Bound for China

Grinding Gear Game has announced a partnership with the gaming giant Tencent, to bring Path of Exile to China. Path of Exile, currently one of the most successful action role-playing games on Steam, is home to 14.2 million online players and ranks 19th worldwide among free-to-play massive multiplayer online games. With Path of Exile, GGG is looking to follow in the footsteps of the legendary Diablo 2, a game that has enjoyed a large and loyal following in China. Role-playing games generated $5.5 billion in revenue in China, and represent highly lucrative potential.

This partnership in China follows and is intended to model the move made in December 2015, when Grinding Gear Games took Path of Exile to Brazil. South America’s biggest market for online games was treated to an official, localized version of the game. Aside from minor adjustments, Path of Exile items, characters, and maps remained largely identical.

GGG is particularly encouraged by the results of a closed alpha of Path of Exile, during which the level of engagement for players was remarkably high. Tencent remarked having never witnessed so many hours of playtime spent on a game during a closed alpha. Results were impressive enough to rival the levels of engagement seen among Path of Exile players in regions where localized version have already been established.

Having Tencent as a local partner to aid in the expansion into China is a fairly auspicious factor. Not surprisingly the largest worldwide game company, Tencent fully understands the market, demographics, and culture. The company knows how to leverage infrastructure to maximize visibility of the game, using billboards, and public spaces to increase visibility.

Additionally, Tencent will be helping to make the changes necessary to comply with Chinese censorship laws and be accessible and acceptable with local tastes. One example is the presence of a female character in Path of Exile who happens to be lesbian. While this would be a trivial character trait in Western cultures, it may be considered taboo in Eastern societies. Also, skeletons, zombies and other characters that represent death may need to be redesigned to adhere to an aesthetic that Western players may find comical, cute, or caricatural.

One of the aspects of Path of Exile that Grinding Gear Games feels would resonate with the Chinese market is player-versus-player combat. Whereas gamers in the West find the find-and-grind gameplay more suited to their tastes, PvP appeals to the Chinese market’s competitive spirit, especially with tournaments and online ranking systems.

Another interesting aspect of the Chinese market is consumerism, which GGG hopes to attract with the in-game economy. Cosmetic upgrades and beautifying PoE items, all of which serve no purpose beyond appealing to aesthetics and status, must become a point of consideration, if not a priority for Path of Exile to develop a localized version with longevity.

The challenge for gaming partners GGG and Tencent is to maintain the identity of Path of Exile in a market that is vastly different than that in which the game had grown. With the closed alpha revealing promising and interesting results, they can proceed into China with enthusiasm and ambition.