Cityville Launches in Japan as Facebook Continues Steady Growth

The world’s biggest social game Cityville just launched in Japanese, available exclusively to the Facebook platform. This is the first time a localized version of a US Zynga game has been launched in Japan since their entry into the Japanese market. Zynga is currently rolling out their biggest IP around the world, with their recent partnership announcement with Tencent to launch the Chinese version on the game known in China as Zynga City. Zynga is pushing Cityville out around the world using a drop-down bar of different languages options (English, French, Spanish, Japanese), so users can all play the same base game. The potential for this is that people of different countries, cultures, and native languages can play together through Zynga games.

The game is launching just as Facebook Japan breaks the 4 milion user mark, fueled by months of steady growth (roughly 7% per month). While Facebook Japan is hestitant to flaunt their gaming catalogue as a selling point to Japanese users, it is important for them to have a vibrant entertainment ecosystem especially in a country that values mobile/social gaming so much. Their fear is experiencing “dummy growth” – that is, growth fueled by fanaticism over games that users end up creating empty or multiple accounts for the sole purpose of accessing games, which happened in other Asian countries like Taiwan a couple years back. Facebook Japan is on a delicate path trying to convince users to use Facebook for its social function , asking users to move away from anonymous pseudonyms and move towards publishing their real, juicy personal data. It is very interesting to note that the CPC & CPM for advertising has doubled within the past month for Facebook in Japan.

BREAKING: DeNA Officially Launches Mobage to All English Speaking Countries and China

In a truly global rollout, DeNA has just announced that Mobage social games platform for Android has just been released in English-speaking countries around the world as well as China.

Mobage is immediately available for download on Android in these markets, with more than 100 game titles currently in development for English-speaking markets. DeNA aims to deliver a constant supply of socially enabled games, many debuting on Android for the very first time.

For China, Mobage has introduced two popular Japanese social game apps localized for the Chinese market including Ninja Royale and Aqua Collection, with eight more games to follow by the end of August.

Since the arms race of partnerships and acquisitions by DeNA and Gree of international gaming platforms late last year, we have been eagerly awaiting to see both companies make major advances to align strategy, resources, and technology to push their brands globally forward. It would seem that this announcement by DeNA means the first major step forward into the global market since their acquisition of ngmoco:) in October of last year.

Mobage Android apps are developed using ngmoco’s ngCore game engine, allowing developers to release games across different devices and regions from a single source code.

The full Mobage ecosystem will be supported for these markets, including the social networking capabilities to communicate and meet like-minded players, developer support, and advertising network.

Microsoft Dives Into Japan’s Booming Smartphone Market With World’s First Mango Smartphone And Other Key Partnerships

In a joint press conference held this morning, Microsoft, Fujitsu-Toshiba and KDDI unveiled [J] the Fujitsu-Toshiba IS12T smartphone, the world’s very first Windows Phone Mango handset hitting Japan this September only on the KDDI AU mobile network. The phone features a 3.7″ LED display, 1 Ghz Qualcomm MSM8655 CPU,  32GB internal memory, 13.2 Megapixel Camera and is both water and dust proof. While not necessarily revolutionary by hardware standards, the Fujitsu-Toshiba IS12T is the very first smartphone in the world to feature Microsofts latest Windows Phone 7.5 Update (codenamed Mango). Samsung, Acer, and other major smartphone manufacturers also intend to release Mango smartphones late this year / early next year.

As competition and sales heat up between the iPhone and Android market and total smartphone sales skyrocketing  Microsoft is no doubt eager to enter this previously isolated and domestic mobile market. Within the past two years we have see the smartphone transform from an eccentricity of the feature phone dominated mobile market into the top-selling mobile phone category with more than 10 million iPhones and Android handsets in the market.

This exclusivity contract should further benifit KDDI who has been late to joining the smartphone boom, first with Softbank essentially becoming an Apple retail chain with the iPhone (and iPad), and Docomo making a delayed but powerful push with the Samsung Galaxy and the currently ongoing advertising for the Samsung Galaxy II. While there is by no means anything to directly indicate that the Windows Phone could be successful, it will certainly help differentiate the KDDI brand which is still perceived as the cheapest of the three major mobile networks.

This announcement of Microsofts big push with Fujitsu-Hitachi also comes just weeks after Nokia announced they would completely withdraw from Japan. After years of fighting an uphill battle against the feature phone market, Nokia had diminished their offerings to the Vertu series, a luxury mobile phone aimed at high-end consumers. If the Windows phone catches fire the way Android has in Japan, Nokia may have a means and opportunity to give it, yet again, another go.

