Monday, March 31, 2008

QQ Games, the world's most popular multiplayer real-time casual game service is failing in the U.S. Why?

In China, QQ Games have reached up to 3 million concurrent players (that means players online at the same time).

In the U.S., this afternoon, after being live for over a year, QQ Games has just under 1500 concurrent users.


In the U.S., QQ Games takes the form of a plugin for AOL Instant Messenger. AOL has 30 million active users a month. So out of 30 million active users, QQ Games attracts 1500.

Wow. Again.

So what's the deal? How come one of the world's most popular multiplayer real-time game services is failing to take off in the U.S.?

You're expecting an's some possibilities:

1. It's a downloadable plugin. That usually hampers adoption somewhat, but it's a stretch.
2. AIM users don't know about it. Nope, it's prominently features on the AIM homepage. And it's offered as an option when you install AIM!!!
3. The games aren't fun. Maybe...but nope, they're fun. However, they are NOT social. They are multiplayer puzzle games that don't require any interaction between players.
4. Americans don't like playing against strangers. Maybe...if so, it's a problem for all multiplayer real-time games. And besides, they have an option to invite friends to play.

I think it just hit me. The games on QQ Games are not really any more fun in multiplayer mode then they would be in single-player mode. In fact, they feel like single-player games. For instance, they have a Bubble Bobble Clone called Robo. If you played Bubble Bobble in the arcade, it's awesome because you can hear your opponent groan when you send a barrage of bubbles down on her head. In the online version, you don't get any feedback, it's boring. You opponent isn't even going to send a chat message because they're too busy playing.

For multiplayer action games like the ones on QQ games to be as fun as the arcade originals that they're modeled after, it'll require audio chat.

However, I think the core reason they haven't had the user uptake of their parent company is because they have yet to fully implement their virtual economy. QQ Games does have gems that you earn by playing games, but at the moment those gems can't be used to buy anything, which makes them meaningless. Offering virtual goods in exchange for the gems gives people a reason to play over and over again. It gives purpose to gameplay. Purpose fuels retention. The problem, of course, is providing a context in which the virtual goods are meaningful. That's easy when you control the platform as in China, not as easy when you don't (a point I should probably touch on in a future post).

So while nothing can make QQ Games social (except perhaps adding some social games...duh), implementing the rich virtual economy of the Chinese parent will increase usage significantly, I suspect. I'd wish them luck, but their parent company, Tencent, pulled in a half a billion dollars last year, so as they say...who needs luck when you have 500 million dollars in the bank.