S: Hello, everyone. Welcome to CBN Friday Special, I’m Stephanie Li.
E: Hi. I am Erin.
S: Erin, could you help me with something? I’m kinda stuck.
E: Sure. What is it?
S: Ehh! I’ve been playing a new pass-through mini game "Yang Le Ge Yang”, or “Sheep A Sheep” in English, on WeChat for the past two days, and it seems like I can NEVER get pass the second level! It’s so frustrating. What’s going on with this game?
E: Oh dear! There’s nothing I could do to help you, because the game is famous for its “hard fun”. According to the official introduction, this is an ultra-difficult mini game to clear and eliminate with a clearance rate of less than 0.1%.
S: Yeah. I think it’s time for me to give up and stop playing before I got too addicted.
E: Well, good for you. “Sheep A Sheep” has swept the social media recently, occupying hot searches on Weibo. In just a few days, the topic #Sheep A Sheep# has been read 20 billion times. The game is created by a startup game company Beijing Jianyou Technology. So far, the game's official account has accumulated more than 160,000 followers on China's biggest micro blogging site Sina Weibo. The game's WeChat Index, an indicator of a keyword's popularity on Tencent's super messaging app, surged by nearly 65 percent in about a week. So Stephanie, what makes it such an internet frenzy?
S: Well, the instant success of the game may lie in the fun of the sharp contrast of simple rules and the actual difficulty to clear the game. The gameplay is to find three of the same patterns in the overlapping squares and place them in a lowercase slot to eliminate them. The maximum of seven cards can be stored in the car slot. The homepage of the game also sets up a player ranking list to rank players in different regions. After the game is cleared, players can check the regional rankings.
E: Yes. The seemingly simple rules has made countless players obsessed. The first level begins very simple, but the difficulty increases sharply after entering the second level, which directly stimulates the players’ strong desire to win. Currently, the game has just three levels, and most people could easily clear level one but then stuck at the second round forever. Many players repeatedly restart the challenge, trying to find the law of it. Some netizens even reportedly said that they have played it for more than 1000 times a day.
S: While "Sheep A Sheep” has become a national online sensation in China over just a few days, but it also aroused controversy over its likely profitability and game rules. Experts and players have mostly summarised the game's success using the term "hard fun," which means challenging users' desire to win the game.
E: Psychologists said that the tentative criteria for gaming disorder include tolerance, or an increasing need for gaming; deception about the amount of one’s gaming; and failed attempts to control one’s gaming. “Sheep A Sheep” have obviously got players addicted.
Let’s dig a litter deeper in the psychological pattern of game addiction:
First, “Sheep A Sheep” uses freemium revenue model. Technically, “Sheep A Sheep” is free. But once people get addicted to it and want to progress quickly with “props”, they will need to watch or interact with ads. This is In-app advertising (IAA), a popular monetising strategy for app developers, in which app developers get paid to serve ads on their app. IAA improves user retention and in-app engagement.
Second, the setting of the game makes players integrate with social platforms. When people clear tough levels in the game, they’ll want to show off their accomplishments or ranking on their social networks. Or when they run out of lives or props, they will send game requests to their friends, doing free marketing for the game.
Third, scientific studies have shown that addictions flood our brains with the neurotransmitter hormone dopamine, the substance that makes us feel happy. Dopamine levels go low when not playing and people crave to go back to their smartphones and play. And by adding new levels and conquests, the game developer offer new challenges. This helps retain users and makes sure they keep coming back for more.
S: Impressive! Despite its early success, discussions around the blockbuster game have also mirrored some controversies linked to China's flourishing mini-game industry, such as collection of user data, originality and triggering defraud. For example, some players are not satisfied with the game's rule that a user has to register his name and personal ID number before starting, especially when they’re not sure for what purpose the company is collecting personal information.
