Game Overpriced: Honor of Kings’ Fashion Line Leaves Fans Fuming
Honor of Kings, the hugely popular fantasy role-playing mobile game in China, is facing accusations of exploiting its dedicated female fanbase with the launch of an extravagant clothing brand.
Tech giant Tencent, which owns Honor of Kings, announced on Weibo Sunday the launch of a women’s clothing brand named “Meeting Shero.” Six designs, limited to 100 pieces each, were up for sale on the game’s official merchandise stores the next day: they ranged between 1298 yuan and 1680 yuan ($185-$238).
“Meet your favorite SHERO in real life; every woman is a SHERO in their own life,” the company said as part of the launch.
But online, the reception from fans was less than ideal. While some users left positive comments on the Weibo announcement, most discussions on social media criticized the exorbitant prices. Annabella Tang, 25, who’s spent about 10,000 yuan on Honor of Kings in-game purchases, told Sixth Tone that she finds the dress prices “stupid and ridiculous.”
“My problem is not just the price, but also the fact that the dresses are ugly and not worthy of (such prices),” she said.
The dresses have names linked to characters in the game, like “Wang Zhaojun off-the-shoulder style” and “Diaochan golden midsummer night hanging shoulder style.” However, Tang sees little resemblance between the appearance of characters in the game and the dresses.
“They look like two completely unrelated things,” she said.
However, Dai Jiahao, a longtime fan of the game who has also spent thousands of yuan on in-game purchases, believes the dresses will sell just fine, even though he finds them overpriced.
“We’ve seen the game’s willingness to go to ridiculous lengths for profits, but there are always people willing to pay,” he told Sixth Tone.
An employee at Tencent familiar with the latest launch told Sixth Tone that the prices are high since the target market isn’t the general public.
“The dresses are selling the brand … The store is not here for sales volume, but for people willing to pay whatever the cost,” the employee said, requesting anonymity as they were not authorized to speak on the matter.
On Friday evening, the sales pages for the dresses showed that several sizes were already out of stock.
China is the world’s biggest video games and esports market, with 666 million gamers as of the end of 2021. However, as authorities restrict new game approvals and limit playing time for children, gaming companies are seeking new channels for revenue, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.
In 2019, the total number of women gamers in China reached 300 million, accounting for 46.2% of all gamers, according to a Chinese industry report.
Honor of Kings saw a new source of revenue in the clothing industry, particularly for women. According to a 2017 report by consulting firm Jiguang, women have gradually become the majority of the game’s more than 100 million daily active users since its release in 2015. And according to estimates, they spend on average over 10,000 yuan on in-game items.
Part of the game’s appeal among women is the in-game marketplace for “skins” — virtual items to decorate weapons or characters. While the sale of skins has remained a continuous source of revenue for the game, prices have steadily increased in recent years, with dozens designed primarily for the game’s female characters.
In 2021, the game sought to tap into its strong female fanbase by releasing four wedding dresses ranging from 28,800 yuan to 39,800 yuan — a move that garnered universal acclaim. Then in 2022, it launched a series of more modestly priced winter leisurewear, which was also well-received by fans as several products quickly sold out.
It remains to be seen, however, whether the latest dresses will be as successful.
According to the Jiguang report, just under half of Honor of Kings users earn between 3,001 yuan and 8,000 yuan, 25.2% earn above 8,000 yuan, while 27% earn below 3,000 yuan. It means that for three in four users, buying one of the new dresses would take a significant chunk out of their monthly pay.
Sun Jing, a game researcher, believes the dresses reinforce stereotypes, since most of the designs are traditional in an attempt to portray women as fairies. “Even if the clothing line doesn’t prove profitable, its branding effect will be invaluable,” she said.
Sun added that with gaming on the wane in China, more companies will seek to market actual products, like dresses, which can be used in real life.
(Header image: A promotional image for Honor of Kings' online store. From Weibo and re-edited by Sixth Tone)