One of the biggest Japan-related tech stories from 2012 was the success of Cygames’ social card battle game Rage of Bahamut on DeNA’s Mobage network. Whether or not Japanese social games can succeed in markets abroad is a very interesting question, and Bahamut so far is perhaps the most convincing evidence to date that they can. With over 10 million users around the world, Rage of Bahamut has been an unexpected success, and a fixture atop the iOS and Android top grossing charts for the majority of 2012.
While the folks at DeNA couldn’t disclose exactly how profitable Bahamut has been, they did proudly refer to it as “one of the most valuable apps in history.” Of course, the mobile gaming space is still young, but the feats of Bahamut and its developer Cygames, both at home and abroad, are certainly impressive. DeNA was impressed too, picking up a 20% stake in Cygames back in November of 2012 for the price of $92 million.
I recently got in touch with some representatives from Cygames to find out more about the process of bringing Bamahut to markets outside Japan. Cygames’ Yuito Kimura was one of three directors, along with Akihiro Iino and Koichi Watanabe who originally developed the Rage of Bahamut concept. I asked him if they were confident that such mobile game genre like card battle games – which at that point were only really proven in Japan – could excel in overseas markets.
To be honest, not really. Back then, no card games like the ones popular in Japan had become breakout hits overseas. We really felt that there would be no way to know without giving it a try.
Cygames had ridden DeNA’s Mobage platform to success in Japan, and they thought perhaps the success of the partnership could extend overseas. DeNA executive Junichi Akagawa noted that they did think that “the desire to collect cool cards should be something universal,” and because of great artwork and past success in the Japanese market, they certainly thought it had the potential to be a hit internationally.
Evolving abroad ¶
Since then, as we all know, Bahamut has been performed amazingly well on top grossing app charts, displaying surprising staying power (see charts below). Kimura says one reason for the games success is because they are always updating and improving it. In terms of making the game appealing for English-speaking users, there was some reworking of the design as well to appeal to Western audiences.
When I recently spoke to the folks from app metrics firm App Annie, one representative also cited outstanding marketing as one of the main reasons why Bahamut has done so well. But it’s important to note that the game was marketed differently abroad than it was in its home market. While the game was heavily advertised on television in and with out-of-home ads in Japan, a referral code system played a large role in helping the game spread in overseas markets. I can attest to this first hand actually, as anything that I’ve written about Bahamut in the past tends to attract a ton of comments from gamers who want to share their codes with others .
The game’s impressive artwork has surely helped Bahamut’s popularity among gamers, and I’m told that Cygames illustrator’s have previously worked on Japanese ‘AAA’ game titles . In fact, a collection of artwork from the game was recently published as a book and is now available on Amazon Japan.
Kimura says that in total, the amount of people who worked on Bahamut is roughly the same as would be required for a console.
Whatever the reason for Bahamut’s popularity to date, it’s certainly a good example of a Japanese export thriving on a global scale. February 21st will mark the one-year anniversary of Bahamut on ‘Mobage West,’ so it will be interesting to watch Cygames moving forward with this and other titles for the international market.