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.
The late afternoon session of the Infinity Ventures Summit featured a panel on mobile gaming, highlighting the efforts of Japanese game companies to win over the global market. Panelists included GREE International’s SVP Eiji Araki, DeNA’s chief platform strategy officer Junichi Akagawa, and Gumi’s president and CEO Hironao Kunimitsu. The discussion was moderated by Taisei Tanaka, the CEO of Geisha Tokyo Entertainment.
Araki-san explained that the US and Japan are very different markets, noting that they have had successes and failures in the US. He cited Modern War, Crime City, and Zombie Jombie as a couple of their success stories. He noted that at GREE International (in San Francisco), they work differently than they do in Japan. In the US, they have a very systemized approach across pre-production, production, beta, and general availability phases. And after every stage, there is a check point to reflect on if the game has potential to be a top 5 title. If they aren’t happy with a progress, they may cancel the game mid-way.
DeNA’s Akagawa explained that the biggest challenges for his company in expanding abroad is ensuring that there is a consistency of management principles as well as a synchronization of corporate philosophies across regions. Building trust and communication across different cultures is difficult, and without trust you can’t really do anything. If a game doesn’t meet it’s goal, does the fault lie with the US or Japan office? This is when good communication comes into play. He notes with a laugh that ‘nom-unication’ (a Japanese portmanteau to describe communication through drinking parties together) is a word they throw around a lot.
Solving the puzzle
In terms of developing a successful game, Akagawa made the comparison to baseball, noting that if you want a hit you need to swing many times. But interestingly, Japan’s most popular mobile game, GungHo’s Puzzle & Dragon’s is somewhat of an exception to this rule.
Kunimitsu questioned whether or not the money GungHo is making with P&D can be sustained. Akagawa expressed confidence that it can continue at least for a while longer. But it was also noted that many investors overseas don’t know about GungHo, and once they learn about them, there might be some investment coming – resulting in another boost for the company.
But to continue the baseball analogy, if you are swinging and not hitting, then you need to adjust your swing. Akagawa noted that in each market, a publisher needs to figure out what is most likely to resonate in that particular area:
If you want to develop globally, in order to have a game in the top ranking, you need to localize to make sure your game is accepted. At the same time some games are not accepted by the mass public, but if you have core users you can still succeed.
But of course, then there are games that are popular the world over like Angry Birds. But Araki noted that trying to develop such a wide-appealing game can be a gamble. GREE uses a lot of data trying to figure out what will work. Gumi’s Kunimitsu-san pointed to another problem, saying that “content is a zero sum game” and even if your game is popular, but another is more popular – then you still lose.
Akagawa closed out the session by saying that DeNA has a now or never approach, and that they have to move fast. This is a sentiment that we heard before among some of the country’s more successful internet companies (most notably, Line).
It will be interesting to see how quick all three of these gaming companies can move in the near future, in their efforts to win over global gamers.