CBN Friday Special丨How “Sheep A Sheep” becomes a social media frenzy and why

China Business Now李莹亮,实习生黄雨嫣 2022-09-23 19:59

感受中国泛经济脉搏,畅谈最新最有趣的商业话题。

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. 

你今天“羊了个羊”了吗?

最近,消除类小游戏《羊了个羊》成为当之无愧的大热门。上线两天服务器崩了3次,游戏团队不得不紧急发布招聘寻找后端开发做维护。

《羊了个羊》本质上是一款非常简单的消除类游戏。玩家需要拖动页面上的相同卡牌至下方消除框。消除框内共有7个位置,一旦集齐3张相同的卡牌,就可以自动消除。页面上所有的卡牌均被消除,视为游戏胜利。

该款游戏瞄准了年轻一代学生和上班族,游戏门槛低,无需下载,极易上手,很适合在闲暇时或通勤路上消磨时间。而这个人群又是互联网重度用户,无论通关与否都会在社交媒体上分享,产生UGC内容,引爆传播。

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。

《羊了个羊》的火爆和关卡难度甚至催生了灰色产链条——有人开始在社交平台兜售游戏外挂和代刷服务,价格在10元到30元不等。

《羊了个羊》在难度设置和游戏设定方面的成瘾机制,成功把控玩家心理,增加用户粘性。心理专家分析,玩家被虐千万遍,却依旧“初心不改”屡败屡战,这并不仅仅是多巴胺支配的刺激感,同样有着更深层次的驱动因素:在信息爆炸的时代,注意力涣散与情绪的紧张已是常态,在此前提下,一款让人全身心投入的游戏以及它所带来的强烈、连续而无害的“挫败感”,构成了精神与心理层面的某种调适。

目前,微信小游戏从变现形式上主要分为IAP(内购付费)、IAA(广告变现)、IAP+IAA(混合变现)三类。IAA目前是大部分休闲游戏的主要变现模式。IAA类游戏结合微信小游戏即点即玩的特点,对应用户的泛休息娱乐需求,整体覆盖的群体规模大,扩宽了传统手游的边界。而且因为通过看广告获得收益通常会被玩家认为是“免费”的,从而更容易被更多玩家接受。

具体来看,《羊了个羊》暂未获得版号,游戏不含内购,所以其变现主要靠广告。《羊了个羊》为玩家提供了4 种道具,用户可以通过“观看广告视频”和“分享到微信好友”的方式获取道具,获得道具需要玩家看30秒广告。有用户估算,按照正常一局使用3个道具测算,一局需要看1分半的广告,这意味着,玩50局要看75分钟广告,玩100局,要看2个半小时广告,玩500局,要看12个半小时广告。随着玩家数量和观看次数的直线攀升,广告收益将会非常可观。有玩家直称其是“诈骗游戏”,故意设置高难度,以此诱导玩家分享或看广告“续命”;有玩家认为其植入广告,背后满是“套路”。

如果游戏开发者通过设计大概率的“死局”来吸引用户,快速扩展与变现流量,就会失去对游戏质量和创意的探求。而对于用户来说,微信小游戏的意义是娱乐、新颖和社交。游戏开发者需要重新审视流量和内容之间的关系,用质量和创意留住用户,否则爆款游戏也只能是昙花一现。

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

编委:  于晓娜

策划、编辑:李艳霞 

播音:李莹亮

撰稿:李莹亮、黄雨嫣

音频制作:黄雨嫣

设计:郑文静、廖苑妮

21世纪经济报道海外部 制作

南方财经全媒体集团  出品

(作者:李莹亮,实习生黄雨嫣 编辑:李艳霞)