The success of PopCap’s tower defense game in China wasn’t achieved overnight, as the publisher had to deal with piracy and ratings manipulation
To make it big in a foreign market, publishers have to play by a territory’s market rules lest its product becomes obsolete in the eyes of consumers. That’s what PopCap Shanghai and EA Mobile had to take into account when launching an American-made game like Plants vs. Zombies 2.
During a Game Developers Conference 2014 talk called ‘Lessons from launching Plants vs. Zombies 2 in China‘ (via Polygon), PopCap Shanghai General Manager Leo Liu Kun said that the publisher was dealing with piracy, a fragmented mobile market and rating manipulation.
When the game was soft-launched in Australia and New Zealand, a cracked version of the game popped up online in China within the first 24 hours of its release. It was downloaded more than six million times in the country on jailbroken Apple devices; even an unofficial Android version of the game was pushed out (though it was a straight port of the iOS version).
To combat this, PopCap Shanghai had to “easternise” the game for its official Chinese launch by adding in exclusive plants that can only be unlocked by in-game puzzle pieces and changing the game’s economy. The Chinese version, dubbed Plants vs. Zombies 2: Great Wall Edition, had to follow the hard currency rule in a majority of Chinese online games, where all resources had to be bought with real money.
To ingrain the game into Chinese markets further, Liu Kun said that new units like the peach plant and kung fu zombies were introduced, since local content was considered attractive to local users. According to the company’s internal stats, the Chinese kung fu levels were the most played, proving that its strategy to accommodate local tastes worked.
Ratings sabotage was also one of PopCap Shanghai’s hurdles. Liu Kun said that when the game launched on China’s iTunes App Store, it debuted at number one. After a few weeks, its five-star rating dropped to two even though the game was still in the top five. The company did not expect competitors to manipulate PvZ 2’s star ratings, but that was the case for the top three games on the App Store as an attempt to discourage people from buying the games.
The publisher took the issue up to Apple and and the media, as well as encouraged independent developers entering the Chinese market to spread the word about such things.
Liu Kun concluded that the “millions of lessons” learned when launching PvZ 2 in China were from understanding the local market and catering to the playing and purchasing style of its consumers, “You have to be prepared for anything unusual from the Western perspective. Sometimes you have to shoot, then aim.”
For related news, check out e27’s review of Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare.