"Chinese developers have the technical skills but often lack the ability to promote the products in a way that western consumers are used to, because of the huge differences in culture and languages," says Tong Bin, an analyst at Shanghai-based research firm iResearch Consulting Group.
But hiring foreign staff isn't the only solution, he says. Chinese companies could also hire international marketing agencies or use foreign game publishers like Chillingo - the Cheshire, U.K.-based company that helped to distribute the popular Angry Birds game from Finnish developer Rivio Mobile. (See "Sorry Angry Birds, texting still the most popular smartphone app".)
That's what Astepgame CEO Tang Zhongning plans to do.
Astepgame is a Beijing-based startup with 40 employees, all of whom are Chinese, and hasn't had much success yet in cracking the American market.
"We are looking for the right foreign company to help us do all the promotion," Tang says, adding his company is trying to develop apps targeting western consumers. "Without the help, it's almost impossible for us to reach our target successfully."
Astepgame's major product is Three Kingdoms-Legend of Shu, an app based on the historical Chinese novel "Romance of the Three Kingdoms." Priced at $2.99 for iPhone, and released in English, Chinese, and Japanese, the game got over 100,000 downloads since December 2010 - but most were from China and the rest were either from overseas Chinese communities in Singapore and elsewhere or from Japan.
"It's a typical Chinese story so maybe not that attractive for westerners," Tang says, adding that a Korean version of the app will be released soon.
But the company was trying to target a Western audience right from the start, and originally released the app just in English.
The reason? Not only are Chinese consumers less used to paying for apps, but few have the dual-currency credit cards necessary to make payments at the app store, Tang says.
Instead, most Chinese iPhone users jailbreak their phones, says iResearch's Tong Bin.
"That way, users can download pirated apps for free," he adds.
Though there are no official statistics of the number of iOS devices sold in China,Wang Jianzhou, CEO of China's largest mobile network carrier China Mobile, recently told local media that the company had over 5.6 million iPhone users as of the end of May 2011 -- and the number is rising fast.
Apple reported the sales in Asia Pacific surged 151 percent, or $2.9 billion, during the second quarter of 2011 from the same period in 2010, with major growth force coming from sales of iPhones in China, Hong Kong and South Korea.
But even when Chinese consumers do download legal apps, they opt for the free ones.
According to Utrecht-based research company Distimo, China is second behind the U.S. in the number of app downloads. Meanwhile, revenue from paid apps for all of Asia is about two thirds of what it is just for the U.S. - and the bulk of that is from consumers in Japan.
Targeting the global market may bring companies more revenue, but it also poses a big challenge to Chinese developers, and not just when it comes to cultural barriers, says Sun Peilin, analyst at Beijing-based research firm Analysys International.
There is a lack of creativity, he points out. "A lot of China-made apps are just copying foreign apps."