E: Another doubt surrounding "Sheep A Sheep" is its profitability model. The "Sheep A Sheep" is also currently playable for free, but it has designed the game rules in ways to attract advertisers. For example, users are required to watch in-app adverts to win more powerful tools in the matching process. It has been calculated that players have to watch ads for 75 minutes for 50 rounds of game and 150 minutes for 100 rounds based on 3 props and 90-second ads per round. Some netizens called it a “fraudulent” game. Indeed, it is not reasonable to keep players watching ads so long.
Users are also encouraged to share the game on social media in exchange for desired tools to aid their play, which also helps increase digital reach and may also attract advertisers.
According to a media report, the game has yet not acquired an official game version number, a factor which might discourage potential investors given an increased level of risk.
Game developers are flocking to China's game market, while the release of game licenses is relatively slow. In terms of overall national regulation, the tightening of game licenses plays a role in improving the quality of games and reducing instances of poor quality gaming products.
S: The sustainability of the game is key to attracting financing. At present, relying on advertising to achieve revenue is basically the profit model of all games on mini programs, as players are unlikely to pay in the game.
However, whether the game's popularity can last to sustain advertisement income is also a question raised by observers. Small games contain no technical or patent barriers, so it is hard to maintain their popularity for a long time, analysts said.
Besides, the game's explosive popularity has also attracted regulatory attention. The tag-on service to help pass the game, pricing from 10 to 30 yuan each time, has even become an illicit business opportunity on the internet. The Ministry of Public Security recently cautioned on its Weibo account that some criminals would disguise as the game's customer service personnel to sell game tools and other services to users, urging players to be careful of unauthorised interactions during play.
E: With the repeated emergence of trendsetting mini games like "Sheep A Sheep" and “Kai Xin Xiao Xiao Le” (or “Anipop”), the WeChat games ecosystem has increasingly gained public attention and is growing at a rapid speed.
According to a report published by Tencent Advertising and DataEye recently, WeChat mini games achieved more than 30 percent of commercial growth in 2021, a third consecutive year of high growth. "Mini games have become a new space and new opportunity for China's mobile game industry," the report noted.
The report also showed that so far there are more than 100,000 developers building mini games. The trend reflects a highlight in China's competitive and increasingly saturated game industry in general, which showed sort of bottleneck in recent time as of a result of tightening authority oversight and economic slowdown.
The gaming industry's combined revenue declined 1.8% to 147.7 billion yuan in the six months ended June, according to a report published by the China Audio-Video and Digital Publishing Association recently. This marks the first drop since the data began being published in 2008.
The number of Chinese game users also dropped by 0.13 percent to about 666 million people in the first half of this year, the report noted.
S: So far, there are not many small game companies in China that have achieved profitability, with most still relying on advertising or outsourcing to make money. Thus, the lifespan of most small game companies is usually short-lived. Some experts suggest that small in-app games could multiply profit models by pivoting from solely relying on advertising, to selling by-products such as game tools or developing e-commerce functions.
And that’s it for today. See you next time.
让《羊了个羊》获得大范围关注的重点，还在于其难度极高的第二关。该款游戏不同关卡间难度曲线设置得极其反常，不同于传统游戏惯用的“渐进式”加难度策略，它笔直地直接把难度推到最高。从第二关开始，就是真正的考验，反复尝试失败 20 余次的玩家大有人在，甚而有玩家在第二关失败成百上千次。再加上游戏宣传“通关比例不足0.1%”，引发了网友“不服气”的挑战心理和胜负欲，刺激着玩家们不断重复游玩这个游戏，使游戏在微信中引发了裂变式的传播。另外，《羊了个羊》营造了一种“竞赛氛围”，它以用户所在省份为单位，将同一省份的用户自动归入同一代表队，并在首页展示各省份通关人数和先后排名，鼓励玩家“为省争光”，激发玩家斗志。
Executive Editor: Sonia YU
Editor: LI Yanxia
Host: Stephanie LI, HUANG Yuyan
Writer: Stephanie LI, HUANG Yuyan
Sound Editor: HUANG Yuyan
Graphic Designer: ZHENG Wenjing, LIAO Yuanni
Produced by 21st Century Business Herald Dept. of Overseas News.
Presented by SFC