its revenue made by the game was only second to Tencent. FIFA Online 2, co-developed by South Korean company Neowiz Games gained recorded another hit in 2009.

“Seeing the success of CrossFire, we hired in-house game developers to develop our own games. However, it was not successful, and we now turned this business into an online training academy,” Yongdeuk Lee, Vice CEO of VTC Online told TechNode.

VTC Academy in Hanoi (Image Credit: TechNode)

In the year 2014 came the era of mobile games, where Korean games withdrew to Chinese games.

“All the web games popped out of South Korea, and its development was quicker than others in Vietnam. The Korean web game’s price was lower, and it had great user experience with the better graphics and creative designs,” Lee says. “However, when downloading Korean games, users need to buy security software. Chinese games were better on security, and users didn’t have to buy security software, which greatly appealed to the users.”

From 2011, Chinese games take the lead

There are eight Chinese companies in the list of Vietnam’s top 100 games, including Fishing Diary from Chinese publisher DroidHen, Castle Clash and Lords Mobile from Chinese publisher IGG, according to the Cheetah Global Lab. So why do Chinese games take lead in Vietnam?

“Vietnam shares a common background of history and culture with China, which makes Vietnamese gamers feel very familiar with all the theme and stories inside Chinese games, such as three kingdoms, kungfu style or Chinese fantasy elements. Also, the monetization system of Chinese games quite fits Vietnamese gamers’ paying behavior,” Hieu Ha Trung, co-founder and business director at SohaGame told TechNode.

Chinese elements appeal to Vietnamese gamers, but there surely there is the need for certain localization. The localization of one game contains two main things: translating and localizing the UI, developing new functions and adjusting the price policy for the local market, according to Ha Trung.

“The research is very important and do research on Vietnam market as much as you can. Vietnamese gamers’ taste is similar to China, but operating one game for billions of population in China, then moving it to a 96 million population like Vietnam will surely have different things to consider,” he says. “To make a game that suits the market trend and gamers’ behavior, combining developers’ capacity and publisher’s market knowledge is also very important.”

Now is the time to look at Vietnam’s local games

Given that the most important factor to evaluate the success of the online game in Vietnam now is on product cycle, according to Vietnam Mobile game market report 2016 released by GameK, Vietnam’s local games are on the right path. 

“Some of the top revenue games with most users are: Mong Vo Lam, Dai Minh Chu, and Hai Tac Bong Dem, with the lifespan of each title from 1.5 to 3 years, while the normal lifespan of one game is only around 9 months,” Ha Trung says.

He believes domestic game’s successful expansion in the home country can help it to expand into other SE Asian countries as well. For that reason, SohaGame now is working closely with local game developers in Vietnam to produce games for Vietnam and SE Asia market.

“SohaGame’s products are dominating 20-25% of the market share for 4 consecutive years in Vietnam, and it will help us to have a good reputation when we launch into the SE Asia market this year,” he added.

Eva Yoo

Eva Yoo is Shanghai-based tech writer. Reach her at evayoo@technode.com

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