When it comes to Chinese game makers, the two most well-known ones are undoubtedly Tencent and NetEase.The former developed the MOBA game “Honor of Kings” (its overseas version called Arena of Valor), which has occupied the top of the IOS China bestseller list for a long time after its launch. The latter’s “Wildlands Ops” and “Identity V” are well-received in China and overseas. This year it launched the Harry Potter IP mobile game “Harry Potter: Magic Awakened”.
However, among all those Chinese game companies, the company that has made the most remarkable achievements in the category of ACG games is not Tencent or Netease, but miHoYo, the developer of the game “Genshin Impact“.
Perhaps even the founders didn’t expect that miHoYo would grow from a small team of a few people to a new Chinese gaming giant with annual revenues of 5,000,000,000 RMB and get closer to realizing their dream of a Metaverse.
Today let’s start from the beginning and talk about the growth history of miHoYo.
The “Honkai” era
Although the English names of the Honkai series are not very related, their Chinese names all contain the word “崩坏”, which means Collapse in English. Hao-Yu Cai, one of the founders, has said that honkai is a self-made word that refers specifically to the meaning of “Collapse” in the game. So these games are collectively known as the Honkai series by Chinese players.
Most Chinese players started to know miHoYo from “Zombiegal Kawaii“. In fact, miHoYo released its first indie mobile game “FlyMe2theMoon” back in 2011. At that time, miHoYo Co., Ltd. was not yet established.
The original members of the team, all graduate students in the computer science department of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, got together because of their interest in ACG culture and started making games.
”FlyMe2theMoon” is a 2D action-puzzle game, in which players can touch the screen to control the role of jet flight to solve puzzles and explore. The game is homophonic with the Japanese classic animation “EVA“‘s ED “Fly Me to The Moon“, which is also the team’s tribute to “EVA“. Since it was the team’s first game and was only 40MB in size, the quality of the game was certainly not comparable to today’s games.
But at this point you can already see the prototype of the next few games.
The release of this game has accumulated skills and experience for miHoYo and has also gained some popularity. Kiana, the heroine, has played the leading role in the subsequent Honkai series of games. Although not the same in worldview, the setting and shaping of the characters are in the same vein. For this reason, FlyMe2theMoon is known as “Honkai 0” by many players who know the history.
The moral is that it’s the first step in the Honkai series from nothing.
As mentioned above, the initial developers of the miHoYo team were all Department of Computer Science students from Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University. The college students undoubtedly became the founders of miHoYo Co., Ltd.
In the winter of 2009, Hao-Yu Cai, the current chairman of miHoYo, had just started his postgraduate life. At that time, he was working on a light novel titled “End Times Record of investigation and researching” and developing the Misato Engine, a Flash game engine named after Katsuragi Misato, one of the key characters in the anime EVA.
In July 2010, Hao-Yu Cai chose excerpts from the novel and adapted them into an action-packed breakout game, “The Story of whirling“. In October of the same year, he won the championship in the campus category of the first MaQiu Flash Game Development Competition and the Intel Special Award with “The Story of whirling“.
In his award-winning interview, he said he was upgrading the Misato engine and developing an ACG-style 2.5D action role-playing beauty shooting game, codenamed “Girls Guns NPCs“, later known as “Zombiegal Kawaii“.
In January 2011, Hao-yu Cai met with Wei Liu and Yu-hao Luo in the D32 dormitory on the Minxing campus of Shanghai Jiao Tong University. They were in their second year of graduate school at the time. After this meeting, miHoYo Studio was established.
In March, the team launched a Bomberman-like mini-game called “Bubble Hero“. Due to the early date, no more information about the game is available online. “FlyMe2theMoon” launched on September 28 of the same year.
It is worth mentioning that CiCi, the current senior director of Art at miHoYo. He joined the miHoYo team back in 2011 and participated in the art design of the “FlyMe2theMoon” and Honkai series. However, because CiCi’s personal information is scarce, it is doubtful whether he is one of the founders of miHoYo. I would like to count him as one of the founders just because of his importance in the development of the company.
In the year when “FlyMe2theMoon” was released, miHoYo Studio received a grant of 100,000 RMB from the “Eagle Program” of the Shanghai Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Center. So the founders took this angel investment and the proceeds from “FlyMe2theMoon” and put them into their next work.
In 2012 miHoYo incorporated the company and released the game “Honkai 1“,the name is “Zombiegal Kawaii” in English. Because the team does not have enough experience, to be able to focus on developing this game, two members even chose to postpone graduation.
Compared with “FlyMe2TheMoon“, “Honkai 1” has changed a lot in story background and gameplay. It is a horizontal shooting fight zombie game. Because of the founders’ love for ACG culture, the game implements the element of “moe”. The word “Moe” is of Japanese origin and is similar in meaning to cute.
