How Tencent has used stealth to become a gaming superpower
腾讯如何悄然长成了游戏世界里的超人

大游戏 The great game-书迷号 shumihao.com

TENCENT, THE world’s biggest gaming company, gives away most of its video games for nothing. Lest anyone think that the Chinese tech giant, which has a market value of $580bn, has a heart of gold, think again. It makes most of its gaming sales by encouraging players to buy virtual clothing, weapons, explosives and the like. These are usually cheap but prices increase depending on their cosmetic appeal or effectiveness in blasting an opponent to smithereens. For reasons known only to gamers, they willingly pay. During the lockdown in China, gaming revenues soared.

全球最大的游戏公司腾讯的大部分电子游戏都可以免费玩。如果你就此认为这家市值5800亿美元的中国科技巨头真是良心商家,你得再想想。腾讯游戏收入的大部分都来自鼓励玩家购买虚拟服装、武器、炸药等装备。这些装备通常很便宜,但外观越酷炫,或是将对手炸成碎片的威力越大,价格就越高。玩家出于只有他们这群人才知道的原因心甘情愿地花钱。在中国因疫情封城期间,游戏业务的收入飙升。

在现实世界中,腾讯也采取了同样遍地开花的购买模式,在全球游戏产业中悄然建起桥头堡。今年它入股了两家日本游戏开发商。去年,它取得了芬兰游戏开发商Supercell的控制权,此前它已经在这家公司投资了约86亿美元。它还拥有《英雄联盟》(League of Legends)的发行商、美国的拳头游戏公司(Riot Games)100%的股份,并在过去十年里入股了其他十几家世界最红火的游戏开发商,包括拥有大热游戏《堡垒之夜》(Fortnite)的Epic。报道中国科技公司的《动点科技》(Technode)称,这十年间,腾讯在金融科技和人工智能领域开展了100多项其他投资,尤其是在美国。它在特斯拉、优步、Snapchat和Spotify等家喻户晓的公司都持有股份,还向印度和亚洲其他地区的数字先驱企业大举投资。由于中美关系紧张,公开抵制华为、TikTok等在全球扩张的中资企业已经成了家常便饭,但腾讯却很少面对这些。这从它处理国际游戏业务的独特方式中可以找到一些原因。

Until recently, Tencent’s gaming acquisitions overseas looked more like disparate bets than part of a strategic master-plan, which helped keep them under the radar. That is because Tencent’s main focus has always been China, where WeChat, its chat service-turned-superapp of 1.2bn users, drives traffic for gaming, streaming services such as music and video, digital payments and business services, as well as generating copious advertising. Gaming has long been Tencent’s biggest cash generator. Though its share of revenues is falling as Tencent diversifies into the business market and fintech, its high profitability remains crucial for keeping the wheels of the digital leviathan running. The company controls more than half of China’s $33bn gaming market, and has helped pioneer gaming on smartphones, where China leads the world. For foreign gaming companies that receive its cash, one of the main attractions has been to go into partnership with Tencent to bring their games into China.

直到最近,腾讯在海外的游戏业务收购看上去都更像是一个个互不相干的赌注,而不像是一个大战略的一部分,这帮助它们避开了关注。之所以如此,是因为它的业务重心一直放在中国。在那里微信已经从聊天软件变成了拥有12亿用户的超级应用。除了带来了大量广告业务,它还为游戏、音乐和视频等流媒体服务、数字支付及商业服务增加了流量。长期以来,游戏一直是腾讯最大的摇钱树。尽管随着腾讯向商业市场和金融科技等方面多元化发展,游戏的营收份额有所下降,但其高盈利能力对维持这个数字巨头的运转仍然至关重要。中国游戏市场价值高达330亿美元,腾讯在其中占据了大半江山;它还帮助开拓了智能手机游戏市场,如今中国在这个领域领先世界。对于接受腾讯投资的外国游戏公司来说,其中一个主要的吸引力是通过与腾讯合作将自家游戏带到中国市场。

Notwithstanding the first-quarter surge, gaming growth in the Middle Kingdom is no longer setting the blistering pace of a few years ago and, as so often in China, the state has intruded. In 2018-19 the gaming industry was kneecapped by President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on online addiction, blood, butchery, boobs and bums (there are rules for how much skin a female avatar can show). Faced with domestic headwinds, David Dai of Bernstein, an equity-research firm, says Tencent will quintuple gaming revenue from overseas from a pittance last year to about $3.5bn in 2021. It will do that by building on partnerships with foreign firms in which it holds stakes to make mobile games for the global market. Last year one of its studios developed a mobile version of “Call of Duty”, Activision Blizzard’s PC and console blockbuster. It was the biggest launch of a mobile game ever. This year, it is working with Riot to launch a smartphone version of “League of Legends”, the most popular desktop game in history. Ultimately, as a Tencent insider puts it, the dream is to “go it alone”; ie, to produce a Tencent game somewhere in the world that is a global hit.

