In a bid to steal the spotlight from WeChat, Alibaba unveils its first three mobile games

Jack Ma Chairman at Alibaba

Jack Ma, Chairman at Alibaba

Today Alibaba unveiled the first three titles for its new mobile gaming branch, which the company formally announced earlier this month.

The games are available on two of Alibaba’s mobile apps. Users who update Laiwang, Alibaba’s social messaging app, to the new 4.5 version, will notice a new tab under the “Explore” page with a castle icon. Pressing the tab takes users to the app’s new game center, which currently features two titles.

Meanwhile, users who open the Taobao mobile app will notice yet another new game center tab under the “My Taobao” page, which directs users to a third title.

Not unexpectedly, all three titles fit firmly in the “casual” genre, which have proven to be popular among game developers looking to reach broad audiences, and social networks looking to keep up user retention. Of the games on Laiwang, “Pa Pa Pa” bears a resemblence to Line’s Bubble Pop, while “Po Po Po” recalls Simon. Taobao’s “Crazy Toy,” meanwhile, has many of the trappings of King’s Candy Crush Saga.

Left to right - Po Po Po, Pa Pa Pa, and Crazy Toy

Left to right – Pa Pa Pa, Po Po Po, and Crazy Toy

Of the three games, only “Crazy Toy” appears to offer in-app purchases. Users can spend between RMB 10 (about $1.50) and RMB 100 on various power-ups that can help them breeze through tough levels. The game also offers up various “red envelope” bonuses for Alipay, Alibaba’s third-party payment service, which can later be redeemed on Alibaba’s e-commerce sites.

Alibaba states that the Crazy Toy was developed by domestic games company EZJOY, and a quick Google search indicates that the game has been available for download through other means for at least several months. Pa Pa Pa and Po Po Po, meanwhile, appear to be entirely new games.

Specifics aside, what really matters here is timing. Alibaba’s rollout of its first set of mobile games comes on the same day as Tencent’s launch of WeChat 5.2, which soups up the app to include LinkedIn profiles, voice-to-text capabilities, and location sharing. Over the past several months, similar instances have occurred in which the two rival firms have competed to stand in the media spotlight. Last December, Tencent’s WeChat and Alibaba’s Alipay Wallet introduced ticket booking features within days of each other.

Alibaba likely hopes that it can score a viral hit with these three titles, much like WeChat’s Tiantian game series won over fans upon their rollout last August. While the company’s commitment to developing mobile games isn’t yet clear, in its press release announcing its entry into the industry, it described Tencent’s stronghold in gaming as a monopoly, and promised to share more revenues with developers than its competitor. Of course, the biggest challenge Alibaba faces in drawing attention and profits from its games is that most Chinese smartphone owners likely open WeChat far more often than they open Taobao or Laiwang.

(Editing by Paul Bischoff)

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