Can Pokémon help Tencent crack the West?
TiMi Studio bets on their new Pokémon game can do for Tencent what Arena of Valor couldn’t
Tencent’s TiMi Studio made one of the hottest games in China, but it hasn’t had much luck in the rest of the world. Now it’s making a bet on Pokémon to help change that.
TiMi is the studio that brought the world Arena of Valor, the international version of the Chinese blockbuster multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game Honor of Kings. The game didn’t take off elsewhere the way it did in China, though. So the studio is now trying something different, teaming up with The Pokémon Company to work on a brand new Pokémon game.
Not much is known about the game right now, but early signs suggest this isn’t a China-only game. The company is currently seeking a veteran creative director and a seasoned game director based in Los Angeles to manage a US-based creative team that will help with a global launch for the game. Candidates are required to have experience working on AAA titles, but proficiency in Mandarin or Japanese is only recommended, not required.
Chinese games industry analyst Daniel Ahmad of Niko Partners said the new Pokémon game “will be a global game with competitive elements.” The studio is also “taking expansion seriously” by focusing on different gameplay genres and esports, he said.
TiMi’s renewed focus on the US market comes two months after reports that Arena of Valor suffered a big decline in players there. This led to rumors that TiMi would disband overseas teams dedicated to the game, which the company denied.
TiMi overseas marketing director Vincent Gao told Bloomberg the 10-year-old studio “has its heart set on expanding globally” and is “very determined in that strategy.”
But the narrative that not even TiMi’s biggest game could help it crack the US stuck around. The juxtaposition between the game’s success in China compared with its overseas performance is certainly stark: Honor of Kings made nearly US$2 billion in revenue in China in 2018, but in the US, Arena of Valor made just US$5 million.
This is why making a Pokémon game could be a big deal for TiMi. It’s not just an enormous gaming series; it’s one of the world’s biggest entertainment franchises, up there with Marvel and Star Wars.
“Tencent's games have had difficulty penetrating into the consciousness of Western gamers,” Chengdu Gaming Federation founder Charlie Moseley said, “[But] if they work with international companies that temper and moderate game development for Western markets, I think they'll find success in the US.”
Tencent has also been looking for other ways to capitalize on the popularity of Nintendo, which owns a third of The Pokémon Company. The Chinese gaming giant recently announced that it’s bringing the Nintendo Switch to China as the official distributor.
TiMi isn’t just relying on a new Pokémon game to improve its fortunes overseas, though. The company has also been working with Activision Blizzard on Call of Duty Mobile, which is slated for release later this year.
With TiMi’s global push, the studio may have a lot to prove. Its rival sister studio Lightspeed & Quantum Studios Group is responsible for the wildly popular PUBG Mobile, which is still Tencent’s most successful game globally -- albeit one based heavily on an existing PC game.
Tencent also has to watch out for its biggest rival in China. NetEase has been teaming up with foreign companies, too. The company is working with Activision Blizzard on Diablo Immortal, which is expected to be released later this year. NetEase has also just launched an R&D-focused studio in Montreal after it purchased a minority stake in Behavior Interactive, the Canadian company behind Dead by Daylight.