Tencent unseats Netease in battle for global mobile app leadership

China’s Tencent Holdings overtook Netease to grab the top spot in mobile apps revenue in the first quarter on the back of its blockbuster title Honour of Kings, while its free-to-play PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) also grabbed top spot as the most downloaded mobile game worldwide.

Total mobile app downloads in the first quarter, including games and non-games, were up 7.6 per cent to 25.4 billion on Apple’s App Store and Google Play worldwide, according to a report by US research firm Sensor Tower Store Intelligence. 

Tencent was No 1 in the quarter for overall app revenue, including games, displacing rival Chinese firm NetEase, publisher of the popular Onmyouji game, which held the top spot in the fourth quarter last year.

Tencent, the world’s top grossing games publisher last year, recorded more than 50 million downloads of the mobile version of PUBG in the January to March period.

Revenue from the company’s smartphone games rose 59 per cent year on year to 16.9 billion yuan (US$2.6 billion) last year, according to Tencent’s annual results. Honour of Kings was the No 1 game in Apple’s App Store last year.

Tencent, which operates China’s ubiquitous messaging app WeChat, is leading a group of Chinese publishers making their presence felt in the global mobile app market, with rising interest seen in non-game iOS apps. China accounts for US$1 out of every US$4 generated globally across app stores, in-app advertisements and mobile e-commerce, according to recent estimates from analytics company App Annie. The country’s games market was worth an estimated US$32.5 billion last year, accounting for more than a quarter of the global market, according to research firm Newzoo.

In the non-game category, Tencent was behind US developer IAC, which owns popular dating app Tinder, as the second top earning publisher worldwide in the quarter. Netflix, the US video platform, and Tinder were ranked ahead of Tencent’s video streaming site Tencent Video in terms of revenue in the non-game category.

The viral short video platform Douyin, known as Tik Tok outside China, was the most downloaded iOS app worldwide, with more than 45 million installs from Apple’s App Store in the quarter, knocking Honour of Kings from its top spot a year ago.

Tik Tok is published by Bytemod, an overseas arm of Beijing ByteDance Technology, which also operates Music.ly, the social video app that ranked 16th in the first quarter for worldwide downloads in App Store and Google Play. 

Tencent topped the chart for publishers with the most downloads in App Store and was No 3 overall when taking Google Play downloads into account. Six Chinese publishers were among the top 20 in terms of downloads on both platforms, led by Tencent and followed by e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, software developer Kingsoft, and game company NetEase. 

Chinese apps were less prominent in Google Play, with UC Browser ranking fifth, file sharing app SHAREit in sixth spot, and Music.ly at tenth. Kingsoft and Alibaba were the only two Chinese publishers in the worldwide top 10 on Google Play in the quarter, compared to five on the iOS App Store. 

The Google distribution platform for Android apps is not available in mainland China where Google’s services are blocked. Local alternatives include Android app stores operated by Microsoft, Tencent, search engine giant Baidu, and smartphone makers Xiaomi and Huawei. 

Alibaba Group is the parent company of the South China Morning Post.