Transgressive Play and the Inherent Limits of Business Growth for China’s LGBTQ Platforms: The Case of a Social Game in Aloha

Shuaishuai Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Since 2016, China’s online LGBTQ platforms, such as Blued and Aloha, have been seeking to increase user acquisition and retention by introducing new functionalities to their interfaces. Although these attempts were promising at first, most of their endeavors proved unsustainable, largely due to the condition in which their businesses operate: a niche audience segment in a winner-take-all mobile market and a highly regulatory market in which LGBTQ content is often made a site for the execution of power. This article investigates the now-defunct role-playing social game Werewolf embedded in Aloha, one of the popular dating apps for queer men in China. By bringing together scholarship on game studies and queer media studies, it is argued that social games embedded in dating apps foster a new form of sexual sociality in which desires become increasingly gamified and intimacy networked, which are essential for queer social media to retain users. Although Werewolf was ultimately closed due to Aloha’s budgetary controls, queer players have emerged as a promising market for their unique engagement in social games. LGBTQ platforms, however, are not the main beneficiary of the queer gaming market because of the winner-take-all mobile ecosystem. The article highlights the inherent limits of “outward” expansion of China’s LGBTQ platforms into the mainstream market and suggests that prioritizing the unaddressed needs of their niche audience through an inward approach may be a more viable strategy for business growth in a mobile ecosystem dominated by a handful of major players.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
JournalSocial Media and Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 30 May 2023


  • China
  • dating app
  • platform economy
  • social game


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