Coverage of Mobage Open Platform Forum 2012

Last Wednesday 25th took place the annual Mobage Open Platform Forum. A huge event, with hundreds of attendees and lots of presentations. Still, the most interesting points were related with the need of making Japanese mobile social games global.

The message from DeNA to the developers was crystal clear: go abroad and go ASAP. Localize language, but don’t mind to localize any other thing: you need to be out in 2/3 months, it’s now or never.

They are basing their assumption in the recent success of Rage of Bahamut from CyGames, which just hit the 1st place of top-grossing apps at Google Play (press release here [EN]). Seems like the KPIs of this game in America are really close to the Japanese KPIs, a shocking fact since nobody believed it was possible to replicate the Japanese ARPU abroad. As DeNA CEO Isao Moriyasu and ngmoco CEO Neil Young said, this demonstrate that the browser games can work in America, and of course that represents a huge opportunity.

So the idea is: keep the Japanese core of the game because it works. Not only Rage of Bahamut is being successful, TapFish (10th) and Ninja Royale (14th, with an ARPDAU multiplied x6 since launching) are showing there is a way to go.

Some of the advises of ngmoco CEO Neil Young to the audience:

  1. Make the game focusing on monetization.
  2. Take part of all available platforms: Android, iOS, etc.
  3. Localize not only to English, but French, German and Spanish as well.
  4. Take in account the cultural differences about theme, art and UI.

DeNA is recommending to develop web and app hybrid games, since they are easier to update and multiplatform. In that direction, they presented PEX, a tool to convert HTML5-Javascript games to native apps improving velocity and capabilities (it will be available by the end of may); and also an update of ngCore, their tool for making native apps, remarkably improving the performance of the previous version.

For those on Big Data business, they also talked about their needs regarding managing huge amounts of information, since they have 40 million users and 2 billion data-points every day.

About the presentations of new games, the most interesting one was shipped by BNDeNA, showing a Macross game with lots of 3D action as well as social interactions with other players; actually it looks more like a console game than a mobile social game.

BNDeNA presentation

(DeNA CEO Isao Moriyasu and BNDeNA CEO Shin Unozawa, this one a little bit embarrassed about the name of his company)

Finally, the Mobage Awards 2012: Platinum Prices were given to Sengoku Collection (Konami), Rage of Bahamut (CyGames) and Idolmaster (Bandai-Namco); the Partner of the Year was Gloops (price handed out by the idol Yui Aragaki).


DeNA Exports Mobage In Alliance With Samsung

Yesterday issue of The Japan Times, on my monthly article I reported two social gaming network giants DeNA(Mobage Town) and Gree competition.

And the competition between the two rivals is set to continue beyond their desire to be Japan’s leading social network as both companies are seeking another growth possibility — international markets.

In the afternoon, DeNA had shown their new big move to the world. Bring their “Mobage” brand on smartphones to oversea [J], pre-set the Mobage platform on Samsung Androids globally [J].

For detail, Dean Takahashi wrote up on these two press release on VentureBeat.

DeNA and Ngmoco will launch global mobile social network, starting with Samsung phones | VentureBeat

DeNA has been trying U.S. market with Minination. Their flagship social game Kaitou Royal’s English version Bandit Nation on Facebook was shut down this July.

Will DeNA Crack The Japanese Code For International Expansion?

DeNA, the company behind one of the big three social networking sites in Japan, Mobage-Town (20m users in Japan), cannot be clearer on its current strategy.

It’s called international expansion.

Everyone is abuzz of today’s acquisition of Ngmoco, an US iPhone game developer for a staggering USD 400m.

The big tide in social gaming is coming, right now. We’d like to capture it and quickly become the world’s No. 1 mobile gaming platform

says Tomoko Namba, founder and CEO.

Wow. But let’s roll back in time for a minute. DeNA Global business initiatives actually started in July 2006 with the creation of its Beijing subsidiary, which launched Jia Jia Cheng, a Chinese Mobage-Town, the following year. In January 2008, the company established DeNA Global, its full-fledged international arm. Its location was not innocent: San Mateo, California.

True to its core business, MobaMingle was released the same year with more than USD 3m investment. A virtual community for mobile phones. Avatars, friends, games, blogging. A Mobile Game Town (i.e. Mobage-Town) for the US and Europe (and India a bit later), in short.

I can’t say it was mind blowingly successful, especially due to the lack of those flash-based mobile games that gave it traction in Japan. Or simply because we’re talking about markets that never got used to flash-based mobile gaming. Or even more simply since not all handsets were actually supporting Flash in the first place.

150,000 members (March 2009) might not have been braking any record, but it was a good exercise in testing the international waters.

Intelligently sensing the move towards an application-based phone ecosystem, DeNA brought its games and community to the iPhone/iPad last May. Just for its overseas users. An iteration of MobaMingle of sorts, if you want.

And things were going faster on all fronts.

DeNA took a 20% stake in the gaming platform Aurora Feint -a Ngmoco competitor- last year to facilitate distribution. It acquired IceBreaker, a US-based game publisher a few months later. Then bought Astro Ape Studios then Gameview Studios, two US-based game developers, this year. Then set up a USD 27.5m investment fund. And now that 400m deal.

USD 403m actually. 303m to be paid in November, 100m more depending on Ngmoco 2011 earnings.

403m. That makes it the world’s largest mobile social gaming platform. Or so they say [full press release in English].

403m for what? Unlocking that elusive international market.

The company plans to integrate Ngmoco’s social platform which plays nicely with both iOS and Android phones. Read that again. Or read this from the founders:

ngmoco will lead DeNA’s efforts in the Western world, including launching a new western smartphone version of the incredibly successful Social Games Network, Mobage (we say “Mo-ba-gae”) that we’re building together with DeNA.

DeNA is smart. It’s talking about OpenMobage, a platform. iPhone, Android, keitai. That’s key. If the company is able to create such a thing on mobile -think how Zynga used Facebook’s platform for its growth-, then it has a shot at being very successful.

And remember, the company’s revenue estimates for this year are about USD 1bn. That’s as much as Facebook. Good firing power, heh?

Becoming the premier [global] social gaming company appears extremely feasible

I want to believe Tomoko Namba, DeNA’s CEO. Really. But the list of Japanese tech companies that have successfully ventured abroad is dramatically short. Last time such noticeable investment happened was more than 5 years ago when Japanese mobile content giant Index Holdings bought Seattle-based Mobliss and 123 Multimedia. Or, closer to the numbers we’re talking today, when For-side bought iTouch, a mobile content provider.

Right. No one remembers.

Hence, only one name comes to mind. Rakuten.

Its acquisition of for USD 250m -with a relatively weaker yen- is too recent to pass any judgement. But it’s one story that will allow us all to judge how Japan will do abroad this time.

What will it be?