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GDC 2012: One size doesn't fit all in Asia Pacific - PopCap

PopCap has taken a cautious approach to expansion in Asian markets. VP of worldwide publishing Dennis Ryan explains how PopCap has found that each country requires a distinct approach.
Based in Seattle, Bejeweled and Plants vs. Zombies developer PopCap has looked beyond U.S. borders for growth, particularly exploring key Asian markets. While PopCap has known that there is big opportunity in Asia Pacific regions, it has been cautious about jumping into Asian markets too fast. PopCap has taken years looking into the necessary, small steps for building a mobile and social game business in that region. "One of the important takeaways for us over the past few years ... is don't look at [Asia Pacific] on a regional basis, but on a country basis," said Dennis Ryan, VP of worldwide publishing at PopCap. The tastes and gaming habits of players varies by each country -- don't assume that all of Asia Pacific operates in the same way, warned Ryan. Companies have to cater to the traits of each country. Around 500-600 people now work at PopCap, which is now owned by publishing giant Electronic Arts. About 100 workers are in Asia Pacific, most based in Shanghai, while the company has a smaller office in Tokyo. In countries like China, Japan and Korea, Facebook doesn't have nearly the same kind of penetration as it does in the U.S. So the social strategy needs to be markedly different, because game makers are dealing with drastically different platforms. Ryan noted that in Japan, social and mobile markets have already had a long history of mobile and social gaming, with companies like Gree and DeNA finding major success. "There are much higher monetization rates [than in the U.S.]," Ryan said. Monetization of social and online games is significantly higher in Japan with ARPU [average revenue per user] that can be around two to five times greater when compared to U.S. games. Daily ARPU for DeNA and Gree is 10-15 cents, while some genres might pull in 50 cents to $1 a day said Ryan. The current trend in Japanese social and mobile games is the popularity of trading card games like Tanken Doliland, which does $25 million in revenue, monthly, for Gree. Kaitou Royale brings in over $15 million a month for DeNA. Ryan said it's important to note what kind of genres are popular with audiences, and consider serving the demand for those genres. While Gree and DeNA have the biggest platforms in Japan, "Certainly one of the forces that will drive this market over the coming quarters and years is the iOS impact, which is still in its early stages of effect," said Ryan. "We've chosen to partner with Gree and DeNA, and we've been doing that for a few years. That's the path going forward," he said. PopCap is also investing in China, with an office that has been there for the past three years. Tencent, Sina and RenRen are the biggest players in social and mobile in the country. Ryan said one distinct feature on Chinese online and social game platforms is a prominence of game discovery. "Games are much more front and center on platforms" such as Tencent's Qzone, said Ryan. There are other notable differences, between Chinese social games and those in the U.S. For example, "gifting" isn't as popular as a retention incentive. And In China, players respond to, expect, and are willing to pay for in-game advantages. In the U.S., players tend more to pay for self-expression such as virtual accessories for avatars. There's also a prevalence of special events within Chinese social and online games. "On these Chinese platforms, if [a special event does] not [happen] every week, it's every other week," said Ryan. One web game, Tencent's Immortal Path, brings in over $15 million in revenues, a "significant" amount, said Ryan. Another title, HuLai San Guo has monthly revenues of over $4.5 million. "The market moves fast, it's a large market in China. We stick with our IP, so we've done versions of Plants vs. Zombies and Bejewled for Chinese-oriented platforms. But we also try to translate [IP] to [popular game genres]," he said. Pressed for time, Ryan only was able to offer a quick overview of Korea, but he called it a "key, large gaming market, very large," and one that is focused more on core gaming on social and mobile networks. PopCap is more focused on casual experiences, but Ryan said that addressing the hardcore market is "what we'd look to in terms of evolving our strategy [in Korea]."

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