ByteDance, the world’s most valuable start-up, is ramping up recruitment for its video games business, months after acquiring a Shanghai-based developer, in a move that could intensify its rivalry with Tencent Holdings.

There were more than 210 gaming-related jobs posted by ByteDance on the career page of its website as of Friday, according to a search conducted by the South China Morning Post on the same day. Openings for another 31 positions were found to be targeted at qualified college students or recent university graduates.

Zhang Yiming, founder and chief executive of ByteDance, continues to expand his company’s ecosystem of products and services, with recent forays into online search, mobile games and even smartphones. (Picture: Bloomberg)

That number was up from about 60 job vacancies – including experienced game developers, designers and producers – that were posted by the Beijing-based tech unicorn in July this year, following its acquisition of mobile game developer Mokun Technology in March.

Successful applicants to those gaming-related positions will be based in first-tier Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hangzhou. A ByteDance spokeswoman declined to comment on the company’s latest hiring program.

“The biggest advantage for ByteDance in entering the gaming sector is its large user base,” said Turian Tan, a gaming market analyst at research firm IDC China.

Tan is referring to users of popular ByteDance products, led by video-sharing app Douyin – which has the widely adopted TikTok as its international version – and news aggregator app Jinri Toutiao. He said these users “could help them have a more effective distribution channel,” but did not elaborate.

In June, ByteDance said it recorded 1 billion monthly active users of its apps globally as of January this year.

The latest initiative by ByteDance, which relies mostly on advertising revenue from its core content business, shows how China’s major internet companies are competing aggressively in building ecosystems, consisting of various platforms that can host multiple services to attract new users and keep their existing audience.

Founded by former engineer Zhang Yiming in 2012, ByteDance was reportedly valued at US$78 billion last year on the back of TikTok’s rapid international expansion. In seven years, the company has grown to rival Tencent and Baidu as a major player in the country’s vast internet market.

ByteDance’s Douyin, for example, has already integrated external online shopping links from Alibaba Group Holding’s Taobao Marketplace and Tmall platforms. Alibaba is the parent company of the Post.

In August, ByteDance announced via social media that it was building a general search engine – a development that could threaten online search giant Baidu. In the same month, ByteDance took another crack at breaking Tencent’s grip on social networking in China by introducing a group chat within Douyin.

Earlier in January, the company launched a new video-based social messaging service, Duoshan, that it hoped to become as popular an everyday mobile app in China as Tencent’s WeChat.

Before it was acquired by ByteDance, Mokun already developed a three-dimensional mobile game with a classical theme of the Three Kingdoms, a period in China’s history when it was divided between the states of Wei, Shu and Wu. That game was distributed by Shenzhen-based Tencent, the world’s largest video games publisher by revenue.

In February, Douyin unveiled a leisure game called Music Jumping Ball that is played within the short video app. Douyin also allows third-party game developers to release their titles in the app.

IDC’s Tan indicated that ByteDance faces stiff competition in China’s video games market, which is currently the world’s biggest. “There might be some new popular games, but it is very hard to disrupt the whole market,” he said.

To be sure, ByteDance has plenty of catching up to do. Tencent and NetEase were again ranked as the world’s top-grossing mobile games publishers last month, according to a report by app analytics firm Sensor Tower on Thursday. It said Tencent recorded revenue of more than US$599 million in September, up 30% from the same month last year. NetEase, headquartered in Guangzhou, followed with revenue of more than US$256 million, an 11% increase from last year.

Still, there is room to grow in China. The country is forecast to reach US$36.5 billion in games revenue this year, according to industry analytics firm Newzoo. It said China’s nine-month licensing freeze on new games last year, as well as ongoing measures to reduce screen time among children, will continue to affect the market this year because mobile games are dependent on a steady stream of new titles.