Zhu Qiming is a gay video game designer based out of Beijing, China. His current project, “Rainbow Town,” is a life simulation game for smartphones in which users dress up their hunky avatars in stylish clothes and interact with other online users.
“LGBT people are gradually being accepted by the public — a few years ago the market would not be ready for a gay game,” Qiming told Motherboard.
In China, homosexuality was illegal until 1997, and even today only a small percentage of LGBT people in China ever come out — UNDP China reports in a survey on sexuality and gender expression that only five percent of homosexuals ever choose to go public with their sexuality.
According to the same report, however, Chinese societies are becoming increasingly accepting of LGBT individuals.
“The survey paints a country in transition, where the majority of people do not hold negative nor stereotypical views of LGBTI people, with young people being more open towards and accepting of sexual and gender diversity,” UNDP reports. “This … represents an important opportunity for LGBTI people and depicts a society that could achieve rapid and profound change, especially if guided in the right direction by civil society, policymakers, academia, the media as well as LGBTI people themselves.”
Qiming is one of many developers working toward creating a “pink economy,” a business model that caters to the LGBT community. The market for LGBT content is growing according to UNDP China, and businesses are scrambling to secure their place in the new territory.
“LGBTI people represent some of the most marginalized and vulnerable populations in Asia and the Pacific, including China,” Agi Veres, Country Director of UNDP China said. “Attention to their needs is therefore essential if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, a key feature of which is the underlying principle and commitment to ‘leave no one behind.’”
Star-G technologies, Qiming’s game development company, is just one of many businesses and entertainment companies that are shifting their attention toward China’s gay community.
“Every bar wants a gay night right now,” Marlon Ma told Fortune in January 2017. Ma has organized GLAM, an award winning LGBT nightclub show, and has also organized the city’s first drag show.
“I move venues every six months,” Ma continued. “Before [clubgoers were] probably half foreigners but I’m seeing more Chinese now than ever before.”
The “pink economy” in China has been estimated to value roughly $300 billion per year, making China the third largest LGBT market following Europe and the United States
“The consumer power of the gay community is robust, but it has always been neglected,” BlueD CEO and founder Geng Le told Fortune. “We want to tell people that the pink economy is very strong. The whole society is moving forward, it’s becoming more accepting, more diverse, and individual value is more emphasized.”
“I see strong demand going unfulfilled, and that provides us with ‘pink’ opportunities.” - Zhu Qiming, video game designer
BlueD, which is based out of China, surpasses Grindr as the world’s leading LGBT socializing app with a user base of 27 million.
Global firms are also pushing the limit by marketing themselves as LGBT-friendly in China’s marketplace, according to The Guardian. Businesses like Starbucks, Alibaba, Nike, Adidas and others have used messages of inclusion in China to cater to the LGBT market.
The businesses have offered LGBT-specific advertising, and Alibaba-owned retail company Taobao organized a trip for ten gay Chinese couples to get married in Los Angeles, as gay marriage still isn’t legal in China.
“There have been arguments about whether companies use LGBT marketing as a gimmick,” Geng Le told The Guardian. “But whatever their purposes are, they’re making LGBT people more visible. It’s a good thing, and the impact of the economy as the force of social progress is beyond our imagination.”
Qiming hopes to be responsible for some of that social progress by giving LGBT people in China an opportunity to express themselves and meet other members of their community through his games.
“With rising social tolerance, people in the LGBT community have begun to demonstrate their identity and meet other members of the community through a range of social activities, including games,” Qiming told China Daily. “I see strong demand going unfulfilled, and that provides us with ‘pink’ opportunities.”
Qiming hopes that his game “Rainbow Town” will serve a dual purpose to its players. The app will allow you to meet up with other players in real life, almost like a dating app. Qiming also wants the game to be an outlet for gay people who choose to remain in the closet.
“Rainbow Town’ is just one of the three games Qiming’s company is working on, all of which are being designed for mobile platforms and contain LGBT themes.
“I’ve always wanted to do something for gay people,” Qiming said. “A purpose of this game is to let people do things they might not be able to do in real life, such as dress however they want to and just be themselves.”