Tencent Holdings' Honour of Kings and Peacekeeper Elite have long dominated China's game charts, but a new title by a little known developer has surpassed the blockbuster games to become the most downloaded in the country recently.
Werewolf Among Us, a Chinese clone of the popular American video game Among Us , shot to the top of the free game chart on Apple's App Store on Monday, according to app tracking firm Qimai Data.
Developed by Shenzhen Youliang Technology and launched on October 28, the Chinese clone claimed the top spot with 116,000 downloads on Apple's App Store in the country on November 2, compared with Honour of Kings' and Peacekeeper Elite's 112,000 and 111,000 downloads respectively, according to Qimai. Since its launch, the game has been downloaded on the App Store more than 478,000 times, Qimai data showed.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
It is one of several Chinese copies rushing into the market as Innersloth's Among Us becomes one of the biggest gaming sensations this year.
In most countries including China, intellectual property law mainly protects the art, the characters and the story of a game but not its gameplay mechanics. As a result, video game clones or reskinned games are available around the world, but in China - where many Western games are unavailable or delayed - this is especially common.
Tencent's most successful mobile game, Honour of Kings, was initially seen by many as a clone of globally popular multiplayer online battle arena game League of Legends. NetEase's marquee shooting mobile game Knives Out, meanwhile, was very similar to PC-based battle royale game PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds when it was launched.
Earlier this year, when PC games such as Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout and Party Animals were the biggest headlines in video games, many companies also attempted to release mobile clones of those two games.
Among Us, free to play on mobile and PC, pits players against each other by assigning them roles as either "crewmates" or "impostors" on a spaceship. Crewmates have to try to root out the impostors while completing a number of tasks, while impostors attempt to sabotage or murder crewmates before they can win the game by completing all their assigned tasks.
The game was launched in June 2018 but only became a viral sensation during the Covid-19 pandemic in the summer of 2020. Last month, US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attracted more than 435,000 viewers around the world in one Twitch live-stream where she played the game - it was one of the most-watched streams ever recorded. Among Us is also wildly popular in South Korea, where numerous celebrities such as AleXa and members of popular groups like Exo, Twice and Day6 are known to play it.
According to developer Innersloth, the game has been downloaded over 100 million times worldwide and had 60 million daily active users by the end of September.
Chinese players were initially slow to warm up to Among Us, with some remarking that it is just another version of in-person party game Werewolf, which is already immensely popular in the country.
But despite this and the fact that the game is not available in Chinese - the current languages are English, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean and Russian - Among Us is now the 10th most downloaded game in the country. According to Qimai, the game has been downloaded about 885,000 times in the last three months in China, where it is available on the App Store as well as on Steam, an online shop that continues to operate in a legal grey area in the mainland.
" Among Us is actually very effective in attracting downloads," said Zheng Jintiao, co-founder of online media outlet GamerBoom. "It's better than many games with a dedicated user acquisition budget. It shows that many people are following the trend."
However, Zheng said the game's user experience is "not ideal" for Chinese gamers because of the language barrier and network issues.
And it has an army of Chinese language copycats to contend with. Werewolf Among Us, the most popular of the lot, has cloned the map and gameplay mechanic of the original with the only difference being the setting of the game: Among Us in space; Werewolf Among Us in a medieval castle.
Another notable Among Us clone from China is Space Kill, a mobile game developed by Beijing Renzhi Information Technology which has been downloaded more than 251,000 times on iOS and now ranks 11th in the free entertainment category of the App Store, according to Qimai.
"For any Among Us-like games, so long as they have a Chinese language option, there will be downloads no matter how terrible the game may be," he said. "But I think this kind of games won't be copied by big companies because they are hard to monetise in China."
More from South China Morning Post:
- Tencent says Honour of Kings becomes first game to average over 100mn daily users across any platform
- Genshin Impact rakes in US$245 million in first month, ending Tencent's stranglehold on mobile games
- Tencent's answer to World of Warcraft made US$50 million in China in just one week
- Tencent's Call of Duty: Mobile launches in China with 50 million sign-ups and Jay Chou's endorsement
- Video game live-streaming giants Huya and DouYu are merging, giving Tencent control of a US$10 billion industry behemoth