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Chinese developers take a bite of the Apple

Game makers see Apple's app store as a way to break into the U.S. market

By Maria Korolov and Wang Fangqing, Network World
August 22, 2011 06:07 AM ET

Network World - If you've ever gone to Apple's mobile app store and purchased games like High Noon, Gamebox1 or Doodletruck, then you've downloaded an app from the burgeoning Chinese software development community.

Software developers in China had historically been faced with a number of hurdles when it came to selling products in the U.S., included distribution, marketing, payment, and a host of cultural issues. 

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But the emergence of Apple's app store cleared away most of this hurdles, sparking a new wave of software development, mostly focused on games.

Take "High Noon," a fighting game developed by Happylatte, a division of Beijing-based game design company Exoweb. It was recently ranked as the 14th most-purchased app at in the U.S. app store, according to Beijing-based research firm App Annie, which tracks sales and market statistics for App Store publishers.

"We have seen Chinese app makers have been growing fast in the global market," says App Annie CEO Bertrand Schmitt.

Happylatte is not alone. According to App Annie, there are more than 100 iOS apps developers in China whose apps - mostly interactive games -- have been widely purchased at Apple's global app stores.

This market is attractive because consumers are willing to pay for apps, and has a straightforward and robust marketing and distribution system.

Multinational intelligence

Among all the Chinese iOS app developers, Shanghai-based Triniti Interactive is probably the most aggressive, with 78 iPhone apps released since November 2009.

"About 50% of our downloads come from the U.S., with the rest from mostly English-speaking western countries, and some from East Asia," Triniti Vice President Andrew Seid says. The company's apps, including Gamebox1 and Doodle Truck, have been downloaded more than 100 million times.

"We've targeted the U.S. from day one, and that's where we've seen our biggest success," he says. "We're designing with the U.S. consumer in mind."

Seid, the only foreigner at the company, is from the United States himself - and heads up the marketing and business development efforts.

"For the nitty-gritty, and also big-picture stuff, where non-English-speaking Chinese employees might have trouble, that's where I can help," he says.

For example, app designers often ask him for input on character design, he says. He offers feedback on everything from clothing styles to body proportions - "all the cultural stuff that you have to be an American to get," he says.

He is also responsible for product naming and marketing copy, which are "very difficult for non-native English speakers to do well," he adds. On occasion, he even helps with story writing for those games which require extra background and depth.

Triniti isn't the only Chinese company bringing in foreign experts to help target Western markets. Happylatte - which declined to comment for this story - has more than 10 foreign staffers.

"Chinese developers have the technical skills but often lack the ability to promote the products in a way that western consumers are used to, because of the huge differences in culture and languages," says Tong Bin, an analyst at Shanghai-based research firm iResearch Consulting Group.

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