Is 2024 The Year That Chinese Indies Finally Go Big?

Developers in the Middle Kingdom have been trying to enter the Western markets for years — so why haven’t they pulled it off?

Andrew Johnston
4 min readNov 27, 2023
Source: Steam.

Hero’s Adventure: Road to Passion is a game typical of those favored in mainland China. The game follows the picaresque adventures of a roguish young man on a path to greatness. The player wanders about the countryside of a world reminiscent of imperial China, fighting bandits, doing errands for villagers, getting tied up with various factions — all the things one expects from such a game.

There is one that sets Hero’s Adventure apart: It has a full English translation. While games of this type are normally made primarily for the East Asian market, the developers of Hero’s Adventure are trying to make inroads into the Western world. They’re not alone — many Chinese developers have high hopes of reaching an audience beyond the Middle Kingdom.

The Chinese indie scene is an unusual one, and not just because it’s as tied up in politics as everything else in that country. Chinese games are conventionally made for a Chinese audience alone, and that’s where they usually stay. There have been a few big breakout titles, such as Dyson Sphere Program, Bloody Spell and Bright Memory, but these have failed to make much of an impact on behalf of the region.

So why is it that Chinese indies struggle so much? Aside from the usual woes of the small developer, there are a number of cultural issues that make it particularly difficult for Chinese devs to get traction in the West:

  • Genres popular in mainland Asia are often less popular in the West. Hero’s Adventure is a turn-based RPG/TRPG, and while there is a thriving market for such games, they’re not at the forefront of the global industry right now. The stereotype about video games in this part of the world is very true: It’s a lot of RPGs and MMOs, often with mechanics and design elements that haven’t been popular in many years. This makes it hard to gather the kind of mass audience needed to reach escape velocity.
  • Chinese games are often untranslated or poorly translated. Speaking of stereotypes, many Westerners still view Chinese pop culture through the lens of old “Engrish” jokes. There’s definitely some truth to this — Chinese games often have heinous translations that can make them difficult to play, and that’s when they get translated at all. This has been changing in recent years and I’ve personally seen Chinese developed games with high-quality translations, but it’s still a definite sticking point — and the fact that these games tend to be those text-heavy RPGs make it even worse.
  • Many Chinese cultural markers are incomprehensible to Westerners. This is one area where Hero’s Adventure works: It’s a wuxia game, built around tropes related to mysticism and martial arts. To most Americans, that’s the sum total of their understanding of Chinese culture — we tend to get all of our knowledge from old gong fu films. Try to tackle more subtle Chinese cultural markers (or even tropes from more recent wuxia fiction) and you’ll lose most of your foreign audience.
  • Overall, Westerners have a low starting opinion of Chinese video games. But even if a development team manages to sidestep all of these obstacles, it still might not matter. In the Western understanding, China’s video game market is nothing more than bootlegs, knockoffs and cheap mobile titles. The assumption is that any game made there can’t be any good. This is also one area where Korea doesn’t escape unscathed — as much as Americans are obsessed with Korean pop culture, I still the term “Korean video game” spoken with a sneer as though they must be bad.

That last one might be the sticking point here. As mentioned above, there have been a few significant Chinese indie breakthroughs in recent years, but no one thinks of them as “Chinese games.” Few people who played Bright Memory or Dyson Sphere Program really thought of them as such, and thus the country didn’t get any of the credit.

This is a sort of Catch-22 that others have observed about Chinese popular culture more generally — we have such a low opinion of the country that anything that breaks out becomes merely “Asian” and loses its distinctive national character. Thus, we assume that Chinese games are bad, and when we find a good Chinese game we can’t imagine it being Chinese because it’s not bad.

Perhaps this will be the year that everything changes. The big upcoming Chinese indie is Black Myth: Wukong, a game that is much more recognizably Chinese in its character. If this is a big hit and gets some press traction, that might be the push needed to open up Western markets. Then again, it could simply be another one of those big deal Asian games that no one associates with China.

Interested in more research and speculation on the future of indie games? Check out the latest State of Indie:



Andrew Johnston

Writer of fiction, documentarian, currently stranded in Asia. Learn more at