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Japan leads mobile gaming market worldwide: GMGC’s Maxim de Wit

With Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia leading smartphone penetration in Asia, according to Nielsen, there is a huge opportunity for the mobile gaming market in Asia. As the mobile gaming market will grow, so will in-app monetisation. According to a recent report by InMobi, gaming advertisements yielded higher click through rate (CTR) against dining, automotive and telecom space advertising.

Maxim de Wit, VP of International at the Global Mobile Game Confederation (GMGC), speaks to Digital Market Asia, about the mobile gaming industry and in-app monetisation in South-East Asia. GMGC will organise the Mobile Game Asia 2015 in Bangkok on January 23, 2015.

Q. Which are the best performing markets for the mobile gaming industry?

The global top three best performing mobile gaming markets are Japan, the US and China. According to market-intelligence firm CyberZ and research firm Superdata, Japan’s mobile gaming revenue reached 6.5 billion USD in 2014, followed by the US with 3.2 billion USD and China with three billion USD.

Looking forward, we see a lot of growth potential in the Chinese market. China’s mobile gaming market is bound to overtake the US market in terms of revenue in the first quarter of Q1, with mobile gamers in the country expected to grow from 288 million in 2014 to 770 million by 2018 according to Niko’s Chinese Mobile Games Market Report 2014.

In comparison, established markets like Japan and the US are likely to see slower growth. The US, for example, is already hitting its saturation point.

Q. According to research, game advertisement yield higher CTR against dining, automotive and telecom space advertising. What are your views on it?

The main reason for this is that in-app advertisements in games are much more intuitive and immersive, and are becoming more and more incentivised.

Incentivised ads allow users to choose to watch and interact with an advertisement in return for in-game rewards, which means a great outcome for the user, advertiser and developer.
One example of a game that has done this well is Crossy Road, which was developed by a team of two Australian developers. By combining the option to pay for in-app purchases that are a little over a dollar and incentivised ads, the game got both great reviews from players, and has also done well in terms of monetisation.

Q. What are the trends that stood out in the monetisation of games in 2014?

The main trend we saw in 2014 was that the freemium model established itself globally as the dominant business model. Many Asian markets especially China, Korea and Japan have adopted the freemium business model which accounts for about 90 per cent of total revenues.
Although in-app purchases still account for most of the revenue, ads are definitely on the rise. According to data from App Annie & IDC, advertisements might account for as much as 70 per cent of the mobile games revenue in some markets such as the US, Brazil and the UK by 2017.

While the freemium model is not necessarily the future, it’s certainly the model that works best in Asia. Since the model relies on a very small percentage of players generating all of the revenue, the industry is going to need to think strategically about how to monetise a larger percentage of their players.

Q. What are the key trends in the gaming industry in 2014? What trends should we lookout for from the gaming industry in 2015?

A key trend that stood out in 2014 is the increasing challenge of user acquisition. The increasing number of games is making it harder and harder for games to be discovered, and the CPI (cost per install) is increasing. This is making it harder especially for smaller developers, which have limited to no marketing budgets, to get above the noise and get noticed.

A continuing trend in 2015, I think, is that more that more and more games will rely on using pre-existing IP in their games to leverage the already existing fan-base for the IP to gain traction.

Another key trend is that we will see some companies trying to create games that can conquer users in all markets with very little localisation (such as Supercell) versus the success of companies that create games that are fully localised and dominate their local markets (such as Tencent in China; mixi and GungHo in Japan). It will be interesting to watch if there is anyone that can invent a consistent recipe for games that can compete with heavily localised games in different markets.

Role-playing games (RPGs) will also continue to rise in Japan and China and challenge collectible card games as the most lucrative games in 2015.

Q. How popular will the Free-to-Play model be for games in 2015?

Free-to-Play will remain the dominant business model, but it will interesting to see what new monetisation mechanics developers will come out with to convert a larger percentage of the users to paying users. According to Superdata, the percentage of paying users in May 2014 was about 5 per cent in the US and 2.9 per cent in China. This means games are depending on a very small percentage of users to spend large amounts (a.k.a. “whales”).

Q. Is the freemium model here to stay?

The freemium model has certainly made its mark in the past year and will continue to be the dominant model in the coming years, but the revenue share of ads will continue to increase. Action, sport and casual games see lower in-app purchases than RPGs, strategy and card games, and will benefit from monetising through ads.

Q. Which were the most popularly downloaded games in 2014 in APAC?

In China some of the most popular casual games were Tencent’s “WeChat Dash” and “Massive Plane Warz”, and midcore games such as Locojoy’s “MT Online” and Supercell’s “Clash of Clans” and “Boom Beach”.

In Japan the most popularly downloaded games in 2014 were GunHo’s “Puzzle & Dragons”, mixi’s “Monster Strike” (which dethroned “Puzzle & Dragons” as the number one after two years), and LINE’s “LINE: Disney Tsum Tsum” and “Line Pokopoko”.

It is interesting to mention that some of the best performing games in China, Japan and other Asian markets leveraged social messaging platforms such as WeChat and LINE, showing the distribution power of these social platforms for games.

Q. What is the key driver behind game downloads?

The main key drivers behind game downloads are app store’s rankings, word of mouth and social media. According to research by Ilovegame, in China, 37 per cent of the correspondents cited word of mouth and 23 per cent cited social media as the reason for downloading games.

Q. What are the other new ways of in-app advertising besides banner ads?

New ways are interstitial advertisements (ads that take up the whole screen), and video advertisements. Incentivised ads are proving to be very successful, as it lets the player voluntarily watch an advertisement in return for an in-game reward (such as game currency or extra lives), making the experience of the ad more positive, with a much higher chance of a successful conversion.

Q. What are the key challenges that the mobile gaming industry is facing at the moment?

Two of the key challenges are user acquisition and low conversion rate of paying users. With more and more games being published, developers are finding it increasingly difficult to stand out and get noticed – particularly for smaller developers, who do not have the budget to market their games in the same scale as the bigger players. The challenge of monetisation, or increasing the volume of paying users, will need to be addressed by the industry at large. User preferences in Asia are very much in line with the freemium model – the challenge is tapping into a larger segment of players to generate revenue.

An additional challenge in Asia is the fragmentation of the markets. Some companies have been successful in creating games that are very localised, which have resulted in these games dominating their respective markets. On the other hand, a number of Asian developers are looking more at the global market, thinking of the worldwide audience rather than simply their home market. As the Asia region’s mobile gaming arena matures in the coming years, it will be interesting to see which strategies prove to be most successful for local developers.

Q. What is the future of the mobile gaming industry in the APAC region?

China’s mobile gaming market will continue to see large growth, but competition within the market is getting intense. Approximately 4,000 mobile games are published in China every year – on average, that’s more than 100 games a day. Beyond that, there are over 15,000 content providers.

The size of the market, as well as the intense competition in China has created many large players that are now actively looking to expand to new markets. Some prime examples of this in 2014 are Alibaba’s 120 million USD investment in gaming company Kabam, and Tencent’s investment in Korea’s 4:33 Creative Lab.

Furthermore, Southeast Asia’s mobile gaming markets promise massive growth over the next few years, as smartphone penetration increasing rapidly. According to a 2014 study done by On Device Research, some markets in Southeast Asia have a smartphone penetration rate as low as 23 per cent so there is still a lot of room to grow.

Shubhi Tandon

Shubhi Tandon is the Assistant Editor at Digital Market Asia. Fascinated by the evolving digital media industry, she has focussed on tracking developments in the Asia Pacific market since 2014.