To help lower the conversion costs for Japanese consumers seeking to move to the Windows Phone, Microsoft has also announced [J] a partnership with Gree to pre-install their social gaming platform into phone. Partnering with these key services will reduce barriers to entry for Japanese who might potentially be interested in the platform. As the new Mango platform offers Internet Explorer 9 with HTML5 compatibility, there should not be any issue running Gree games with their new Flash to HTML5 converter tool provided to developers.

DeNA Recruits Legendary Japanese Game Designers Into “Super Creators” Initiative

In a press conference yesterday, DeNA announced [J] the formation of the “Super Creators” initiative, an all-star team of five veteran game designers from the traditional Japanese games industry who will create social smartphone games for Mobage. All games will be published by AQ Interactive. The veteran game designers include:

  • Keiji Inafune: Legendary game designer formerly employed at Capcom now working at his new games company Comcept will be creating an action game called J.J. Rockets. While listed as part of the Super Creators his first title out of Comcept will be The Island of Dr. Momo as announced in a joint press conference [J] with mobile gaming giant Gree. After Capcom cancelled Megaman Legends 3, fans are hoping Inafune will be allowed by Capcom to bring the franchise to mobile. Inafune is best known for Megaman, Dead Rising, Lost Planet, and Onimusha. He is an outspoken critic of the traditional Japanese games industry.
  • Suda51: An “auteur” video game designer Goichi Suda is known for his left-field concepts and direction, he will be making a social game based off of his well known series No More Heroes. Suda51’s surreal style has garnered a cultish fan base amongst hardcore gamers. His latest game Shadows of the Damned was met with mild reviews and sales.
  • Yuji Naka: Cited as one of the creators of the Sonic the Hedgehog series is working on an undisclosed game which will use positional data. After programming at Sega for 22 years he left the company in 2006 and founded an independent games studio named Prope.
  • Yoshifumi Hashimoto: Marvelous Entertainment game designer behind the franchises like Rune Factory, Hashimoto will be developing a game based off of his Harvest Moon franchise. Earlier this year AQ Interactive was merged into Marvelous Entertainment’s business operations.
  • Noritaka Funamizu: Game designer and producer from Crafts & Meister, Funamizu will be working on a new smartphone game called Nama-ge. He was formerly a designer and producer at Capcom, leading many of Capcom’s biggest titles including the Street Fighter series. He left Capcom in 2004 to found his new studio Crafts & Meister.
This “Super Creators” league adds some heavy hitting talent to the game development roster who’s lengthy experience in the industry can help bring high-quality titles to Mobage’s smartphone platform. There is no word on whether these titles will be used outside of Japan as DeNA shifts their aspirations globally – the games will no doubt cater to the tastes of many Japanese gamers who are probably already using the Mobage platform. While past games by Inafune, Naka, and Funamizu may be well-known, their latest games especially published through their newly founded studios have been embraced only by a small niche segment of the overseas gaming market. Still, there is a lot of potential in this line-up, and the games will most certainly be worth keeping an eye on.

Dentsu Gets Exclusive Rights To Display Ads On Skype

Dentsu has struck another exclusivity deal, this time with Skype. The deal is intended to generate 1 billion of revenue (12.4 million USD) through exclusive display space on the Skype start up screen. Banner / video ads will cover roughly 1/3 of the screen as the program boots and will be cycled through daily . According to the Nikkei, this will be served to the roughly 1 million users in Japan who are using free services offered by Skype. This deal seems confined only to the PC/OS version of Skype – not mobile.

According to a recent research survey by Goo Research Portal, smartphones are the fastest growing device for Skype use, especially as smartphone sales continue to boom within Japan. Laptop and netbook usage has actually declined as a total share.

There is a possibility that this move by Skype is as a result of lower monetization of paid Skype services within Japan. The country has fewer needs to international calling, and group video calls are not necessarily a norm in day-to-day business in Japan.

Skype does however offer alternative payment options apart from credit cards (which have lower penetration when compared to other countries) or PayPal (not very successful in Japan) including credit-voucher sales at convenience stores like Lawson, Family Mart (similar to how people buy credit for services like Xbox Live), or electronic money services like Excite. There is little data as to how successful this has been in growing frequency or reach of payments.