Dr. Elaine J. ZHAO

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, Queensland University of Technology, Australia

Beyond the Game of Cat and Mouse: Challenges of Discoverability and Piracy in Mobile Gaming Market

Mobile game apps have become increasingly popular among users as a form of mobile entertainment with the increasing diffusion of smartphones and a growing range of app stores. This emerging market has attracted both old and new industry players, including established internet giants and independent entrepreneurs at home and abroad. While the opening of Apple’s App Store in 2008 gave independent developers unprecedented access to the worldwide market and spurred the app gold rush, the relatively more open nature of the Android platform has further provided greater scope for cultural and economic innovation. In spite of this, a growing portfolio of content across various distribution channels presents serious challenges to developers, including the issues of discoverability and piracy.

This article examines the emerging mobile gaming industry in China, where the complicated landscape of app stores and persistent piracy culture exacerbates challenges for developers. By mapping out the mobile gaming ecosystem from the supply side, the article reveals its implications for content discoverability. It then analyzes the strategies adopted by domestic and international developers to address the issue of content discoverability and the impact on the mobile gaming ecosystem. The article then approaches the demand side by examining the piracy cultures in mobile media and game consumption in China. Following that, it looks at the case of Rovio Mobile, Finnish developer behind Angry Birds, who is experimenting with innovative strategies in the dynamic field in China to turn piracy on its head.

Drawing this analysis together, this article sheds light on the implications of piracy in circulation, access, and branding of content. It concludes that an alternative thinking towards piracy assumes wider significance in social network markets where many creative industries belong, especially in the context of weak copyright enforcement, poor content discoverability, and increasing adoption of freemium business models.