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Google takes another step into Chinese market with AI drawing game on WeChat

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 July, 2018, 1:53pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 July, 2018, 2:18pm

Google’s new mini-game on Chinese social networking app WeChat gained huge popularity on its first day, giving the US technology giant another foothold in a market where its core search engine business is banned.

The artificial intelligence-powered drawing game, launched on Wednesday, dominated the WeChat social media platform in its first 24 hours, being widely shared by some of its 1 billion users, though figures were not available.

The game tasks users to draw an object that Google’s neural network attempts to recognise, and users win points when the machine makes a successful guess. Google AI’s neural network is based upon the world’s biggest sketch database with over 50 million drawings, according to a post on Google’s official WeChat account on Wednesday.

The game, called Cai Hua Xiao Ge, which roughly translates as "guess my drawing", is the US company’s first mini-program running within China’s ubiquitous do-everything messaging app WeChat, which is operated by Tencent Holdings. The game is similar to the web-based Quick Draw that Google launched in 2016.

Google to invest US$550 million in Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com

Mini-programs are enabling WeChat to be the dominant all-in-one application on mobile in China, according to the China Internet Report published this month by South China Morning Post, Abacus and 500Startups. At the start of 2018, 50 per cent of WeChat’s monthly active users, or 472 million accounts, were using mini-programs, the report said.

The mini-game move is Google’s latest into the China market, which the company withdrew from in 2010 after its services were banned by the Chinese government. However, in recent years the US search giant has sought to get back into the mainland Chinese market through direct investments and apps.

Last month Google announced a US$550 million investment in JD.com, China’s second largest e-commerce player, taking a stake reported at under 1 per cent. JD.com will also join Google Shopping, an advertising platform for online merchants, where its products will be available to consumers globally.

In January, Google led a US$120 million series D investment in Chushou, a Chinese live-streaming mobile game platform.

Separately, in January Google signed a patent licensing deal with Tencent to develop future technologies, which may smooth the way for Google’s business in China while helping Tencent expand beyond its dominant position on the Chinese mainland, Bloomberg reported.