Game-Time report/In previous reports, Game-Time summarized some of the positive tone of this year’s game industry from the three games whose monthly sales exceeded 300 million in January.
However, some people are happy while others are worried, and the track of this worry is the two-dimensional bubble that burst last summer, defeating a large number of two-dimensional start-up teams full of expectations.
At the beginning of 2024, new problems emerged. The veteran games of ACG began to experience a steady decline in revenue, which began to directly affect the leading companies of ACG. This signal is very bad.
The train of industrialization is on its way, back to its starting point
So how miserable is the second dimension?
Simply looking at the data, it is equivalent to the past 5 years, including a series of new and old second-tier games such as “Genshin Impact”, “Honkai: Astrorail”, “Onmyoji”, “Arknights”, and “Back to the Future: 1999”. Involving in and out of the domestic market, fighting, and exiting the market were all in vain in less than half a year.
According to data observed by Game-Time, the monthly revenue of the entire domestic two-dimensional market has been “falling and falling” since the summer vacation of 2023 and since September. The monthly revenue of domestic two-dimensional games in January 2024 is lower than that in August 2023. The increase was nearly 26%, and the monthly income scale in January even returned to the level of some months in 2019.
Even in January this year, the domestic second-dimensional market revenue was 20% lower than the monthly revenue in individual months in 2019.
Although many current two-dimensional game products have also expanded into the PC and console markets, they have more diverse sources of income. But you must know that December and January, with Christmas and New Year periods, have always been important nodes for the increase in revenue of many products, including second games, and looking back to January 2021, January 2022 and January 2023 In January, the monthly revenue of the domestic second-game market also increased steadily, unlike in January 2024, which continued to decline month-on-month.
Nowadays, the second-game market cannot be saved in January (the market of some leading companies has even shrunk by 50%), which is undoubtedly abnormal and is also a very dangerous signal according to Game-Time.
Specific to games, among some of the products observed by Game-Time, there are also products whose revenue has been directly cut in half, plummeted by 80%, and products that have been in operation for many years and have revenue back to the time when the server was launched.
After all, the entire track returned to a few years ago overnight, obviously not because of a certain work of a certain company, but more because most of the products on the entire track are struggling to support or encounter bottlenecks.
Over a long period of time in the past, the two-dimensional game industry has completed the transformation from a subculture to a category representing the young player market. Many second-tier game companies are also representatives of the industrial transformation of the game industry.
From the focus of the industry to the crisis, what difficulties has ACG encountered?
A large number of new games have collapsed, and the “2D + X” that had high hopes has encountered difficulties
Putting aside the specific problems that arise in the operation and design of some specific products, from a more macro perspective, when gamers leave a certain track, unless it is due to force majeure such as laws and regulations, in most other cases, the first problem must be innovation.
The same goes for the two-dimensional track. In the early years, after the industry melee from 2015 to 2020, the most basic two-dimensional art and other content experiences have been involved to a considerable height.
This is why in the “Second Game 2.0” version after “Genshin Impact”, the competition on the two-dimensional track is rarely only related to the “two-dimensional”.
If a new product wants to stand out from the crowd, the most important thing is often the “XXX” after “two-dimensional + XXX”, which in most cases represents a new gameplay.
The entire two-dimensional track has shifted from being mainly content-driven in the two-dimensional world to being driven by core gameplay.
But if we look back at the new second-tier games in the past few years, the “secondary dimensional +” that large, medium and small domestic companies are working on, how many products have really been successful?
We might as well recall that among them, “Genshin Impact” has successfully achieved the two-dimensional + open world, “Arknights” has successfully achieved the two-dimensional + tower defense, “Naruto” has successfully achieved the two-dimensional + two-dimensional IP, and “Sparrow Soul” has successfully achieved the two-dimensional + open world. (Although it cannot be distributed in China) It has successfully achieved two-dimensional + chess and card games, and “Carabichu” and “Dust White Forbidden Zone” have achieved two-dimensional + TPS to a certain extent.
But what else? In more than three years, theoretically, as a popular track, the second dimension should not only have these innovations.
But the answer is indeed, almost none (of course, the author may have omitted some products, please forgive me).
Some of them are due to force majeure. For example, the version number issuance cycle is too long and some teams cannot survive and close down.
But more often than not, there are often a large number of new two-dimensional games from small and medium-sized manufacturers. After the release, due to insufficient publicity and marketing, the product is actually difficult to distance itself from the works of large companies, or it is the choice of “two-dimensional + XXX” “The “XXX” at the back is too niche, and in the end we can only change our attitude, turn to content-driven, and continue to focus on serving the two-dimensional core users who are already in the red ocean.
The final outcome is naturally to be eliminated from the competition.
In the Game-Time images, the only content-driven experience to survive last year that was still alive and well was Back to the Future: 1999.
