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How to localize your app in Chinese

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How to localize your app in Chinese

China has become the world’s biggest app market with revenues of $544 million in 2020 and a 6% YOY growth. Localizing your apps and games into Chinese then becomes an increasing priority. So, what do you need to take into account when localizing your app/game for the Chinese market? We’ve gathered for you all the information and tips you need to know to localize your app/game successfully.


Mobile Landscape in China

iOS versus Google Play

The Chinese mobile market is very different from any other market. While the Apple App Store is present and operational in China, Google Play is blocked which makes it more difficult for apps/games to reach Android users. Still, Android devices dominate the local market with the number of Android users much greater than iOS. So how to make your app/game available for Android users in China?

Well, with Google Play officially not working in China, there are over 200 local alternative Android app stores (Top 20 covering almost 90% of the market). Each of these stores has its own distinctive features and tools for content promotion on its platform so in order to localize your Android app for China, you’ll have to negotiate with each store individually. Here we have listed the top 5 most popular Chinese app stores:

  • Myapp
  • 360 Mobile Assistant
  • Baidu Market
  • Huawei App Market
  • Oppo Software Store

Despite there being more Android users than iOS users, it is still very profitable for app developers to be present on the Apple App Store as iOS users have a much stronger spending power than Android users. But even though listing an iOS app in China is pretty much the same as in other parts of the world, Western developers in China still prefer to partner with local studios to enter the market.

Top Apps & Games

Local apps dominate the market in China and many Chinese users don’t like apps that look too “Western” or have very little knowledge about the latest trends outside their country. Still, that doesn’t mean Western apps don’t stand a chance. When having a look at the top charts we see publishers like Supercell, Voodoo and Supersonic in the Games - Action Category and Picsart in the Photo & Video Category.

Top 10 Apps and Games in China

China is a hard market to crack and Chinese users people are very picky and exigent so it is very important to adapt your app to the local culture in order to make it feel like it was actually made for China. So to help you we have listed the different elements to keep in mind when localizing your app/game into Chinese.

Language

Chinese is a very concise language that generally does not require much space and therefore words in Chinese consist of much less number of characters than in English (requires 30 % less space). Still, Chinese characters are very complex so it is recommended to use a larger text font in your in-app/game text.

There are two different types of Chinese available to choose from on both app stores: Simplified Chinese (zh-CN) and Traditional Chinese Taiwan (zh-TW). Whether to use one or the other depends on the region you want to target as the language spoken differs from a region to another. For instance, in Mainland China, Singapore and Malaysia Simplified characters are mostly used whereas in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau the Traditional one is used.

Also, if your target users that are younger, using Traditional characters might not be that effective because those users often dislike reading Traditional characters especially the ones in Mainland China. Still, Mainland users are able to read Traditional characters so in this case which type of Chinese to use for your app/game?

Well, as most users in Mainland China prefer Simplified Chinese nowadays, we recommend defaulting your app/game to that. Still if possible, offering the possibility in your app for users to be able to choose between the two different Chinese characters might increase your outreach and retention rate.

Finally, Chinese like complex expressions and have different expectations when it comes to writing styles so it is important to use human translation to make sure your message is appropriate for the target audience.

Note: It is recommended to work with a native speaker for the translation because many elements need to be taken into consideration in the translation process including cultural and lingual specifics as well as, font selection and size for example.

Metadata

Title and Subtitle

It is advised to translate your title when you enter the Chinese market. In fact, popular international brands/games such as Angry Birds and Subway Surfers have kept their original names in all markets except for China.

However, be very careful and work with a local translator as too literal translations of your title can be confusing (they don’t sound like the original English name). And phonetic translations don’t always resonate with your brand image as they might have a different meaning or negative connotation. Other apps and games choose a title that highlights the core gameplay and features that are the most appealing to the target user.

In the app store we often see that international apps choose a careful phonetic translation but add their english brand name in between brackets.

Apps and Games titles in China

For games in particular, it is recommended to rename your game and keep the title under 5 Chinese Characters, as it makes it easier to pronounce and remember which then positively impacts downloads.

As for keywords to add in the title and subtitle, like in English it is recommended to always use your most relevant Chinese keywords in the title. Also, when adding keywords whether in the title or the subtitle, you don’t have to add indents or spaces between the hieroglyphs. And most importantly you should be careful when combining hieroglyphs as some combinations might be ambiguous.

Long Description

When it comes to the long description, Chinese users usually do not want to read it because it is too long. Instead they prefer to watch the video, screenshots, and/or gameplay for the games.

