How can Line monetize its 150 million users?



See the original story in Japanese.

This is part of our coverage of the Infinity Ventures Summit 2013 in Sapporo, Japan. You can read more of our reports from this event here.

In contrast with that GREE and Mobage (by DeNA) who released a wide range of web-based game titles, native apps are grabbing much more attention, notably Puzzle & Dragons and Line’s repertoire of gaming apps. But can their revenue be sustained? And how will they lead the smartphone app market?

We had a chance to hear from Jun Masuda, chief officer at Line Corporation, where he spoke about how to monetize apps and open the platform to the third-party developers.

According to the stats from App Annie CEO Bertrand Schmitt, the Line app was ranked in 4th as of last March, based on consolidated global revenues from the iOS Appstore and Google Play.


Masuda: For message app developers, you usually make money by selling stickers, ads, and charging for derivative services. For social network providers, you may might make your living with advertising. But if you rely only on that revenue stream, it’s far too difficult to sustain your business. It’s important to mix up revenue streams, both charging users and with advertising, and keep that in balance. Sale of stickers is showing good numbers, and the app is ranked in first place if you exclude gaming apps, both on the Google Play and the iOS app store.

Popular stickers, popular characters

Masuda: We’ve had success acquiring users in the Thai market, so non-Japanese also like this concept of decorative communications, adding stickers in chat. Our revenue comes primarily from the Japanese market. Prices for our stickers are common in all around the world. Prices are relatively high for Thai users, but they still like to buy the stickers.

In terms of sticker sale trends, we’re not seeing any apparent gap between the globally version and locally-optimized versions. A sticker showing familiar characters, Brown & Cony, is the best selling one in the global markets. In the countries where local people typically watch Japanese animation films or understand what kawaii means, the Line app business does well. In the rest of the world, however, business is not so good.


Make the most of 150 million users

Masuda: In the latter half of last year, the Line Pop app was the best selling of our gaming apps. For games there have been 140 million downloads, and 25 titles. I can’t disclose revenue numbers, but our strategy is to acquire new gaming users on the Line user base.

We intend to keep introducing titles that female users will like, but we carefully set prices that won’t force them to pay too much. They typically play the games where they like to talk with someone over the phone. We’ll try to think further on how to monetize.

If an app has its name associated with the Line app, it usually has a very high rank in the app store. Prior to the launching the app in the gaming app category, we check if the app behaves as intended, and assure the quality of its user experience.

Opening the platform to third-party developers

Line’s Jun Masuda

Masuda: We are actually receiving many inquires about opening the platform to third-party developers. But there’s no plan for the time being. As we’ve been doing until now, we’ll work with partner developers who have ideas on what kind of games are suitable for Line users. We shutdown the in-company gaming studio team back in April. Kakao has more than 200 gaming titles, which makes me feel the life-cycle of a title is getting shorter. We’re now carefully thinking what to do next.

For more information on the growth of Line, please check out our interactive Line Timeline which chronicles its growth from its launch back in 2011 up until the present day.