Who killed me, and who did I kill?
The products of small companies cannot survive, and the second dimension has come and gone without gaining any reputation. At the same time, large companies have limited production capacity and cannot supply the entire category.
The entire two-dimensional track cannot bring enough freshness to players. Naturally, players who once loved the two-dimensional game will eventually feel tired and disgusted and turn to other products.
From tired players, Game-Time just extends to the next point, which is “it is not the second dimension that defeats the second dimension.”
If you think about it nearby, Tencent and NetEase may be the first ones to take the blame. In the party game war that started in December this year, I believe everyone has seen the two companies’ deep wealth.
In the words of netizens, even if you are a dog, as long as you can surf the Internet, you will probably be exposed by the game advertisements and cash giveaways of the two companies. The main focus is to reject precision marketing and rely only on flood irrigation.
You must know that party games originally belonged to the large DAU category. Now that the two products are competing on the same stage, they have not only drained almost all young players from the market, but also attracted almost everyone’s attention.
Users ran away and invested their limited time in social products such as party games, and the revenue of second games will naturally be affected.
Small games have also been very successful overseas
And if party games are still aimed at drawing blood from the young player group, then small games compete with second games at the general user level, and second games are obviously defenseless.
Although in the past few years, two-dimensional games have gradually broken out of the industry and attracted a wide range of user groups by reducing Japanese style, catering to national trends, and diversifying the gender of characters.
But when small games that are more suitable for general users appear, with their click-and-play characteristics and relatively lightweight experience, as well as the social topic nature of the games, small games can be said to be breaking out of the circle and attracting general users who do not play games very much. In terms of performance, it has easily achieved what the second game has been difficult to achieve for many years.
Douyin has previously released a report stating that 80% of its platform are general users who do not play games. Have these 80% of fresh blood been snatched by the second dimension? Or was it snatched away by the new Tencent products that joined Douyin?
The result will most likely be mini-games.
The demographic structure has changed fundamentally. Please be more mature in the second dimension.
Finally, one thing that many people overlook among The Knife that Kills the Second Dimension is the various wonderful stand-alone masterpieces in the past two years.
In the author’s opinion, many game developers now often ignore the game channels and accumulated game culture that the younger generation of players can reach.
So much so that many people are still working to simplify the “big meals” in console games into “prepared dishes”, then heat them up and serve them to players as top-notch delicacies.
But today’s players are not in an era where game consoles are banned and games are a scourge. They have access to many game channels and the game environment is more free.
In a field that lacks fresh blood and another that has frequent hits, players are not stupid, so it is clear who to choose.
According to Game-Time’s estimates, last year’s stand-alone masterpiece “Baldur’s Gate 3”, which was a global hit but had a relatively niche gameplay, probably gained more than one million users in China. And “Palu” at the beginning of this year, only Steam platform, the number of Simplified Chinese and Chinese players is estimated to exceed 4 million.
This also brings up a very critical point. Game-Time believes that the social factor that will affect the two-dimensional track for a long time in the future will be population.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, China’s population growth rate in 2023 will be -1.48%. This is not the first time that the country has experienced negative population growth. This means that the number of newborns is decreasing, and the number of young and elderly people is increasing.
For a category whose target players are young users, this is equivalent to the entire market gradually shrinking in the long term.
The picture above shows the data for 2020. From 2020 to 2023, the proportion of the domestic underage population and the population over 60 years old has undergone visible changes.
This also means that if two-dimensional games want to hold on to or even expand their territory, they must follow the population and become mature to meet the aesthetic and even social needs of adults.
This kind of maturity is not just about rejecting the same white and thin characters in character art, or the more exposed the better, it is more about a maturity in comprehensive experience, including gameplay, story, etc.
Anyway, judging from the current situation in China, the base and consumption power of underage players are quite small. There may be no need for two-dimensional games to adhere to the so-called all-age stories and experiences that are actually young and have no depth.
For the above series of problems, in addition to the structural social background of population and various other difficulties, it is difficult for Game-Time to summarize a set of solutions. After all, there are many talents in the industry who have finally reached the current situation, which shows the complexity of the whole problem.
But Game-Time has some ideas that may serve as a reference. That is the two-dimensional track. Large manufacturers may need to actively cultivate new forces instead of blindly occupying territory and creating monopolies.
In the final analysis, games still belong to the cultural and entertainment industry. With the development of social diversification, in order to meet the different needs of different players and continue to supply blood to the industry, it is absolutely not enough to rely on the product matrix of one or two companies.
The same is true for second games. If the entire track is just a few leading companies producing new products, then it will be the next MMO, changing from a novel trend to an old-fashioned one.
But MMO was a big business back then, and then it slowly declined. The two-dimensional market is probably not as big as the MMO category back then.