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How Chinese free-to-play RPG Genshin Impact conquered the world

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Genshin Impact

(Image credit: Future)

This article first appeared in PC Gamer magazine issue 356 in April 2021. Every month we run exclusive features exploring the world of PC gaming—from behind-the-scenes previews, to incredible community stories, to fascinating interviews, and more.  

When Genshin Impact launched last year, no one saw its huge success coming. It was obviously pretty, sure, but it was also easy to write off as another Chinese free-to-play mobile game filled with microtransactions and high-pitched fairy sidekicks. What wasn’t apparent was how it would transcend the negative stereotypes, pulling inspiration from beloved classics like Nier: Automata and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to create an RPG that manages to feel both nostalgic and innovative. Or how its developer, MiHoYo, would come to exemplify China’s evolving games industry. 

In the span of just a few months, MiHoYo has become one of China’s most prestigious gaming companies. And since its 2020 launch, Genshin Impact has raked in an estimated $874 million and still continues to pull in around $175 million a month—and that’s just from mobile players alone. To put that in perspective, it took Fortnite’s mobile version nearly two years to cross the billion-dollar threshold. Genshin Impact is not only fantastic, it’s also the biggest global launch of a Chinese game in history. Not bad for a company that, just a decade ago, was made up of just three anime nerds who were fresh out of university.

If you started reading this and had to flip back to the front cover to double-check that this was still PC Gamer, I don’t blame you. But don’t be deceived by its roots in mobile games; Genshin Impact is a big step toward a future where games are free from the barriers of your chosen gaming platform. A future where big-budget open-world RPGs look virtually indistinguishable between their PC and mobile versions. And all this started because MiHoYo’s three founders, Cai Haoyu, Liu Wei and Luo Yuhao really love anime. 

(Image credit: miHoYo)

“Our inspiration was born from our passion for technology and [anime, comics and gaming] culture, and we wanted to share this passion with the world,” Cai tells me. “The other reason was we didn’t see many anime-style games that really intrigued us, so we decided to create a company to make anime games that were exciting for us.” 

Otakus save the world

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