“Honkai 1” is available on IOS, not Android. Its release on the App Store was not a smooth one either. It was Apple Rejected twice between November 2012 and its official release on December 13. The third release was finally successful.
The game was launched with only single-player gameplay and took a profit model of 6 RMB paid downloads. Despite the subsequent addition of an online mode, the game still didn’t make enough money. However, in the context of the lack of ACG games in China, the gameplay and style of “Honai 1” still received a lot of recognition from players, which also laid the foundation for the development of the sequel.
Since then, the worldview of the Honkai series has been established, and the development of “Honkai 2“, also known as “Guns GirlZ” in many countries, has entered the preparation stage.
At the end of 2013, “Honkai 2” was officially announced and began a close beta test. At that time, miHoYo chose to work with bilibili, one of the largest video sites in China, for a promotional partnership. Although bilibili was also just starting out in game distribution at that time, it achieved quite pleasing results because the ACG attributes of both were highly compatible.
Unlike its predecessor, “Honkai 2” has an Android version and is available a month earlier than the IOS version. In March 2014, “Honkai 2” was officially released in AppStore. Thanks to the popularity of the Android version, it quickly rose to the top of the App Store’s paid charts. It gained the attention of many gaming media, and the exposure climbed rapidly.
Honkai 2 added new interface maps and equipment to the original game. It also changed the game to a free download format and added the “Pay for lucky draw” mechanism. The mechanism caused a lot of controversy at that time. However, miHoYo kept optimizing and updating during its operation, which greatly extends the life cycle of the game. The success of “Honkai 2” has even pushed the arrival of the ACG mobile game boom in China.
Although the current vision, “Honkai 2” compared to its predecessor is not much of a breakthrough. However, miHoYo has been commercially successful because of its success in the ACG mobile game market in China.
According to online media reports, SKKY, one of miHoYo’s early portfolio companies’ CEO Tao Song had revealed that the flow of Honkai 2 reached $1.6 million in the first month of its iOS launch.
In the same year, Honkai 3rd, later renamed Honkai Impact 3, was officially set up and entered the development period.
The Honkai universe was established
Since the birth of the Honkai series games, miHoYo has continued to create the Honkai series of manga works. It complemented and refined the game’s worldview in this way. After the launch of the Honkai3 manga, the Honkai series‘ worldview and framework were officially systematized. The mobile game “Honkai Impact 3” is adapted from the manga.
After the success of Honkai 2 in 2014, miHoYo has not released any news of new works. As a result, miHoYo has gradually faded from the radar of Chinese gamers.
During the 2 years of development, miHoYo continued to expand its office space, recruit employees and expand its business. It has rapidly expanded from a small team of six to a company with over 100 employees, and has an overseas branch and wholly owned self-owned company.
In March 2016, the first IOS internal beta of Honkai Impact 3 began. Compared to the first two works are not exquisite horizontal 2D shooting graphics, in the new work miHoYo used 3D modeling and ARPG gameplay. The game has made a huge leap in terms of graphics performance and surprised Chinese gamers. This is also the first time that most Chinese players have been exposed to the information of Honkai Impact 3.
In the Chinese game market, R&D companies usually cooperate with game channels. The company will face a lot of cost while getting better promotion results. In the past miHoYo has always insisted on refusing to cooperate with all Android app stores in China during the distribution phase, choosing only the official website and Bilibili for distribution, and this time is no exception.
It turns out that miHoYo’s choice was not wrong, and the excellent quality of the game made Honkai Impact 3 a great success again. As of the first half of 2017, it had over 22 million registered users and a total top-up flow amount of over RMB 1.1 billion.
The Honkai series IP is taking shape, and miHoYo has become one of the top ACG game developers in China. The technical accumulation during Honkai Impact 3‘s development has also laid a solid foundation for the launch of “Genshin impact“.
With the Honkai series IP in hand, miHoYo has finally added listing to its goals. In 2017, miHoYo made a pre-disclosure of its initial public offering prospectus, targeting an A-share listing.
According to the prospectus updated in December, miHoYo revenue mainly comes from the mobile game “Honkai 2” and “Honkai Impact 3“. In the first half of 2017, it generated total revenue of RMB587,924,300, of which Honkai Impact 3 generated RMB496,261,000, accounting for a whopping 84.41%.
The main purpose of miHoYo’s recruitment funds for this release is to continue developing the Honkai series IP. And miHoYo plan to develop two new projects – RPG game “Honkai – Chronicles” (tentative name) and card-raising game “Honkai – Enchantment War” (tentative name).
However, miHoYo’s over-reliance on a single IP, Honkai, made the company’s prospects less promising, and its IPO was extremely risky. As a result, miHoYo’s listing plat failed this time.
Perhaps because of this IPO failure, miHoYo has abandoned the route of single development of Honkai IP. The two games mentioned above have not been heard from again. miHoYo began to explore the road of IP diversification, and the subsequent projects were put on the agenda in this context.
