Breaching the Japanese Game Market – Mission Impossible?

Penetrating the Asian game market can be extremely difficult for both western companies and developers. Appnext recently hosted a Meetup featuring Tomotaka Motoyoshi, Senior Director of Global Marketing at Mixi, Japan’s top mobile publisher and gained valuable tips and insights on the measures that can be taken to expand western presence and breach the Japanese market.

The Japanese Game market

According to Data from Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Japan’s current population is around 127 million. Out of the entire population, there are only 16 million smartphone users (53% smartphone penetration per person). Despite the low numbers, Japan generates top game revenue in worldwide ranking. Games like Fate/Grandorder currently available in Japan only, take 8th place on top grossing games worldwide.

top app revenue japan

Taken from AppAnnie

If you examine Japan’s top iOS ranking, 90% is comprised of games.

Japans game market

When looking at Japan’s top iOS ranking we can observe that the presence of globally well known games is scarce.

Japans game market

  Let’s review the facts:

  • Limited amount of smartphone users
  • 90% of Japans apps are games
  • Out of the top 30 games in iOS ranking, few are globally known


What’s our point?

The Japanese market is small, unique, and over-saturated with games (mostly local) and that means only one thing, competition! Before taking on the Japanese challenge and trying to get your game to rank consider these facts. If you’re a stubborn, non quitter who won’t give up,  get ready to put up a fight.

User behaviors in Japan

In Japan, people usually play games or use other apps at specific times. The most common times are 7AM, noon, and between 7PM to 9PM.

7 – 9AM– This is when people usually get up, get ready for work and begin their commute. Keep in mind that in Japan people usually commute by train, a very crowded train. This may seem like a minor detail but it has a tremendous effect when it comes to game-play. The train is so crowded and the commute is so long (about 90 minutes) that it’s difficult to play or use an app while holding it horizontally. When looking at the Japanese revenue ranking, 70% of the games are vertical.

train in Japan

Taken from

Playing a game like CandyCrush would be difficult for most to play on the train as it would be hard to reach while a game like Monster Strike is easier because the game’s action zone is on the bottom. Japanese developers create games that are based on these certain user behaviors. You will see vertical designs, simple and easy to use game-play that can be played anywhere.

game culture in japan

Noone– Most Japanese companies provide their employees with an hour break for lunch. During lunchtime is when people usually play games or use other apps.

7PM-9PM– This is when people start having some free time.

When comparing Appnext’s data and checking both install amounts and the most popular event(registration, purchase, app open etc.) times , the data showed that Appnext’s Japanese users show similar behavior to overall Japanese users.

App usage times in japan

User behavior is extremely important when trying to establish yourself in a foreign market. If you plan on competing with Japanese developers, get in their shoes and design your app to fit their lifestyle.

Japanese Creatives VS US

According to Tomotaka, there are major differences in app creative designs when comparing the US and Japan. He uses Monster Strike as an example to show the extreme differences in visuals.

japan_vs western game design

The Japanese view US creatives as too simple, too real and too dark while Americans view Japanese creatives as too busy, too anime and too light. The creative designs that work for the Japanese market may be viewed by American users as kid games. The point is, different things work for different markets. If you want to launch or promote a game in Japan you have to take it’s culture into consideration.

Research Japanese games and make sure to localize your creatives for a chance of competing with local developers. Because the creative is so unique and different from western style  It is recommended that you work with a Japanese creative agency to help you reach your design goals.

Mixi’s marketing approach

Communication is the nucleus of Mixi’s strategy.

“Our core policy is to create a bond via communication. What this means is we like to enhance the communication by the use our app.” – Tomotaka Motoyoshi

They focus on creating user relationships through face to face  multi-play games like Monster Strike.

How do they do it?

  • Influencer videos- Currently, Mixi uses influencer videos to attract their Japanese user base. Their strategy is creating educational content that introduces new features, characters and levels. Though Mixi has a popular YouTuber in Japan, most of the videos they generate are comprised of their employees, making the employees influencers. This approach has helped them gain around 40K twitter followers.

  • Offline Events- Since Mixi believes in fun, face to face interaction they create many offline events with the purpose of bringing people together. They also hold a variety of  E-sports events that are rare in Japan
    • Anime’s – While most Japanese companies do anime on television, Mixi uses YouTube as their main channel in order to provide the anime or game content that users will be able to see whenever, wherever they would like.

    • Communication first- Multi-play games have recently  become popular in Japan. While most Japanese companies try to adapt their games to fit multi-play and make it fun, Mixi puts communication first and game second.

    Promoting your game in Japan

    Keep in mind that CPI in Japan is higher than most Asian countries and higher than most countries in general. Before running off to create campaigns, make sure you:

    1. Review the insights in this article
    2. Have the budget
    3. Avoid mistakes that will cost you a whole bunch of money

    Average CPI in Asia

    Do not be discouraged, there is room for some optimism. Japan is at the top of the charts when it comes to ARPU (average revenue per user) so if you do manage to market your game successfully, your hard work will pay off.

    average monthly arpu top 30 games by revenue

    Image taken from AppAnnie

    Mission impossible?

    As you can see breaching the Japanese game market is no walk in the park. The combination of limited mobile users, intense competition and the difference in culture makes Japan a hard market for westerners to crack. Hard, but not impossible. If you have your heart set on succeeding you’re going to have to start thinking Japanese. “When in Rome, do as the  Romans do”, when in Japan, develop and promote as the Japanese would.


    Source: Eden Beinart for Appnext

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