Mobile gaming firm Paper Games has recently made a splash in China’s video game sector with yet another female-focused smash-hit title. The success of the dress-up game “Shining Nikki” is bringing games targeting female Chinese users to the forefront.

The backstory: Paper Games develops dress-up games and relationship simulators that cater to the demands of female users, who have long been overlooked by developers in China.

  • The company has five released titles, with the two most recent and most popular ones being “Shining Nikki” and relationship simulator “Love and Producer.”
  • The firm was valued at RMB1 billion in 2015, following an RMB 150 million ($21.1 million) Series B led by Orient Securities.
  • Yao Runhao, an economics graduate from Waseda University in Japan, founded Paper Games in 2013. The first installment in the “Nikki” series was a side project that Yao finished with the help of several online friends. After its success, he returned to Suzhou and started Paper Games, consisting of a team of seven people.
  • The company is headquartered in Shanghai with offices in Suzhou and Wuhu.

Unique selling point: Paper Games is one of the first companies in China to create mobile games for a female audience. The second installment in the “Nikki” series, “Nikki UP2U World Traveller,” was the first dress-up game to make it to the mainstream mobile gaming market.

  • While most developers have started to create female-oriented games in recent years to expand on their mainly male-facing line of products, Paper Games has consistently treated female players as their primary audience, with all published titles being aimed at them.
  • Paper Games is also among the few video game startups to rack up 100 million registered users globally for two of its titles—“Miracle Nikki” and “Love and Producer.”
  • Female gamers could spend as much as RMB 53.1 billion on games in 2019, according to estimates from research firm Gamma Data.

“We keep our design concepts largely uniform but at the same time give designers enough freedom, that’s our core competitiveness…We don’t punish failed innovations because we respect the space needed during the creative process.”

 —Yao Runhao to video game media Youxi Putao

The investors: The company’s B Series, led by Shanghai-listed Orient Securities, also included Songcheng Performance, a company that works in performance, tourism, live entertainment, and online entertainment.

Present condition: Paper Games is looking to expand its current 600-person team to 1,000 employees by the end of 2020 to further support its growing line of products and create new titles, according to a report from Youxi Putao.

  • The company has also been creating comics for “Miracle Nikki” with plans to further venture into animation and motion pictures for female audiences, according to the company’s website.

The landscape: Other players in the female-oriented game market include Friend Times, a Suzhou-based company that creates titles combining features such as dressing-up and palace intrigue, anime-streaming platform Bilibili, as well as industry giants Tencent and NetEase, who have just entered the market.

  • Friend Times’ three major titles targeting female audiences raked in a total of RMB 384 million in the first quarter of 2019, according to the company’s prospectus.
  • NetEase’s “Yujian Love” and Tencent’s “Shiwuyu” have garnered over 5 million and 4 million downloads across iOS and Android since their launches in June and September, respectively, according to analytics firm Qimai.
  • In addition to competition from new entrants, Paper Games also faces more regulatory oversight. Under the new game approval process implemented in April, China’s top game regulator, the State Administration of Press and Publication (SAPP), will approve fewer titles and impose a stricter set of standards.

China moves to monetize its growing female gamer market

Prospects: Paper Games could face greater competition from larger game developers such as Tencent and NetEase as they turn their attention to the female-oriented market. However, Paper Games’ rich experience in creating content for female audiences and managing a largely female user base, together with its massive following, could help the company stay ahead in the game.

  • The purchasing will and power of female users in games are only going to increase, Liu Jiehao, an analyst with research company iiMedia told TechNode.
  • Paper Games’ newest release, Shining Nikkii, is likely to make headway, similar to its predecessors in non-mainland China markets, where there are fewer restrictions on game content.

Tony Xu is Shanghai-based tech reporter. Connect with him via e-mail:

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