So when writing your long description, use bullet lists rather than long paragraphs because it makes it easier and less time consuming for them to grasp what the app/game is about.

Long description US versus China

Also, it is recommended to highlight social proof in the long description such as awards received, the number of players reached, the number of levels available and more as these elements increase users’ trust and value perception to the game/app. In fact, Chinese users are positively influenced by these elements when deciding whether to download an app/games. So make sure to put as many pertinent social proof elements as possible in your long description.

Creatives

When it comes to creative assets including icons, screenshots, videos and app previews, Chinese have a preference for bright and cluttered creatives rather than minimalist design like in the West.

When updating your screenshots it is recommended to increase saturation and remove dark colors (brown, grey, etc..) especially for games.

Also, it is very important to make sure that your creatives and the text/keywords on them align with the cultural elements and beliefs of the local market such as having Chinese game characters or Chinese UI models. But let’s look further at some tips specifics to each element:

Icon

When it comes to games, very often the icon of the game reflects a game character. Even when looking at the top games in the Card Category, a category that is not often associated in the West with a storyline or characters, in the Chinese market we see that 9 out of the top 10 apps display a character in their icon.

Top 10 games in Card Game Category in China vs US

When comparing the use of characters in China vs the United States we see that they are in general more realistic or less cartoon-style like. Designers in China use a lot of thin lines and details in their icons in comparison to the US.

Top 10 Games in Simulation category in China vs US

When it comes to apps, similarly as in the Western world we see that often logos or brand names are displayed in the app icon. But the Chinese branding and logos often have a different look and feel than in the Western world. For example, since brand names can sometimes be reduced to 2 or 3 characters, the logo and app icon represent the full brand name.

Top 10 Apps in Shopping category in China versus US

Very important to keep in mind as well when designing your app icon is the meaning of the color (see below for more info). In Chinese the colour red is associated with money and prosperity, hence most apps in the shopping category use the colour red or a close variation of it.

Screenshots

Screenshots of apps in the Chinese app stores tend to be cluttered, very bright (even for apps/games with a dark theme), full of easy to understand text/subtitles and links that show users all the features and functions.

Also, Chinese have a preference for customized text boxes in each screenshot along with a colorful and cute design less common in the Western markets. Generally, five or six screenshots are used to feature the brand image.

Screenshots China versus US

For games in particular, if the content has already been localized, you should present it in your screenshots. For example for games, this can be Asian characters (facial features, wardrobe, etc…) or appealing animal representations in China such as Chinese dragons and pandas. Cultural elements such as symbols or architectures such as the Great Wall or Forbidden City should be highlighted on the creatives and video if any.

Other Design Tips

Colors

The color selection is crucial as colors have a clear meaning in China that is different from the West. For example, Red represents joy and welfare and therefore is often used as a background color while, white represents death which is preferably better to avoid. But in general, Chinese tend to use bright colors and avoid low saturation.

Chinese color guide

QR Codes

The use of QR codes is very popular and the majority of the apps/games in the Chinese App Stores have used them to link to promotions or to display interesting features. These can be used by integrating them into your app/game to either show users promotions and deals or to lead users to other Social Networks pages. For instance, the Chinese Social Network app Renren has integrated animated visual QR codes in order to entertain users and strengthen their engagement with the app.

Social Sharing Ability

Social Sharing Ability on screenshots happens to be very effective in China. Top Chinese apps in the app stores use some sort of social sharing ability in their screenshots to make their app also visible and searchable on the web. However, many major Western social platforms are banned by the Chinese government such as Facebook and Twitter so keep this in mind when adding a social network to boost engagement. Some great options allowed in China to integrate social into your app/game are WeChat and Weibo, as well as the Chinese version of Twitter and Whatsapp.

Sensitive Topics

Some topics are negatively received in the Chinese culture. It is recommended to avoid displaying elements such as blood, skeletons, skulls and drugs and any bad behaviours including sexual, drinking, gambling and others. Politics is also a sensitive topic along with defaming the Chinese government. All these topics need to be avoided to avoid being banned from the app stores.

Note: Apps in China tend to pop up and disappear overnight, so we recommend updating your app/game at least every 2-3 weeks. It is very important to keep your app/game continuously up-to-date in order to stay relevant in the Chinese market as it is a fast paced and very exigent market. In fact, apps/games that are frequently updated tend to be more relevant and drive more positive reviews from users.


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