Enter any Chinese subway station and you'll see riders tapping away on their phones. They're chatting, shopping, reading and catching up on TV. But more often than not, they're gaming.
China's gaming industry is big money, and especially so on the mobile platform where market share is increasing. In 2015, mobile gaming raked in some 56 billion yuan (8.2 billion US dollars), a massive increase from just 6.2 billion yuan (910 million US dollars) in 2011, according to iResearch, a Chinese research firm focused on the country's Internet sector.
Tencent's immensely popular mobile game Honor of Kings grew to become the highest-grossing mobile game in China on both Android and Apple's iOS platforms. The company's 2016 annual report showed the game had over 200 million registered users and over 50 million daily active users – about the population of South Korea. According to Chinese big data service provider Jiguang, those born after 2000 take up 23.31 percent of its user base.
Most recently, the Internet giant had to issue measures to restrict playtime for the game's young players, after reports of addiction and all-nighter gaming marathons. So what makes it so hard for users to put their phones away?
Nothin' better to do
"I'm out of work at the moment, so apart from when I'm eating or sleeping I play "Honor of Kings" non-stop until the system kicks me out. A rough estimate would be at least eight hours," 23-year-old Zeng Xiaoxian told Reuters.
Games like Honor of King are easy to get into. Most of them are free to download, but players are often able to pay to upgrade their characters and costumes, or help advance to the next level.
Plus, the mobile platform makes gaming so much more convenient than its console counterpart.
"First of all, I don't need a computer to game anymore," said 28-year-old Liang Weiyi (not his real name), a product manager at a foreign car company. "I play 'Honor of Kings' because of its integration with WeChat – you get to often play with your friends."
Battling it out VR style
Some of China's most popular games are known as Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs), like Honor of Kings and World of Warcraft, and they're just the thing driving the industry.
There are two things that make MMORPGs so enticing: the roleplaying and the sheer amount of people online to play with.
The role-play aspect makes use of a user's creativity and imagination to create and customize characters, choose where they'll go and pick what sort of quests to complete. In short, you can do almost anything in a game.
"Honor of King might be easy to get into, but the challenging gameplay is what makes it attractive," said 31-year-old Zhang Yingqi. "Unlike some games where you can spend money to level up, this game requires your personal intellect and skill."
Despite the virtual reality of things, it's still human nature to be at the top of the pack. In a game like Honor of Kings, where users get to battle with other players and go on quests, beating out friends and those around them to be at the top of the leaderboards is something that spurs users on to play.
"Beating my opponents gives me a great sense of satisfaction," said Zhang. "That's because you know you're playing against a real person."