Tencent (TCEHY), the largest digital games publisher in China, has confirmed that it will extend beyond traditional video games this year by launching ‘Serious Games’ with the primary purpose of solving real world issues. Serious Games are not a new concept, the Serious Games Association has held a conference every year since 2014 and since then they have given out awards to over 130 serious games. These games focus on solutions for sectors such as education, science, health and other industries. Educational games account for 43% of the total.
One example of a serious game is ‘Sea Hero Quest’, developed by Glitchers. The game was designed to help scientists fight dementia, a disease that affects 45 million people worldwide. Playing the game for 2 minutes generates the equivalent of 5 hours of lab-based research data. Another game is Ubisoft’s ‘Dig Rush’, which aims to help users with amblyopia train their eyes in order to improve coordination. Around 90% of patients that played the game saw improvements, compared to 25% of patients that saw improvements via other traditional treatments. Ubisoft also recently launched the ‘Assassin’s Creed: Origins Discovery Tour’ which is an educational game that allows users to explore and learn about Ancient Egypt.
Tencent plans to release similar games across five unique categories: Traditional Culture, Educational Knowledge, Science and Engineering, Popular Science and Parent-Child Interaction. Whilst these games will help others solve real world issues, Tencent will also be able to use the data to improve and grow its business. Tencent will release 5 serious games initially, most of which are in the educational knowledge and traditional culture categories. More games in the other categories are set to launch later this year. The five games are:
1. Mortise & Tenon (榫卯) – A 3D game that teaches users about traditional Chinese architectural skills.
2. Chinese Folding Fan (折扇)- A 3D game that teaches users about traditional Chinese art skills.
3. Epistory (纸境奇缘) – A game that teaches typing skills. The game is developed by Fishing Cactus and was originally published on Steam in 2016. Tencent will publish this game in China.
4. Euclidean geometry (欧式几何) – A mobile game developed by Horis that teaches users about geometric knowledge. Tencent will publish this game in China.
5. An untitled game that educates users about the traditional culture of ethnic minorities in Northern China.
Tencent’s gaming business targets mid-core to hard-core games for the mobile and PC platforms. Recently, the company has been making moves to expand its games business via indie games publishing, WeChat Mini Games and now Serious Games to grow both the number of users and total revenue. Tencent themselves note that the serious games business is currently in its infancy in China but estimate that the market will be worth $5.5 billion globally in 2020.
The move comes as Tencent has begun taking a number of steps to increase its social responsibility in the gaming space. Regulators and associations promote a healthy video game environment in China, an environment that promotes socialist core values and does not encourage negative elements such as addiction and cheating. Tencent has been blasted in the past by media, regulators and parents for not doing enough in this space. One example is the big media outrage last year over how Tencent was allowing children to become addicted to games such as Honor of Kings and how the game was promoting a distorted view of Chinese history.
In July 2017, Tencent decided to promote a healthy gaming environment by restricting the number of hours that minors could play in the game. Users under 12 years old could only play 1 hour per day before 9pm and users between 13 and 17 could only play 2 hours per day. The company also started a web video series that looked at each character in the game and explained the real history of these characters, something the game didn’t do. Tencent also introduced its Game Growth Protection Platform that allowed parents to monitor and control the amount of time and money their children could spend on Tencent mobile games.
Tencent continues to evolve and add to its own business lines, helping grow its already enormous revenue and market share both at home in China and abroad. Expanding into the Serious Games industry will allow Tencent to provide valuable game experiences for society to further promote the positive impact that games can have on an individual’s quality of life.