The Japanese cell phone market has always been known to be a tough market to crack. Even at the height of Nokia’s worldwide market domination, it was not able to get even 10 percent of the Japanese cellphone market. The reason for this is that Japan has a large number of feature phone manufacturers and a phone feature set which is unique to the country.
The use of feature phones is also the reason that the Japanese mobile phone app market landscape is completely different from the rest of the world. This has led to very hard market penetration for foreign-made phone apps. With the recent success of iOS and Android phones, the social game market seems to be opening up on its own accord. In dollar terms, the size of the Japanese market for social games on the PC and mobile devices was $3.6 billion in 2011.
For social game developers this is both good news and bad news. The good news is that, it is an opportunity for social game developers to enter the lucrative Japanese social games market. With Apple’s iOS mobile devices, selling via the Apple Store is a relatively easy point of entry for crashing into the Japanese market. The same is true for Android devices with Google Play. The downside is that the app and the website needs to be accessible to Japanese who do not speak the language. This would entail revising the program interface to enable Japanese characters.
The Japanese passion for games goes very deep. Some of the social games played in Japan are endemic to the country and its people. Besides the language and graphics reflecting Japanese landmarks and street scenes, Japanese pop culture is another heavy influence on game design.
There are some game genres which are unique to Japan. These include:
- Manga and anime spin offs. This genre is a mine of intellectual property from which anime and manga producers and copyright owners use and extend for their marketability.
- Social role-playing games. These games are not like other social MMORPG, in that the games may be text- and turn-based, like LARP but on a cell phone.
- Social and love simulation games. These may be mistaken for social dating and love simulation games, which are a different genre altogether. These are more popular among girls and young adults.
- Social idol games and talent contest games. These are games where you train a character contestant for competition to become an idol or star.
- Social collectible card games. These are akin to Magic the Gathering card games.
These genres are practically non-existent outside of Japan. Software and gaming companies outside of Japan wanting to get a slice of the market would do well to take a look at the possibilities of creating for these types of games. With iOS and Android devices having a high penetration rate into the market, major players would be getting into the market as well. Foreign software developers need to have a good and stable infrastructure to host the social services.
An alternative to penetrating the market would be to partner with a social network application provider. The top three social network application providers (MIXI, DeNA and GREE) have at least 15 million users. In contrast, Facebook Japan has only 1 million gamers. Partnering with a Japanese game service provider gives the developer a leg up. With this setup, the service provider will serve as the billing and collection agent. The service provider’s internal synergies would also promote the new game. On top of that, the monetization model of Japanese social game service providers yield better gains than comparable Western companies.
Getting into the Japanese social game market is hard but not impossible. There are some necessary changes or revisions to make the program more culturally acceptable. Choosing the right hosting partner and game translation service are also necessary. Partnering with an established social game service provider is important to make use of their existing infrastructure. In lieu of an established game, creating a social game within a niche Japanese genre, from scratch, might be a better option rather than simply migrating an already successful game based on Western models.
The Japanese market for social games is big but different. The opportunities are there for big rewards. However, as a lot of Western companies have found out, doing business is not that easy. In order to be successful, foreign game developers have to be truly immersed in the culture and use that to their advantage.
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About the Guest Author:
Rodolfo Lentejas, Jr. is a fulltime freelance writer based in Toronto. He is the founder of the PostSckrippt, a growing online writing business dedicated to producing top quality, original and fresh content. To know more about him, please visit www.postsckrippt.ca. Like him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest.