When in Doubt Go Western: From China to the US, Meet Lemon Jam Studio

Developer Stories

August 1, 2017


min read

The mobile game market may be worth $36 billion globally, but few developers get worldwide exposure. Western game developers often fail in lucrative in complex markets like China and Japan. Asian companies often fail in the West. Launching in new markets poses a challenge for even the biggest companies, like Japan's DeNA: the company is publicly traded, with over 2,000 employees, and just dissolved its North American venture after several years of failing to gain enough traction.But that doesn't mean small devs don't stand a chance on the global scene. Case in point is Lemon Jam Studio, a casual game developer from Shenzhen, China, with just three employees, claims a roughly half-and-half split between players in the United States and China. Lemon Jam's president, Jack Cai, says success across these different markets comes from walking a careful line between the two cultures.

Don't set yourself up for failure

Lemon Jam's first lesson sounds simple: don't choose themes and gameplay that are too culturally identifiable. ?We choose to make games without much culture in them. They're just as simple as we can make them," says Cai.ROTATE, released in 2014 and one of Lemon Jam's first successes, is the perfect example: the game art is entirely based on geometric figures. Lost Maze, released in August 2016 with partner Joy Wave Games, risks more with its character-driven theme: the developers thus explored multiple styles before settling on a Apple-featured, low poly, 3D-style.[caption id="attachment_23940" align="aligncenter" width="529"]

Image via Lemon Jam Studio[/caption]A simple artistic style and game theme help ensure that a game can spread where others would fail. For instance, pandas are beloved worldwide, but they're also an especially Asian motif ?so Cai says he wouldn't assume a game with a panda character could do well. While many studios are successful at taking culture-specific themes and reskinning or culturalizing them, Lemon Jam makes decisions early in production that avoid the necessity of localizing altogether.

Do your research

Cai didn't assume his team already knew enough to conquer the global market when the company was founded in 2014. They still needed to learn more about Western games. To speed up the process, Lemon Jam decided to look for a Western partner, finding the French publisher Ketchapp to help complete and market Dragon Jump.Even with several years of experience under its belt, Lemon Jam still looks for Western partners to help bridge the cultural gap. And for everyday education, Cai recommends a steady diet of games. ?We play all the games featured by Google Play or iOS, so we always know what's suitable for the global market," says Cai.

When in doubt, go Western

Culture is intrinsic to being human, and decisions still have to be made on game elements like UI or music. So when Lemon Jam isn't sure what to do, it defaults to one side: Western culture.?In the Chinese market, there are many players who love to play the Western-style games, but in the West, there are no players who want to play Chinese games," says Cai. Studying the games featured by Apple or Google globally again helps here, as those games tend to be Western more often than not.

Expect casual games to become deeper

The final piece of advice Cai offers other casual developers it to think more deeply about retention.?I think for casual games, the simplest ones will no longer be as popular in the future, because users are getting used to them," says Cai. ?It's not just content, users often get bored after the first play."The challenge will be to combine the simplicity of casual games, which allows users to pick up gameplay in seconds, with game mechanics that require time to complete, such as earning currency to unlock new powers or gameplay modes. Developers who can balance accessibility with depth in this way will still have a chance in the mobile market?no matter what the culture may be.