China Has a Big PC Hit Going Global in a Battle Royale With Swords
(Bloomberg) -- NetEase Inc.’s three-month-old battle royale game has sold more than 6 million copies globally, making it one of the fastest-selling Chinese PC games ever and giving the company a boost in its push for overseas growth.
Launched in August, Naraka: Bladepoint is a rare example of a non-smartphone title from China making waves globally. While China still makes up most of its players, top international markets for Naraka include the U.S., Japan and Vietnam, said the game’s lead producer Ray Kuan. In-game purchases for things like cosmetics and loot boxes contribute more than half of total sales, he said.
That means the game has grossed at least $240 million by selling copies and virtual items, according to a calculation by Bloomberg News, based on the $20 shelf price of Naraka’s basic edition. NetEase declined to comment on financial figures.
“Going global is inevitable,” Kuan said in an interview. “There’s no reason not to do that when China has a lot of developers, artists, and designers that are better than those in the West.”
Chinese gaming giants like Tencent Holdings Ltd. and NetEase are looking to grow beyond their home market, a task made more urgent after local regulators stepped up scrutiny of online content. Beijing’s media watchdog hasn’t issued any new game licenses since July, as it slows down the approval process to implement stricter minor controls, Bloomberg has reported.
Naraka pits 60 players against one another on an island, fighting until only one remains -- a formula similar to Krafton Inc.’s PUBG or Epic Games Inc.’s Fortnite. But instead of scavenging for rifles and machine guns, players equip their characters with longswords, katana, and spears. Each of the 8 hero types has unique abilities inspired by Asian martial arts.
Naraka announced its global e-sports league this month, with new heroes planned for each season, Kuan said. His 200-person team is now working on a console version of the game and a new battle map, both of which will likely release in the third quarter of 2022. A mobile game is also under development, he said, without a target release date yet.
The game’s strong start could be a boon for NetEase, which is set to unveil its third-quarter earnings on Nov. 16. Gaming revenue is expected to grow nearly 10% to 15.2 billion yuan ($2.4 billion) for the period, thanks to new releases Naraka and Harry Potter: Magic Awakened. Analysts at Bocom International estimated Naraka accounted for 6% of NetEase’s PC game revenue for the September quarter.
China, the world’s biggest mobile game market, hasn’t produced a success in PC and console games to match blockbuster franchises like Grand Theft Auto or The Legend of Zelda. Naraka’s popularity remains modest compared with global hits such as CD Projekt SA’s Cyperpunk 2077, which sold more than 13 million copies within its first month. But companies like Tencent and NetEase are actively courting talent, including those from powerhouses like Ubisoft Entertainment SA and Sega Sammy Holdings Inc., to fill the void.
Kuan was among a team of Taiwanese developers that created Meteor Blade, a highly acclaimed 3D hack-and-slash launched in 2002. He joined NetEase in 2017 and started his own studio 24 Entertainment a year later to make Naraka, seeking to revive a beloved martial arts franchise.
“Naraka inherits Meteor Blade’s spirit,” he said. “Battle royale can make it rise again.”
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