Glorious Mission is a new mobile title from Tencent featuring battle royale gameplay aimed to take advantage of the popularity of hit PC title PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG). The title started unlimited pre-registration on 8th November but the launch date has not been revealed yet. Registration can be completed in a few clicks for those with a WeChat or QQ account and has reached almost 3 million in under 24 hours.
The most popular mobile title in China is still Honor of Kings (HoK) in terms of active users and gross revenue, but the popularity of PUBG on PC has prompted leading Chinese games publishers to develop their own mobile versions of the genre. Three ‘Battle Royale’ type games via NetEase and Xiaomi have quickly risen up the charts previously dominated by HoK, role playing games and massively multiplayer titles.
PC game title PUBG broke 20 million sales on Valve's Steam digital distribution platform recently. Its popularity in China is undisputed with estimated share of total sales from the territory of up to 40 percent (~8 million), and this even before the game is officially licensed for distribution and available in the territory. Steam currently operates and serves China mainland users from its servers based in Hong Kong. The popularity of PUBG explains why a number of major publishers - be it Tencent, NetEase or Microsoft - have been pursuing the publisher of the title, South Korean-based Bluehole, as an acquisition target or for licensing/partnership purposes. As yet no company has secured official rights to the title in China.
Premium PC games - those titles paid for up front in a traditional retail monetisation model - have gained solid traction in China in the last two years, which is in contrast to much of the games market in the territory generally monetised through free to download titles and in-game microtransactions. The increasing sales of premium PC game downloads has driven Tencent to pivot its Tencent Games Platform into a premium PC game download platform renamed as WeGame to compete in the domestic market with Steam. IHS Markit data shows the China PC games download market grew to $220 million in 2016 and is now the fourth largest globally.
The popularity of PUBG has not gone unnoticed by official government bodies in China and arguably this is likely to bring additional unwanted focus on how the Steam platform operates across the territory. A recent statement by China's SAPPRFT - State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television - criticized PUBG and other battle royale games as containing too much blood and violence which could harm the mental health of young people. This may play into Tencent's hands in its ambition to secure the rights to the title in its domestic market and which would provide a major boost to its WeGame ambitions.
Regardless of the obstacles that surround the licensing of PUBG, a number of Chinese publishers including Tencent sense an opportunity to exploit similar PUBG-like games experiences on mobile to take advantage of its popularity, and also expand the reach of the genre across a more casual audience. Significantly, unlike PUBG, battle royale mobile titles are not premium games and are free to download. This trend of releasing mobile versions of existing popular PC online games is now well established in China and other Asian territories. The strong performance of the three new battle royale titles from NetEase and Xiaomi has already proven the success of this strategy. From what we've seen of the in-game footage, Tencent's new battle royale game, Glorious Mission, appears to have been heavily inspired by PUBG. Whether this almost copy-cat approach will help it secure rights to the PC game remains to be seen, but it suggests that negotiations have yet to be successful.
More broadly in terms of Tencent's mobile games portfolio, the incredibly popular Honor of Kings growth is slowing in China and therefore to consolidate its dominant position in the mobile games sector it needs to move quickly to exploit any key trends in popularity. The reason for not announcing an exact launch date for Glorious Mission is probably due to the approval process of the title and starting registrations now is part of a strategy to retain Tencent’s exposure across the mobile segment, while competitor NetEase already has a battle royale title in the market. Tencent also plans to add a new expansion pack for CrossFire Mobile which will contain a battle royale element on 17th November, and the registered players for Glorious Mission could be targeted as players for CrossFire Mobile as well.