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As It Brings Its Mobile Game to China, Betaworks Reconnects the Dots

Some of the hallmarks of the buzzy puzzle game were intentionally lost in translation.

Betaworks / Dots

To an outside observer, a game like Dots seems perfect for wide international release. The 2013 puzzle hit has barely any words and no characters to contort into a different culture. To play, all you have to do is drag your finger and connect the colored dots in a grid.

But as the game prepares for a formal Chinese release, some of its trademark quirks were intentionally lost in translation. New York City-based Betaworks partner and Dots CEO Paul Murphy said in an interview with Re/code that the game has racked up 20 million downloads worldwide in the past year, but “literally nothing in China.”

Unlike the initial U.S. launch of Dots, where the iPhone version of the game preceded an Android port by three months, the Chinese version of Dots will launch on Android and iOS simultaneously, as an exclusive to Alibaba’s mobile gaming platform. Whereas iOS tends to hold sway over app developers stateside, in China the top three of four phones are all Android, Murphy said, making the iPhone “just another device, and not its own platform.”

One big change to the game is how it introduces itself to first-time players. Murphy said Betaworks was cautioned not to repeat its “cheeky” on-boarding style from the original game, which explains little and lets players figure out for themselves that drawing longer lines nets more points, and drawing boxes of same-colored dots clears all of that color off the board.

“We got very strong feedback that we were going to lose people in China very quickly” if the on-boarding didn’t change, he said. The Chinese version of the game is much more “explicit” about how to progress and how to use power-ups.

Those power-ups have changed, too. Players may recall that they do things like remove troublesome dots from the board or stop the timer for five seconds, and could be exchanged for a virtual currency, also called dots. Packs of that currency started at 99 cents, or could be earned from playing the game, a monetization model that didn’t create sustainable revenue in the U.S. (for comparison’s sake, take a gander at the freakish flatness of Candy Crush Saga’s grossing chart).

Now, that virtual currency is gone completely, and so is the ability to save up for power-ups by playing the free game. Chinese players will start with a few power-ups free to try, but will have to spend cash to get more once those run out.

However, Murphy said, the “payment thresholds are lower,” meaning it’s possible to sell power-up packs that cost as little as 10 cents on Android, versus the standard 99 cents in U.S. app stores.

The game is expected to launch this week on Alibaba’s platform, and will let players share scores on Sina Weibo in the place of Facebook and Twitter, which are banned in China.

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