It’s that time of year when every content company starts coming out with best-of lists, recognising creators and others who stuck out as a positive force in an otherwise pretty sucky year. Apple got in on that fun, announcing the 15 best apps and games of the year.
Although it was only released in September, and is available across PC, PlayStation, Android, Switch, iPad and iPhone, free to play RPG Genshin Impact has been named Apple’s iPhone Game of the Year.
This recognition is just the latest in a string of wins for the game made by a 400-person team at MiHoYo in China. The game has been nominated for a bunch of prestigious awards including Best RPG and Best Mobile Game at The Game Awards 2020, Users’ Choice Game at the Google Play Users’ Choice Awards and Ultimate Game of the Year at the Golden Joystick Awards, as well as winning overall Best Game in Google’s Best Games of 2020 list.
Genshin Impact – Best iPhone Game 2020
CEO and co-founder of MiHoYo, Forrest Liu, found out about the latest honour on a day that had special significance to him. “On December 1 2011, nine years ago, we officially moved from the school dorm to an incubator for college startups. So ever since we’re thinking of December 1, as our anniversary of MiHoYo. We want to thank Apple for inviting us here, and making this day even more special for us.”
It’s not hard to see why, in a year when everyone craved escape and adventure, Genshin Impact would have such a, well…’Impact.’ “Our vision and goal is to create a more beautiful and vivid virtual world for gamers,” Liu said. “We always set out to create the most ambitious and fantasy open-world game that we could have dreamed of. After three and a half years of development, we were very excited to finally launch Genshin Impact.”
Back in 2017, when they started creating the game, making a console-quality RPG that was free to play and playable on mobile seemed impossible. “It was a big risk from a technical and design perspective,” he said. “But we knew that the flagship Apple devices would soon be powerful enough to run such kinds of games. So, we decided to jump in with both feet. Today we have more than 400 developers working on this project, and by the end of this year, we will have invested more than 100 million US dollars on this project.”
For Wenyi Jin, VP of overseas business, her highlight from 2020 has been seeing the overwhelming fan reaction to the game. “We are always moved by the passion of our fans who really have talent and are willing to express their passions outwardly. They will remix our music, they will write their own fan fiction, share their discovery in games, have fun with cosplaying the characters they love the most, and share their fan art,” she said. “We had a Halloween topic theme last month, and we have received more than 6000 pieces of art from players for that.”
It’s because of these exuberant fans that MiHoYo plans to start hosting IRL fan events for Genshin Impact players as soon as next year, should the pandemic allow it.
While such a massive RPG game on this scale would be more than enough content for most, Jin has dreams of telling the Genshin Impact stories across every medium. “We will continue to extend our IP and universe across multiple mediums. We want to provide a holistic experience inside and outside of games. In order to achieve that we have a lot of teams, anime studio, comic studio and music studio. We even have our own manufacturing factory for merchandise.”
A lot of that extended universe storytelling will be based around the introduction of new characters. “For example, we will have a comic book, which is telling the background story about the world, and the key person. We will have key visual art release with important information, we will have a dedicated trailer to show the capability of the characters 360 degrees, as well as the story behind them. And all of these allow the players to share the same feelings and the characters view in the games; their loves, their hopes, their fears, insecurities, and just what the characters do in the games.”
Another important thing for the MiHoYo studio is music, which they consider to be one of the central parts of game design. To bring the soaring orchestral score of the game to life, the in-house composers and musicians worked with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and London Symphony Orchestra. “We wish players when they play the games, that the music can deliver a mix of emotion, fantasy and wonder,” Jin said. “When they have some risks, they can just close their eyes and let the music take them on a beautiful journey to us.”
The free to play business model can be hit and miss for a lot of developers. It requires a delicate balancing act between providing lots of good content to hook players, and giving folks incentives to buy things so the company can keep making the game without turning players off because of shonky strategies. According to Liu, the biggest conundrum is making sure there’s enough content. “In a free to play game you always want players to stay a bit longer so they’ll buy the clothes or the characters. So, for us, our big challenge is to always provide something new and exciting to let the target audience have an immersive experience in our world,” he said. “So, I think it’s more challenging than just delivering a couple of hours content. For free to play you have to have hundreds and thousands of hours content for players to play.”
With great risk, though, often comes great reward “The most clear benefit of free to play is that on our first day of launch we had more than 10 million users download the game,” Jin said. “You don’t have to hesitate if you want to try it, you can just try it first and see if you like it.”
The big news this week, aside from the award is, of course, the release of a new male character named Zhongli. “He’s like a god fighter in the ancient Chinese histories. So people all over the world, girls and boys, will love it,” Liu said.
While many game developers struggle to portray female characters, Zhongli will actually be one of the first male characters for MiHoYo. This made Jin and Liu pretty nervous in the lead up to release, but so far the reaction has been quite positive. “We hope our male characters will be as attractive as our female characters. This one is beyond our imagination and everyone likes it globally,” Liu said.
Genshin Impact is available now on almost any device you want to play it on.
Thanks to Wenyi Jin and Forrest Liu for their time.