WeChat

The tech world by now is pretty much fully awake to the fact that messaging apps are the new social networks, and that the likes of Japan’s Line, South Korea’s KakaoTalk, and China’s WeChat (Weixin, as its known at home) are, essentially, the “new Facebooks.”

The numbers put up these newcomers are staggering. WeChat now claims somewhere in the order of 500 million users, while Line claims more than 200 million users and KakaoTalk more than 100 million, despite being centered in relatively small markets. To get a sense of how big these things are, consider Paul McCartney. The former Beatle has 1.6 million followers on Twitter, a point of pride for the soon-to-be-public social media network. But on Line, McCartney’s two-week-old account has already accrued 3.8 million followers.

But it’s the revenue figures that are really getting people buzzing. In the second quarter of 2013 alone, two-year-old Line recorded $132 million in revenue and is already said to be mulling an IPO. In the first half of 2013, KakaoTalk surpassed $311 million in revenue – and that was just from gaming revenue. (By the way, I’ve now linked to four pieces by The Next Web’s Jon Russell, who is all over this trend.)

The biggest of the messaging giants, and the most important to keep an eye on, however, sits in the world’s largest Internet market. And according to new figures from one of China’s leading Android app stores (the country doesn’t have a Google Play store, so there’s an abundance of pretenders), it’s clear that games are going to be a huge deal for it, too.

WeChat, which is owned by the $100 billion-plus behemoth Tencent, has taken its time with monetization, even as it has secured a stranglehold on the Chinese mobile market. That is likely because it has been studying Kakao, in which Tencent holds a 13.8 percent stake.

Given Tencent’s historical power as a game publisher and distributor – games account for much of the company’s revenue – some people may have been surprised that the company took so long to launch a gaming platform for WeChat. It wasn’t until August that Tencent finally flipped the switch on the messaging app’s gaming center. But now that it has done so, we’re already seeing early indications that games will be just as lucrative for WeChat as they are for Kakao and Line, whose games platform saw 150 million downloads in its first three months.

A report released today by Android app store Wandoujia, which itself has 200 million users, point to the success of two early WeChat games.

The “Guitar Hero”-like “Rhythm Master,” which features hit Chinese pop music, has seen 919,000 monthly downloads through Wandoujia. The game asks users to log in with WeChat and share their results with friends at the end of each round.

And “WeRunner,” a racing game featuring cartoon characters and a social scoreboard, has been downloaded 522,000 times for each month of its existence. “WeRunner,” in which players can buy virtual items to improve game play, brought in $16 million in its first month and peaked at $1 million a day, according to Tencent’s own news service.

These are still the very earliest of days for WeChat, let alone its gaming platform. But these are numbers that would make any Internet company giddy. That they are happening under the watch of a company that threatens to surpass Facebook in market cap, a company that has deep enough pockets to buy Riot Games for $400 million and is rumored to be behind a giant funding round for Snapchat, should be reason enough for a few US-based competitors to get a little nervous. Or at least watchful.

The messaging revolution, it is clear, will not be confined to messaging alone.

[Photo via SCMP]