Game of Dragons: How Japan’s GungHo is quietly winning in North America

Puzzle & Dragons exhibit, Tokyo Game Show
Puzzle & Dragons exhibit, Tokyo Game Show 2013

I experimented with a lot of mobile games in 2013. But the one that I kept coming back to again and again was GungHo Online Entertainment’s hit title Puzzle & Dragons. The game is most popular is its home market of Japan, where it has seen 23 million downloads to date. But like many Japanese online services, the domestic market is near saturation for P&D, and GungHo has been making efforts push the game abroad. The North American version – the version that I play – doesn’t look like it has had the same success, with only 2 million downloads as of November.

But it’s slowly making progress, especially in terms of revenue, and I’d like to take a look at how exactly it’s doing that.

Most recently P&D saw a holiday boost in revenue, largely thanks to two smart promotions:

  1. 48-hour Godfest – This New Year’s promotion gave players a 3x chance of getting rare and powerful cards, including the game’s coveted god-type cards, using the game’s Rare Egg Machine (a sort of in-game lottery where you can earn rare monster cards). To use the machine, you either need to have accumulated five magic stones (P&D’s in-game currency) or buy stones with actual money. As you can see in the App Annie chart below, the game’s revenue shot up over New Year’s, in both the US and Canada, thanks to this enticing promotion.
  2. Rare Egg Machine was adjusted/renewed – This recent adjustment decreases the chances of a three-star card and increases your chance of a four-star card. This took place on December 10, and the effects of the adjustment are pretty clear as you can see below, for both the US and Canada (note that I’ve varied the scale for clarity).
Puzzle & Dragons, US market, grossing rank
Puzzle & Dragons, US market, grossing rank, Dec 29 – Jan 13
Puzzle & Dragons, Canada market, grossing rank, Dec 29 - Jan 13
Puzzle & Dragons, Canada market, grossing rank, Dec 29 – Jan 13

On a bit of a sidenote, it always really surprises me to see how active English-speaking fans on the game’s Facebook page, as well as on forums and discussion pages dedicated to the game. That’s not a very tangible measurement of the game’s success, of course, but for me it has always been a good indication that the game, which is very Japanese in both concept and design, has not been lost in translation.

In addition to activities like the ones we saw during the holidays, a number of cross-brand collaborations have helped P&D over the past year as well, most notably the Clash of Clans promotion that it held with Finnish gaming powerhouse Supercell.

But if we look at the game’s progress over the past year in terms of revenue alone (see below), then it’s easy to see what a productive year this has been for GungHo.

Let’s see what 2014 holds for the company.

Puzzle & Dragons, US market, grossing rank over 2013
Puzzle & Dragons, US market, grossing rank over 2013