尽管第一季度中国的游戏市场大幅增长,但增幅已经不再像几年前那样迅猛。而正如在中国经常发生的那样,政府已经介入这个领域。2018至2019年,国家主席习近平出手整治网瘾、血腥暴力、凶杀和淫秽色情等(对游戏中女性角色的衣着暴露程度设置了规定),重创了游戏行业。证券研究公司盛博的戴昊表示,面对国内的不利局面,腾讯将扩大海外游戏业务:到2021年,这一块将在去年不大的基数上增长四倍,达到约35亿美元。为实现这个目标,腾讯将加强与自己持股的国外公司的合作,为全球市场开发手机游戏。去年它旗下的一家工作室为动视暴雪公司(Activision Blizzard)的爆款电脑和主机游戏《使命召唤》(Call of Duty)开发了手机版,刷新了手机游戏首周下载量的世界记录。今年,它正与拳头游戏公司合作推出有史以来最流行的电脑桌面游戏《英雄联盟》的手机版。如腾讯一位内部人士所言,公司最终的梦想是“单干”,也就是在世界某地制作出一款风靡全球的腾讯自己的游戏。

If that happens, Tencent’s higher profile will generate a bigger risk of geopolitical flak, even if gaming is hardly a strategic threat to anyone. Yet the way it operates its sprawling empire may provide it with cover. Tencent stands apart from many Chinese firms by the freedom it gives the companies it invests in to act with autonomy, to compete fiercely against each other (and Tencent itself), and by promising to keep most of their data out of its clutches. This is particularly true in gaming, says Steven Messner, a specialist on Chinese gaming at pc Gamer, an industry publication. “It is not in the business of telling companies what to do.”

如果这个梦想成真,腾讯会吸引来更多注意,从而增加自己在地缘政治纷争中被攻击的风险,即便游戏业务几乎不对任何人构成战略威胁。不过,腾讯管理自己庞杂帝国的方式可能为它提供了掩护。有别于许多中国公司,腾讯给予其持股公司经营自主权,允许它们彼此(包括与腾讯自己)展开激烈竞争,并承诺不插手它们大部分的数据。行业刊物《电脑玩家》(pc Gamer)的中国游戏专家史蒂夫·梅斯纳(Steven Messner)说,腾讯在游戏行业更是这样做的,“它不指挥其他公司该怎么做。”

Some investors would like it to be more proactive in knitting its disparate strands together, to cash in more effectively on people’s data and boost its advertising revenues. Some grumble on Reddit, a fire-hose of gamer chat (in which Tencent also owns a stake), about the risks its acquisitions pose of bringing China’s bossy regulations to their anarchic pastime. But so far its global gaming investments have been spared the scrutiny from American authorities which other big Chinese firms have faced. If they focus at all on Tencent, it is on WeChat, because of allegations it is used to support surveillance and censorship in China. Yet WeChat is not used with gaming in the rest of the world. One reason for the China hawks’ relaxed attitude may be because of Tencent’s strategically ambiguous and hands-off approach to its gaming assets.

一些投资者希望腾讯能更主动地把不同的业务整合在一起,利用用户数据更高效地赚钱,并增加广告收入。一些人在游戏玩家社交网站Reddit(腾讯也持有股份)上抱怨,腾讯的收购行动可能会让他们无政府主义的消遣被置于中国专横的监管之下。但到目前为止,腾讯在全球游戏业务上的投资还没有像其他中国大公司那样面临美国政府的审查。如果它们真要盯上腾讯,那也是冲着微信,因为微信被指用来帮助中国的监视和舆论审查。但在世界其他地方,微信并没有和游戏挂钩。对华鹰派对腾讯持宽松态度,其中一个原因可能是它在游戏资产上战略性地采取了模棱两可和不干预的方式。

Brother, can you spare a Tencent?

大哥,能放过腾讯吗?

In fact, Tencent could be a force for good if it promotes mobile gaming globally. More than two-thirds of Chinese gamers play on their smartphones, compared with just over a third of American ones; the latter have five years of catching up to do. Tencent also hopes to develop cloud-gaming, in which 5G smartphones and faster connectivity enable players to stream games as easily as films, and increase use of augmented and virtual reality in mobile gaming. The trouble is that its partner in both endeavours in China is Huawei, which will raise hackles in America. Expect to hear more about Tencent’s global gaming prowess in the future. Tencent, of course, will hope that this attention is not because it, too, gets caught up in Sino-American bangs and explosions.■

事实上,如果腾讯在全球范围内扩展手游业务,可能是件好事。在中国,超过三分之二的玩家用智能手机玩游戏,而在美国这一比例只略高于三分之一。美国得花五年时间才能赶上中国。腾讯还希望开发云游戏业务,届时5G智能手机和更快的网速会让玩家像看电影那样,轻松地在线传送游戏数据。此外它还想要在手游中更多应用增强现实和虚拟现实技术。麻烦在于,它在国内这两个项目上的合作伙伴都是华为,而这会惹恼美国。等着看未来腾讯在全球游戏领域展现更多威力吧。当然,腾讯会希望自己获得关注不是因为也被卷入了中美双方的枪炮轰炸之中。