Women in China are spending millions of dollars on virtual boyfriends

The Chinese mobile game 'Love and Producer,' where players develop a romantic relationship with four male characters, has been downloaded seven million times since its launch in December. YouTube

Talk about a fairy tale beginning and ending. Women in China have reportedly spent over $39 million in the last month on virtual boyfriends that they “date” in a mobile game called Love and Producer.

The game launched in December, has been downloaded seven million times and counts approximately four million daily active users. On its peak day, it grossed $3.9 million.

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The object of the game is to save your “late father’s” production company from financial ruin by reviving a television show. In the process, you have to develop and maintain a romantic relationship with four different male characters who are being considered as stars for the show.

“I am elated to unlock new plots every morning when the storyline gets updated,” a player told SupChina, a daily newsletter that explores Chinese culture and politics. She also said the four “boyfriends” are “considerate, sweet and heartwarming.”

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Love and Producer isn’t a new concept — the idea dates back to the “otome” genre that was created in Japan in the mid-1990s. These are story-based video games that are targeted specifically to women, where the ultimate goal is to create a relationship with a man and live happily ever after.

“Simulation and character collection are popular feminine game themes, especially when potential love stories are added as the plot develops,” Turian Tan, a gaming analyst with research firm IDC in Beijing, said to Quartz. “Female players are especially active within mobile games which are easy to operate, relaxing to play, and have more feminine content.”

In this game, the four men all represent a different ideal: Li Zeyan is a company CEO, Xu Mo is a scientific genius, Bai Qi is a police officer and Zhou Qiluo is a pop star. It makes money (and encourages users to spend money) by creating challenges that require purchasing purple diamonds (to go on dates) and bonding cards (to make decisions about your company). With each mission accomplished, the player earns both diamonds and cards, but you can also get them a lot faster by paying for them.

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And if a virtual relationship isn’t enough, the boyfriends will actually call users on their cellphones and recite one of their signature phrases — for example, Bai might say something as utterly romantic as: “As long as you are in the wind, I can feel you.” Users can then text them back.

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This is the second hit for Paper Studio, a Suzhou-based gaming company that made waves in 2015 with their mobile game Miracle Nikki. In it, players unlock clothing, shoes and hairstyles with which to outfit their character. It was so successful that a television show is now in the works.

In an act of dedication to Love and Producer and its heartthrobs, fans of the game recently bought the character Li a $49,000 LED ad on a Shenzhen skyscraper that read: “Happy birthday, Li Zeyan! We bought this with your black card, so don’t be surprised!” (The “fans” were actually an advertising firm.)

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