This is the first in a two-part series. Read part two.
Chinese social media powerhouse Tencent is rapidly moving into the U.S. market, quietly rolling out an English-language version of its Wiebo microblogging platform and assembling a team to launch online social games on Facebook. The company recently opened offices in Palo Alto, CA. in the shadow of Facebook’s headquarters, to take advantage of Silicon Valley’s pool of gaming talent and tech-savvy Mandarin-speaking applicants.
Tencent America, a division of Tencent Holdings, tells recruits that it is staffing the office with people who will bring new online social games to market in North America, particularly on Facebook. For instance, in a listing for a community manager position, Tencent says it is seeking a manager to drive the “vision and features for our Facebook social game titles.” The company says it prefers – but does not require – bilingual applicants who have worked with offshore teams and startups.
Another indicator of Tencent’s U.S. plans can be found on the English version of QQ Games, its in-house multi-player gaming site. A post by a company rep refers players to a pair of Facebook games and asks them “to join us for the next stage in our gaming journey.”
Facebook is blocked in mainland China, where the vast majority of Tencent’s users reside. Tencent Weibo, also called QQ Weibo, was launched in April 2010 and is still in Beta testing. In late Sept. 2011, bloggers started reporting that the site, t.qq.com, was giving them the option of viewing it in Chinese or English and in some cases it was automatically appearing in English.
The site boasts 300 million users, but its activity rate pales compared to its Chinese rival Sina Weibo. Both are described as Twitter-Facebook hybrids, but Sina Wiebo has yet to offer an English-language site.
Tencent owns a range of Internet services in China and is primarily known for its popular QQ Messenger instant messaging service, which spawned QQ Games. To put the Tencent online empire in U.S terms, it’s as if “AOL Instant Messenger, MySpace, Twitter, and a mini-Facebook were all owned by one company, and all were cross-promoted and synced to each other,” says Kai Lukoff, Beijing-based founder of startup blog Techrice. In China, Tencent “has locked-in a huge user base via the social graph of QQ Messenger, and Tencent Weibo is just another spoke in that hub,” he states. Other experts point out that a single QQ account can be tied to social networking, social gaming and even social commerce. Tencent reports that as of September 2011, it had 711.7 million active QQ IM users and in November 2011 Tencent Weibo had 50 million active users.