Yesterday, Rockstar Games released a fully localized version of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars on the Japanese app store as more Western game brands invest in localizing and releasing iPhone apps. This comes at an opportune time for many Western gaming brands – not only is the Japanese games market showing signs of becoming increasingly insular on the part of both consumers and developers, the market size is shrinking as well. Compared to the incredible success of Playstation 2 (which sold a lifetime 25 million units), the Playstation 3 has been a failure having just recently limped past 6 million units. At the same time, the most popular titles of the year in video games were home-grown mega-titles like Pocket Monster Black & White and Dragon quest- a clear shift from the types of games Western brands tend to develop. In fact, within the top 50 games of the year, not a single Western title has made it to the list. To make things worse, Namco-Bandai Holdings has announced that they will shift development back towards the Japanese market – which makes up 65% of their total revenue. While a Japanese developer like Square Enix can grab a million unit sales with a game of mediocre reception- many Western game titles, even those with international critical acclaim and millions of sales worldwide, consider 100,000 to be a great success. In essence, the market conditions are bleak for many western gaming brands.
The incredible rise of the iPhone in Japan now appears to be a silver lining for these brands. According to reports by the Mainichi Shinbun yesterday, the iPhone was the 5th most popular cellphone in Japan during the July – Sept sales period at a 12.2% market share. The app store is quickly becoming an exciting, competitive space with more blogs and websites dedicated to showcasing the latest apps to a rapidly growing consumer base. This surge has been picked up by global media like the Associated Press as well, who recently covered the growing excitement of Western developers for the Japanese iPhone market.
While a couple Japanese titles from Capcom or Konami exist on the app store, the most popular paid apps across all genres are dominated by Western game companies like Electronic Arts and Epic Games. November and December saw the release of nearly two dozen fully localized game titles on the app store by Western publishers. Beyond release, Electronic Arts is currently holding a 90% discount campaign for apps which they have extended to Japan. More than any other market – this will have a big impact for EA’s exposure among both gaming and non-gamer consumers in Japan.
For gamers – iPhone game development is also progressing to a level where the excitement of a traditional game is mixed with the bite-size consumption of a mobile phone. This fully localized version of GTA Chinatown Wars brings together the infamous gameplay and storytelling of the original Grand Theft Auto series, with mobile specific features like the addition of touch controls and the integration of music playlists from your iPod. With more Japanese consumers embracing this new form of gaming – its no wonder companies like Rockstar Games are bringing fully localized versions of their games to Japanese market. While the conversion from mobile to console gaming is still unclear in Japan, one can hope that the exposure of Japanese gamers to a different style of storytelling and gameplay will broaden their tastes and give Western game brands a way to penetrate Japan’s insular gaming market.
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