It is no surprise that China has its own unique mobile ecosystem but with this comes a unique set of terminology to explain it all. Mini programs and mini games are downloadable apps that run inside a ‘super app’, most notably WeChat. The messenger introduced mini programs in the beginning of 2017 in a bid to transcend the limits of social networking. By allowing users to load nifty web applications within the messenger’s interface, WeChat has established its own ecosystem to serve almost every imaginable need of the convenience-oriented consumer. Think Apple’s App Store or Google Play, the latter of which is banned in China. WeChat is basically another store but where apps are replaced by streamlined versions of themselves, stripped down to their bare necessities, allowing users to bypass the real app stores. Naturally, this has allowed developers to circumvent the country’s game freeze. And in just 2 years’ time, the number of mini programs available in WeChat has exceeded 2.3 million, in comparison to Apple’s App Store with 2.1 million apps and Google Play with 2.6 million apps.
WeChat mini programs can largely be divided into 4 categories: games, news, utility and e-commerce. Let’s turn out attention to WeChat mini games. Released at the end of 2017, these are games accessed through the messenger’s discover tab without the need for installation. ‘Jump Jump’ was one of the first mini games released by Tencent and it accumulated 400 million players and 170 million DAU in its first 3 days. There is no doubt that WeChat’s original function of social networking has fuelled the success of mini-games. At the ending scene of Jump Jump, a player’s score is ranked amongst friends found in WeChat Moments, giving players the incentive to beat their best buds and challenge their foes.
Continuing its success in mini games, WeChat collaborated with external developers to launch a new line up of mini games in April 2018, including the viral ‘2048’. Mini games have grown so popular and are integral to the daily routines of many that they now make up around half of all mini programs. They are no longer simply a genre or type of mini programs. They are their own phenomena and have their own reputations. While developing a fully functioning app for your game should not be sidelined as it naturally provides you with the basic elements for its miniature clone, mini games can also serve as a testing ground for developers to experiment on and build popularity before redirecting their fans to a fully fledged app. In all, developers must take note of the mini-gaming ecosystem unique to China and cater their creativity for this readily available set of casual gamers. Do you think you have the winning formula of simplicity and addictiveness required for this form of gaming?
Revenue models for WeChat mini games
Developers can share 50% of the daily advertising revenue generated through their game with no upper limit. For verified ‘creative game’ developers, their share can reach 70% where daily advertising revenue is less than 2 million RMB.
2. In-game Purchases
As with in-app purchases, developers can choose to monetize their mini games with in-game purchases. For monthly transaction volumes below 500,000 RMB, service fees are waived and the developer accordingly receives 100% of the revenue. For monthly transaction volumes above 500,000 RMB, Tencent receives 40% of the revenue, leaving the developer with the remaining 60%.