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Moonlight Blade is Tencent's flagship MMORPG. Five years after launching on PC, it finally has a mobile version. Photo: Handout

Tencent’s answer to World of Warcraft made US$50 million in China in just one week

  • Five years after launching on PC, Moonlight Blade launches on Apple’s iOS to enormous interest
  • Tencent is promising a gameplay experience equal to playing an MMORPG on PC, showing how far mobile gaming has come

Tencent Holdings, the world’s largest gaming company by revenue, just set a record for the biggest mobile game launch ever in China. Moonlight Blade, the tech giant’s answer to World of Warcraft, pulled in more than US$50 million on Apple’s iOS alone in its first week of release.

Released on October 16, the new massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) is currently only available in China, where the game is set. Moonlight Blade lets gamers play as swordsmen and kung fu warriors in ancient China. The game is making its millions through in-app purchases, allowing players to deck out their characters with accoutrements like additional clothing and weapons.

According to app tracking firm Sensor Tower, the previous record-holder was Perfect World, which raked in US$28.3 million on iOS the week after it launched last year.

“The high revenue level at launch is normal for an MMORPG game. The key is to look out for its performance when it reaches its stable period,” said Liao Xuhua, a gaming analyst with Beijing-based Analysys International.

Moonlight Blade will have long-term profitability, but it is still not at the same scale as Honour of Kings and Peacekeeper Elite,” he added, referencing two of Tencent’s other immensely popular video games. Peacekeeper Elite is China’s domestic version of PUBG Mobile, which Tencent changed to appease local censors, making the game more patriotic and removing things like blood and death.

While Moonlight Blade’s large haul might be more typical of an MMORPG, it is still considerably larger than the first-week performance of other hit mobile games. The third, fourth and fifth place games pulled in about half that revenue or less.

Moonlight Blade's first-week revenue on iOS vastly outperformed other big titles. Image: SCMP

Peacekeeper Elite made US$27.7 million after it launched on iOS and Genshin Impact made US$25 million. Brawl Stars, from Finnish developer Supercell, made about US$20 million. But Genshin Impact, PUBG Mobile and Brawl Stars also raked in significant revenue from markets outside China.

While the success of Moonlight Blade illustrates the power Tencent continues to wield in mobile gaming, it also shows an appetite for established intellectual property and traditional MMORPG games.

Moonlight Blade first launched on PC back in 2015. The game was inspired by a wuxia novel by famed Hong Kong novelist Gu Long. Zheng Jintiao, co-founder of online media outlet GamerBoom, said the fact that Moonlight Blade was an established property played a significant role in the mobile version’s success.

“Based on the 50 million preregistered users that it has and the penetration power the game has, I predict the game can record a high level of revenue for a long while,” Zheng said.

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The game is reminiscent of Activision Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, a popular MMORPG that became a cultural phenomenon after it launched in 2004.

Once stereotypical of long PC gaming sessions, MMORPGs are now showing how much mobile technology has matured. Gaming giants now release flagship MMORPG games on mobile, promising cutting-edge graphics and a gameplay experience just as sophisticated as on PC.

It is telling that Perfect World, developed by Perfect World Investment and Holding Group, had the biggest launch on iOS before Moonlight Blade. Mobile MMORPGs can be enormously popular out of the gate. Over time, though, revenues could fall behind those of other hot gaming genres.

With Moonlight Blade, Tencent promises cutting-edge graphics and a gameplay experience equal to playing the MMORPG on PC. Photo: Handout
Since World of Warcraft’s heyday, multiplayer competitive gaming genres such as battle royale and multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) have become the hottest trends in mobile gaming. This has proven to be a gold mine for gaming giants like Tencent. And it is why experts say a hot first week does not mean Moonlight Blade will eventually top the biggest battle royale and MOBA titles.

Honour of Kings, a MOBA game marketed as Arena of Valor overseas, has 150 million monthly active users (MAU), Liao noted.

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“There still isn’t an MMORPG mobile game with more than 3 million monthly active users,” he said. “MMORPGs are also limited in their ability to acquire new users.”

But Liao also pointed out that MMORPGs tend to have a stable user base with higher average revenue per user.

Even without hit MOBA numbers, though, Moonlight Blade appears to be on track for a big first month.

Moonlight Blade’s first-month revenue will be close to that of Perfect World,” Zheng said. “Perfect World made 1.3 billion yuan in its first month.”