An open world
The success of Genshin Impact
In June 2017, the “Genshin impact” was formally approved. In 2018, the manga “Genshin Project” began serialization. Although miHoYo has not made an official announcement, Chinese players who know the company has already guessed that a new game different from the Honkai series is in development.
In January 2019, miHoYo officially revealed the news of the “Genshin Impact” in an interview with Eastern News.
Soon after the PV was released, the game sparked a controversy. Because of its open-world gameplay and similar art style, it has been pointed out by Chinese players as a suspected copy of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The topic even made it to the top of Weibo, one of China’s largest social media platforms, for a while.
Genshin Impact opened for the first test on June 21, 2019. In August, it was officially announced that Genshin will land on the PS4, and a teaser PV was released at the Tokyo Game Show in September.
The Genshin Impact officially announced that it will arrival on Switch. Nintendo was willing to accept “Genshin Impact” for NS, and the plagiarism rumors cleared up. On March 19 of the same year, Genshin Impact opened the second test, the test opened on IOS, Android, and PC. On June 11, Genshin Impact opened the third test and added the PS4 platform. During the test miHoYo found that the game content is not rich enough, and make optimization adjustments.
In September 2020, Genshin Impact officially opened the uncensored public test on PC and launched on the other platforms two weeks later. Since then, Genshin Impact had officially met with players. With excellent quality assurance, Genshin Impact has been a great success all over the world. The company miHoYo is also known to more foreign players.
In 2020, miHoYo’s net revenue exceeded RMB 5,000,000,000, doubling of revenue year-on-year. The number of employees also increased by 1,000 from last year to 2,400.
In September 2021, Genshin Impact generated $340,000,000 in mobile revenue, becoming the world’s most profitable mobile game. Sensor Tower store platform data shows that miHoYo has overtaken NetEase in second place in terms of revenue for the month, just behind Tencent.
Female-oriented mobile game and artificial desktop
Having learned from the failure of the IPO, miHoYo was not satisfied with the success of the Honkai series and Genshin Impact. It also explored in other directions.
On July 30, 2020, miHoYo launched the mobile game Tears of Themis, which combines the elements of “inference” and “romance”. Although the game focuses on female-oriented themes, it also has a good performance in terms of plot and reasoning.
In August, miHoYo launched “N0va“, a desktop dynamic wallpaper software with Lumi as the main character. And in subsequent updates, it added content related to the products such as the Honkai series and Genshin Impact.
miHoYo is no longer limited to the game field, but tries to build its open world among more fields.
TECH OTAKUS SAVE THE WORLD
After achieving great success in the game industry, miHoYo began to lay out in other industries.
In 2018, miHoYo invested in Mihuashi, a painting appointment service platform. Today this platform is the number one contracting platform in China. The artists will register on this platform priority, and fans will reserve for painting here priority.
miHoYo has invested in more than ten companies in the field of trendy toys, game development, animation, and game media. It has an ecological layout around ACG derivatives and the game industry. Counting the companies in which the founders, Hao-Yu Cai and Wei Liu, have invested in their names, miHoYo’s affiliated companies have exceeded 30.
It already has the potential of becoming Internet giant.
Players who are familiar with miHoYo know that its slogan is “tech otakus save the world”. In February 2021, founder Hao-Yu Cai participated in a workplace/entrepreneurship sharing session organized by the Silicon Valley alumni of Shanghai Jiao Tong University. He explained the Slogan into three parts: technology, otakus and saving the world.
In terms of technology, he said miHoYo has a very heavy plot of wanting to be a technology company, and will also invest in AI-related research. The core competitiveness of miHoYo lies in the ability to “use the best technology to make content that meets users’ requirements”.
The word “otaku”, which originates from Japan, reflects the love and dedication of the company members to ACG culture.
While the so-called saving the world, miHoYo hopes to make virtual worlds like the ones depicted in movies like “The Matrix” and “Ready Player One” in the next 10, 20, or 30 years. Hao-Yu Cai is not referring to specific physical hardware devices, but to the premise that with similar devices, miHoYo can build an alive world with massive content,.
It is also the current vision of miHoYo – to create a virtual world that one billion people would like to live in by 2030.
In March 2021, miHoYo signed a strategic cooperation agreement with Shang Hai Ruijin Hospital, one of the top hospitals in China. They started research on “development and clinical application of brain-computer interface technology”.
If this technology is realized, people will be able to connect to computers or other electronic devices through the human brain and control them. Further, a virtual world like “Ready Player One” is not far from us.
Tencent, one of China’s largest Internet companies, got its start with OICQ, an instant messaging software. Maybe this time miHoYo can also start with the Honkai series and build a metaverse that belongs to the whole world.
You can never tell.