Chinese gamers appear to be as excited as the rest of the world for the much-anticipated strategy game Total War: Three Kingdoms, pulling in a huge number of pre-orders from China. But they’re also lamenting online their country's inability to project its own culture through homegrown games.

More than a week before its release, the game had already seized the top spot on Steam's best-selling chart in China. In the US, the game has also ascended to the top spot on the same list two days ahead of its release.

Check out Total War: Three Kingdoms on Amazon

Three Kingdoms looks like a good way to get immersed in China’s Three Kingdoms period, but careful not to butcher the pronunciations of these beloved characters. (Picture: Creative Assembly)

Sales suggest Chinese gamers are excited for the game even as they express envy over how some foreign companies, including UK-based Creative Assembly, have outshone homegrown Chinese companies in parlaying the country’s history into successful PC and console games.

“Every time I see foreigners take our Three Kingdoms history and turn it into something so marvellous, I feel so envious. Sigh,” one Chinese gamer wrote in a forum.

Indeed, there are no shortage of successful Three-Kingdom-themed games made by foreign companies. Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Dynasty Warriors are two successful Japanese video game franchises. China doesn't have any Three Kingdom games of the same calibre.

Total War: Three Kingdoms isn’t the first game to spark conversation about Chinese culture in video games, either. Two weeks ago Canada-based Nupixo Games released Detective Di: The Silk Rose Murders. The point-and-click thriller, which generated support through a US$13,000 crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, elicited similar emotions among some gamers in China.

"Our cultural export relies on foreigners. I don't see a problem with this," one person sarcastically commented in response to the game's release.

Even as China increasingly gets attention abroad for new media like the blockbuster film Wandering Earth, gamers in the country remain frustrated with the lack of domestic games that have global appeal.

"China is a notoriously second-rate purveyor of its own cultural heritage to audiences abroad," said Charlie Moseley, founder of Chengdu Gaming Federation.

Moseley said that even though he has a great appreciation for Chinese history, he grew up playing Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which was developed by Japanese company Koei. Chinese developers seem to have little interest in mining Chinese history for gaming content, according to Moseley.

“I have pitched games set in China many times to Chinese colleagues, and they almost unanimously voice disinterest,” he said.

This doesn’t mean games based on Chinese history are scarce in China. In fact, the martial arts wuxia genre remains one of the biggest gaming genres there. Still, none of China’s domestic games drawing on its own history have generated the level of hype surrounding Total War: Three Kingdoms.

A major reason for this is the state of China’s gaming industry today. Chinese gaming companies have less experience in development and have spent the last few years focusing on pay-to-win mobile games, according to Edward Li, co-founder of Hong Kong-based gaming company Twitchy Finger.

For these reasons, “Chinese-made games often lacked the gameplay, storytelling and cohesion that makes Western or Japanese games so popular internationally,” he said.

It’s also possible, according to Li, that game developers in China have less interest in the Three Kingdoms era simply because of familiarity. Chinese developers would rather focus on other source material such as Chinese mythologies and wuxia novels, he said. This content is not as widely known to gamers overseas and therefore could have less appeal.

Even so, Li said he believes Chinese developers will start making their mark globally in the near future as more companies look at moving beyond the domestic market. This could be spurred by the regulatory burden on publishing games in China, where each new game requires its own license.