Beijing-based games development agency Yodo1 has closed a $2 million seed round, led by China-based the Chang You Fund, to help it partner and work with US app and games developers that are looking to launch titles in China.

China’s smartphone market is huge, ranking as the world’s largest based on shipment volumes and device activation numbers, yet few Western firms have the understanding or knowledge to take advantage of that opportunity.

Founded last year and now out of stealth mode, Yodo1 is stepping into the breach to act as the bridge to bring Western games and apps into China but, beyond simply distribution, Yodo1 is adding intelligence and expertise to help the titles genuinely succeed, and developers derive revenue from the complicated market.

Yodo1 handles a range of services for developers, including cultural adaption, game distribution, monetisation, payment gateways and, importantly, piracy and IP issues.

On the creative side of things, the firm is a design agency itself and it boasts a full games development studio in-house and a staff of 60, which includes iOS and Android developers, marketers, graph designers and others.

The company is currently working with four major US development studios. The firm monetises its partnerships by agreeing revenue sharing deals but it does not take any fees upfront, CEO Henry Fong told The Next Web.

“We partner and work for success, and will invest in developing and designing games to optimise them for success in China.”

Launching ‘Hero Academy’

Alongside the announcement of its first funding, Yodo1 has also revealed the launch of its first ‘major’ title, which will see a fully Chinese version of Robot Entertainment’s ‘Hero Academy‘ introduced in the country.

hero academy png8 hero Beijing based Yodo1 grabs $2m to help US game developers crack ChinaThe startup has a launched a couple of minor games with Digital Chocolate, but the new launch is a prime example of the work that Yodo1 does, Fong says, as every aspect of the title has been tweaked to help it adapt to and succeed in China’s unique market.

The Chinese version of the fantasy game features an entirely overhauled cast, including Chinese characters — like Shaolin monks and flying swordsmen — while the title integrates social sharing with Sina Weibo and other leading Chinese social networks, allowing Chinese gamers to hook up with friends and other Web users.

This approach is entirely necessary if Western games are to succeed in China and gain traction and popularity among Chinese Internet users, Fong explains in a blog post, ‘Who The Hell is King Arthur’:

An important and often success defining element for a game is how deeply the gamer can relate to the overarching theme of the game. People from different cultures have grown up with certain cultural, historical or mythical characters and themes that folks from other cultures simply cannot relate to. Just as western gamers may have grown up on a staple diet of Merlin, King Arthur and paper/dice Dungeon & Dragons mixed with pizza & Dr Pepper; Chinese gamers grew up on the epic battles waged by the likes of ZhuGeLiang and ZhaoYun in Three Kingdoms novels. Just as you might wonder who the hell is ZhuGeLiang (or how to pronounce it), Chinese gamers will wonder why some dude pulling a sword from a stone would be crowned King of Britain.

The changes are more than just cosmetic insertions of Chinese cultural figures, however; and often games developers will need to reengineer game mechanics in order to succeed within China’s unique app ecosystem and gaming ethos.

“Chinese games have been trained to play freemium titles from using PCs,” Fong told us. “They download hundreds of titles and, after testing them all, will choose a few they like which they will investment their time and money on.”

Pricing is key

That means that pricing an app at a certain price point, or even at any price at all, can severely affect the reception that it will get among Chinese gamers, such is the reliance on freemium titles and third party app stores that provide content without charge.

Getting the price right, and finding the right aspects of the game to monetise are key factors for success, Fong says.

“Thriving in China’s mobile games industry requires local knowledge and experience, and a deep understanding of the Chinese culture and consumer behavior.  We think Yodo1 is unique because we don’t just promote and publish, but also have a full studio of experienced mobile developers, creative artists and game designers that can quickly adapt Western games to the way that Chinese gamers prefer to play – and more importantly, prefer to pay.”

Distribution and discovery

Distribution is a key part of the process for developers, and Yodo1 handles the tricky issue in China through three distinct partnerships. The startups works with leading independent app stores, distributing apps via mobile carriers — with 660 million subscriber-strong China Mobile a strategic partner — and it also works with handset makers and their app stores, such as Huawei.

logo fish1 Beijing based Yodo1 grabs $2m to help US game developers crack ChinaCovering all three bases, gives Yodo1 developer partners the best of all worlds, alongside the official App Store and Google Play platforms.

Fong has some interesting thoughts on the potential of Android and iOS in the Middle Kingdom, too.

While Android has the lion’s share of user growth — with recent reports charting it at 55 percent of the share of active smartphones — Apple’s iOS remains “the monetisation king”, Fong says.

“Both platforms are interesting to us and developers for different reasons,” he says,” but both are very much key in China.”

Yodo1 is also staking its claim to help solve the issue of discovery, which is one drawback that Chinese Internet and mobile gamers suffer thanks to the sheer range and breadth of app stores.

With that in mind, the firm has launched YoPing, a games review and recommendations website, that it hopes will provide more clarity and a portal through which quality titles can be located.

Looking at the future, Fong told us that he’s been back-to-back booked out with 3/4 investor-related meetings each day for the last six months, giving him little opportunity to mingle with US-based VCs. He anticipates that Yodo1 may take new funding next year and that the company may widen its investor pool to include contributors Stateside.

Certainly, if the company can localize and successfully push out a number of high profile apps in China, then interest from Silicon Valley and other areas will be forthcoming, you’d suspect.

Header image via Flick / remkotanis