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UA Spotlight in Asia: Breaking Into the Japanese Mobile Gaming Market

Did you know that Japan is one of the largest markets for mobile gaming in the world? Multiple studies have found that more than 50% of Japan’s 125 million people are gamers. Among these gamers, 41%, the largest segment, play mobile games. 

Many have theorized about the popularity of mobile games in Japan. Some say it may have to do with the country’s history with video games as one of the pioneers and leaders in the industry. Others look for a correlation between how the Japanese society operates, with long commutes and longer working hours, and the respite mobile games offer from the typical  busy day. 

We know that the answer is somewhere overlapping all these hypotheses, which is what makes the Japanese mobile gaming market so unique.

If you are reading this blog post, there is a high chance you are interested in breaking into this billion dollar market — US$24 billion by 2025 to be exact. We have picked the brains of our campaign managers who help launch and optimize new games in Japan, and here are Appier’s insights to help you take your first step towards a successful game launch in Japan. 

Understand what is popular in Japan

To launch a successful game in Japan, you have to understand what is already popular in the country. This does not mean googling the current top-performing games and copying them. Rather, gaming app developers intent on making it big in the Japanese market should take the time to understand what activities Japanese people enjoy. 

Out of several different sports games, we have found that baseball mobile games perform the best in Japan — and this is no coincidence. While sumo may technically be Japan’s national sport, the most popular one is baseball. So, by the way of art imitating life, Japanese players who enjoy sports games prefer baseball games the most. 

Similarly, when it comes to betting sports, horse racing is the most popular in Japan. And, we have found that mobile games featuring betting on horse races perform the best among gamers into betting sports. 

Be in tune with local trends and tastes 

Of course, we understand that not every developer has the resources to create a game specifically for the Japanese market. We also understand that perhaps your vision for your game does not involve baseball or horse racing. In this case, how can you still leverage what is popular in Japan for a successful game launch?

The answer is localization, which is a concept that works in every market. 

Localization is most evident in how we package a mobile game and how we design the creatives. There may be a certain catchphrase that is having its moment in Japan or a certain design aesthetic. By incorporating these popular elements into the marketing campaign and creatives for your gaming app, you are more likely to catch the attention of the mainstream audience who is closely following the latest trends. 

During the 2022 World Cup, when Japan stunned the world and beat Germany in their match, the news became a hot topic in the Asian country. Advertisers, regardless of their association with soccer, were promoting their products with references to the historic moment. This sort of timely localization is what game developers need to aim for if they want their ads to feel authentic. 

Another thing that adds a touch of authenticity to ads is a clear understanding of the creatives locals gravitate towards. Our campaign managers have found, after running hundreds of campaigns, that the Japanese audience like vibrant color, an explosion of information, and have no particular preference towards English words (unlike other Asian countries that like to feature a few English words here and there in their creatives). 

If this sounds almost the exact opposite of the image of Japan that we are used to in the West — the minimalism of Marie Kondo — that’s because it is. Here is a designer’s take on this seemingly contradictory Japanese design aesthetic that is found in the country versus out of the country. To appeal to the audience inside Japan, game developers must know what works in Japan, not what Japan is exporting abroad. 

iStock-531059939A magazine stand in Japan illustrating the typical Japanese design aesthetic

We have found in certain cases that localized creatives perform anywhere from 1.3x to 2.8x better in click-through rate than non-localized creatives, with video performing better than banner ads. 

Know where your high-value gamers are

As we mentioned before, gaming is very unique in Japan, so unique that many have said Japan has taken gaming to another level. This is good news for game developers because serious gamers are after all those who make them money. 

Through our observation and analysis, we have found that high-value gamers learn about new games from apps, not websites. Which types of apps specifically? Apps that house local game forums or feature comic/game content or life information (social apps). 

We illustrate how this may happen with the image below. An avid comic reader may see an ad for a game while they are reading their new favorite baseball comic on their iPad. They will click on it since the baseball-themed game has the same sports theme as the comic they are reading, and voila! They download the game and start playing, and the game has become a part of their everyday life like the comic. 

UA Spotlight in Asia-02 (2)

By now, you should be able to rationalize why these types of apps are the ones where you can find new gamers for your newly launched game. These types of apps are either directly related to gaming or have a connection to the lives of Japanese people, which we highlighted in an above section as being an important element to the success of a game in Japan. 

Now that we are at the end of this blog post, you know the right direction to take with your game launch. However, if you want more insights from our campaign managers, who have over 1000 new app launches in Japan under their belt in the last year alone, then book a free consultation now.

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