Culture clash: Why Arena of Valor is struggling in America

It's impossible to argue that Tencent's Honor of Kings isn't the biggest mobile game in the world right now.

In 2017, the mobile MOBA generated $1.9 billion in revenue and boasted 200 million active players in China alone. It became the focus of a new esports initiative called the King Pro League (KPL). Younger players even had their play time restricted by Tencent in July last year after government concerns about its impact.

Yet in the west, its sister title Arena of Valor is disappointingly plodding along. 


According to Sensor Tower, the game has taken six months to cross the one million install mark on both Google Play and the App Store in the country. 
据Sensor Tower(移动应用数据分析公司)称,该游戏花了6个月时间才拿下美国Google Play和App Store 100万的安装量。

Furthermore, it's only generated $3 million to date - less than Honor of Kings does in a single day domestically.

Why then is Arena of Valor struggling in the US? 

Partially, it's a victim to market trends, but mostly it's a game lost in translation. By being stripped of China's unique cultural and market context, Arena of Valor lost much of what made Honor of Kings work, and has suffered in the process.


Arena of Valor's comparative lack of success in the US market is not entirely down to an unfortunate release date. Instead, we can only understand its problems by looking at where Honor of Kings succeeded in China instead.

First, Honor of Kings genre choice fits much more naturally with the Chinese market than with the American market.

While MOBAs are popular in the US, in China they're a gaming phenomenon. Honor of Kings' enormous audience is complemented by Riot's League of Legends, which last reported an active player base of over 111 million players.

This market fit has benefitted Honor of Kings significantly. 

By tapping into an already engaged audience with a mobile equivalent of a PC experience, it was well placed to both expand rapidly and follow a similar commercial direction to its PC counterpart.



Second, Honor of Kings benefits because it is tapped much more closely into China's mobile infrastructure. 

Although Arena of Valor uses Facebook to connect players, Honor of Kings' connection with Tencent's QQ and WeChat goes much deeper than idle sharing. 

Instead, Tencent's exceedingly popular chat apps - each boasting hundreds of millions of users - fully power the social aspect of the game by allowing players to see who is online, invite players to games and discuss strategies.

Both services act, in essence, like a platform to drive engagement and push up its player bases.