What do you do when you’re stuck at home with family for a month? Lots and lots of games. This year, writes Zhao Lei at Ran Caijing, users are turning to WeChat’s mini-app platform for simple, easy-access games. Here’s the key points of the article:

Mini-app madness

“Zeng Xue was never a big mahjong player. She only really played with her family during the Chinese New Year. But this year is special: everyone is locked at home.”

TechNode’s translation column looks at the mini-app games that have won big from a captive audience. TechNode has not independently verified the claims made in this article.

Every year during the Spring Festival, online board games experience a brief wave of interest, quickly falling off after the holiday. In normal times, the user base of these games is relatively fixed. The only way to get users is to win them away from other games.

The Covid-19 epidemic has brought a large wave of new traffic to chess and card games. This year, the normal habits of visiting relatives and friends, gathering for dinners, and playing real cards have significantly reduced. Brick and mortar chess, card, and mahjong rooms have also been closed. 

So, the games have gone online. In WeChat mini games, chess and card games have seen eye-catching growth. Daily active users (DAU), spent time per user, retention, and other metrics are far higher than usual.

Brain teasers

In addition to chess and card games, all-ages and casual-oriented mini games also exploded during the epidemic. According to Aladdin Index statistics, over the Spring Festival holiday the mini games ranked No. 1 on the daily list have consistently been brain-teasers: 

  • “I’m Not a Pig’s Head” (Wo bushi zhutou). 
  • “Rescue Little Treasure” (Jieqiu xiaobao).
  • “Brain Hole 2020” (Nao Dong 2020).

Surprise!

The epidemic has taken everyone unprepared. A high number of small game companies couldn’t respond the increase in demand. However, the operation and distribution level of some companies has been enough to enact effective measures (that encompass servers load, distribution channels and customer service capabilities) that have made sure to seize opportunities and achieve short-term growth. 

Covid-19 will pass. Thus, in the long run, good creativity and quality are the foundation of small game companies.

State of boredom

In this long holiday, boredom has become a common problem for people of all ages in China. Today, the Internet provides people online entertainment methods: videos, singing, games, online social networking, online reading.

The epidemic has given birth to one of the longest holidays in the history of the Chinese Spring Festival. A QuestMobile report shows that the number of daily active Internet users and the average length of daily user use reached a record high in each segment: short videos, games, online social network, with news and information services benefiting the most, due to the public’s attention to the epidemic information and the health of relatives and friends. WeChat, QQ, Weibo, Jinri Toutiao, Tencent News, and Douyin have funneled most of the traffic.

Are you a pig head?

The brain-burning puzzle game “I’m Not a Pig’s Head” is a great example. The core gameplay promises to improve your intelligence level by solving puzzles, while the monetization strategy relies on users watching in-app advertisements to get tips for solving the levels. 

During the Spring Festival, it constantly dominated the Aladdin mini games list, even surpassing longtime champions such as “Happy Poker.” The producer of “I’m Not a Pig’s Head” said that this product peaked at 13 million daily active users, far exceeding usage during the same period last year.

Eyeballs up, ads down

On the one hand, due to the epidemic, the overall macro economy has slowed down threating small games that rely on advertising to generate revenues. As a result, even though many products have increased data such as DAU, stickiness and retention, they have struggled to bring about the corresponding revenue growth.

On the other hand, the income of online board games during the Spring Festival holiday has grown consistently. According to a person in the industry who spoke with Ran Caijing, during this period the number of users has skyrocketed. Many users came spontaneously more than doubling from the best time in the past year in just the Spring Festival single month.

Keep the ball rolling

The question for the industry is how to keep the snowball rolling after short-term dividends from the epidemic have passed.

The producer of “I’m Not a Pig’s Head” believes that the Spring Festival was a flash in the pan for the gaming industry. Although the epidemic caused extended holidays, the overall market still has limited users, and users’ time is limited. 

For small game companies, the longest holiday only slightly extended their window period to become a hit. To seize this opportunity, it was necessary to accumulate product and operating capabilities overnight, which include server power, customer service etc.

When “I’m Not a Pig’s Head” appeared on the market, there were several competitors but, with good game quality, comprehensive data collection, and all-round promotion preparations in the early stages, including private domain traffic, cross-platform promotion, etc., “I’m Not a Pig’s Head” reached tens of  millions DAU at its peak.

This was way beyond anything company CEO Huang Jialong expected. He projected peak of 4-5 million DAUs, but in a few days the game reached more than 10 million, forcing the team to upgrade their servers in a matter of hours. However, it was still not enough, and excessive server load cramped the growth of the product, and a large number of data statistics were left behind, non-computed. 

Be ready

The creation of new games is a good thing, but the decisive factor for success is their own quality and iteration. This requires strong support from technical and operations teams. In other words, it requires accumulation and preparation on ordinary workdays, to be able to seize opportunity when it strikes.

Springboard mini-app games

The essence of most mini games is to become a springboard—to guide users to more targeted games, e-commerce platforms, etc., and encourage them to consume, thereby generating value.

Under this logic, the core of a good mini-app game is very simple: 

  • Simple and easy-to-use game design, allowing more people to quickly enter the game, stickiness in game design, and then diverting them out.

This is also the reason for the success of popular puzzle games. The main reason for the popularity mini games is the fact that most are universal, easy to play, and easy to operate, and it’s easy to get a certain sense of achievement through them. Such simple games can achieve a very large number of users.

Between the lines

The covid-19 epidemic may convert some non-game users into game users. 

But this substantial increase in users is offset by the problems in the macro economy, with the biggest uncertainty at present being the change in the advertising market in 2020. This will have a huge impact on all casual games. 

As long as the products metrics are good, traffic is high and purchase prices low, there are still opportunities for these companies to seize the last wave of dividends. Although they may earn slightly less, the number of users will skyrocket, thus strengthening future monetization capabilities.

Watch out though: this opportunity is reserved for games that are ready to respond when lightning strikes.

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