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Eight Lessons Learned in the Japanese Social Game Market

The hard-learned lessons in the Japan Social Game Market from a facebook game developer's perspective.

Marcus Kay, Blogger

October 11, 2010

6 Min Read

After all the crazy deadlines and nightmares during my life in Facebook development, I decided early this year to embark on our journey to the Japan social gaming market.

It seems now is the moment we've been long waiting for -- today is the Grand Opening of Yahoo Mobage, the ground-breaking Japanese PC-based social network formed by Yahoo Japan (number 1 Japanese website) and DeNA (Japan's leading mobile SNS).

These two giants allocated 1 billion yen (US$12 million) initial marketing budget to promote this new platform to show their determination to compete with Mixi, the current leading PC-based social network in Japan. Watch out if you're in Japan and you should see massive commercials starting from today.

It's three o'clock in the morning.  I managed to successfully put my game into the platform, and, now in the silent moment, I am waiting for the big wave to come at dawn.

During this wait, I decided to summarize some FAQs here to share with my Facebook developer friends. They are my hard-learned lessons and I hope you won't be too surprised.

Q1: Can you get me a SNS account to play with?

A1:  “No, I can't it give you and PLEASE STOP ASKING ME!”  This was the typical response I got when I asked my buddies from Japan.  The reason that I got a lot of that response was not because I was being a jerk all the time. 

The reason behind this is because a Japanese mobile service account is a requirement for creating an account for many Japanese social networking sites (e.g. Yahoo-Mobage and Mixi).   In Japan, the mobile users can make all sorts of purchases with their mobile accounts and the users can settle the payments through their phone bills. 

That is why Japan mobile service providers require the customers to provide their local residential proofs during the registration process.  In short, you cannot get a mobile or SNS account unless you live in Japan or you have a Japanese buddy who can trust you with his/her private information.

Q2: Is there any good tool for translating the web pages into something that I can understand? 

A2:   No, Google Translate is not the answer.  The online translating applets do a lousy job when those applets try to translate large amount of text. 

You should try them yourself and you'll see what I mean.  You'll be "Lost in Translation" literally except you aren’t Bill Murray and, sorry, there is no fancy story for you.  The best "tool" is to have a native Japanese person sitting next to you.

Q3: I have a good Facebook game and I have finished all those OpenSocial and localization stuff.  Can I put it into the Japanese platforms now and see if it works?

A3:  You can create a Facebook application anytime but you cannot do this with the Japanese platforms.  You need to have your company properly registered and approved before you can get to fill in those little textboxes for creating a new application for the Japanese platforms. 

Facebook does not care who you are unless you are the top companies, but the Japanese platform providers want to know you very well before you can do anything for them.  Most approval processes accept only physical application forms delivered by courier, and electronic application is not available for most of them (no kidding). 

More importantly, make sure you follow all the rules and policies or you have to start all over again.  The same applies when you try to put your games onto the platforms.  The approval process is very strict and rigorous.  Once I was asking for the platform to publish my game, the platform technical team would not allow me to publish my game yet because their comment was "In the step 5 of your game tutorial, the description contains an extra space".  Yes, this is a true story.

Q4: Can I implement offer walls and payment methods like Paypal?

A4: "Don't be naïve" (quoted by Matt Damon in Green Zone).  In Yahoo-Mobage, you MUST use their official platform currency which takes 30% transaction fee from you. They are way ahead of Facebook when it comes to platform credit.  Also, you are not allowed to put any third party advertisement anywhere in your application. What about your own offer wall?  Not a chance!

Q5: I have some marketing budget.  Can I buy something like Facebook ad to promote my games?

A5: No, you can't do it in Yahoo-Mobage even if you can spend a million dollars (for now at least).  There is a "Featured" section with games hand-picked by the platform team, but no one can guarantee your game will be on the list. 

You won’t know either how long your icon will be up there if your games are picked.  The good news is that you can cross-promote your own games within the platform, which is one of the best approaches proven on Facebook. 

Q6: Is localization important?

A6: In addition to the obvious answer "Yes", I want to point out a common misconception.  Many developers think they must change their in-game graphics to Japanese manga style.  Not really.  I have seen quite a lot of games with graphics in American comic style or Disney style.  The key is, however, the right Japanese tone to use in the game according to the local culture.

Q7:  What are the popular genres?

A7:   The users in Japanese SNS platforms play similar genres of games as the Facebook users.  The most popular genre is still simulation game, like farming, restaurant, etc.   Other popular genres include pet raising, RPG, puzzle and card / board games.

Q8: Is competition very keen?

A8: At the time when I was writing this, there were no more than 100 games in Yahoo-Mobage.  Comparing Facebook with Yahoo-Mobage, I can safely say the competition is NOT very keen yet. Yahoo-Mobage recently has decided to invest $12M USD to promote their new SNS platform. 

If you think about it, every game now theoretically can enjoy a $120K USD worth of promotion budget in average! This move will attract many developers from worldwide and the window of opportunity is closing as more developers join the competition.  Zynga has made plans to penetrate the huge Japanese market and Playfish-EA has already published Restaurant City in Yahoo-Mobage.  Hurry up if you want to join the party!

There are actually many other important points that need attention, such as their unique viral channels and monetization tricks, etc. I'll try to write more blog entries for those points in the future.  Meantime, if you're interested in this space and want some free advice, or even want to cross promote your games with ours, let me know!


This post originally appeared on wizQ 

Marcus is the founder of wizQ. He helps social and mobile game developers enter Japan and China markets. Find him on Twitter, LinkedIn and Medium.

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