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What you should know about the Japanese gaming industry

Gaming industry in Japan in on the rise.

With the history of video games in Japan, it may not come as a surprise to hear that it is the third largest gaming market in the world1. Only to be preceded by China and the USA, Japan is an attractive market to tap into.

Here are some facts about gaming in Japan and how publishers can promote their game titles in the Japanese market.


Gaming Industry in Japan

The gaming industry in Japan started in the 60’s and during the “bubble” economy we saw some of the world’s most iconic games develop. Mario, Pac-man and Sonic the Hedgehog were all born during this era – all which have impacted the direction of the gaming world. In fact, you can still find these retro games all across the globe today. Furthermore, big players like Nintendo, Sony PlayStation, Sega, Square Enix, Capcom and Bandai Namco are all Japanese game companies that have global users. 

Today, Japan comes in third place in terms of digital game revenues. Even if you combined Germany, UK and France’s revenue, it doesn’t surmount to Japan’s gaming market revenue. 

According to Statista, mobile games take up the largest market share with a projected revenue of $6.8 billion USD in 20201

As you can see above, a Globalwebindex survey shows that 50% of Japanese internet users play games on their smartphone1. Based on the mobile games market share, we can expect to see gaming usage on mobile in Japan to increase.


Trends in Japan – gaming market

Japan has for many years enjoyed great mobile data coverage and fast-speed internet access. This has come in handy for the many commuters who travel for hours on a daily basis. As you can imagine, these commute times are a great opportunity to play mobile games on smartphones. With 92.99 million mobile internet users2 and 5G just having launched in March 2020, Japanese mobile users can access even faster connection speeds. The launch of 5G is great news for new game developers, which will allow low latency connectivity and faster data transmission of augmented reality and virtual reality. As a result, we can expect to see more VR and AR games in Japan such as Pokemon Go and Dragon Quest Walk. 

As for Esports, there has been a slow uptake of competitive gaming in Japan compared to other countries such as the USA and China. However, this will likely change in the coming years with help from the Japanese government. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has ambitious plans to expand the Japanese Esports industry by supporting companies and legal experts on developing large tournaments. According to BCN Inc., the industry will see a growth from ¥6.1 billion in 2019 to ¥15.3 billion in 20233.

According to analysts, game streaming platforms and flat rate packages offered by Ubisoft’s Uplay and Google’s Stadia may help to increase casual gamers and revolutionise the way we consume video games1. It’s worth keeping an eye on these new platforms and monitoring their growth in Japan. 


Gaming industry during COVID-19

Behavioural changes in people during the coronavirus pandemic can explain the uptick in game sales worldwide. In fact, gaming is not only a great form of entertainment but also a way to stay connected with others while under lockdown. 

According to a McKinsey survey, Japanese consumers affected during the coronavirus pandemic said they expect to spend less on almost all categories except for groceries, household supplies and at-home entertainment. This is great news for the game industry, and it shows in the numbers. For instance, Nintendo had record-breaking sales of their new game, Animal Crossing, since its launch on 20 March 2020. This makes Animal Crossing the best-selling Switch game of all time in the country. 

With more people at home with increased time online, mobile app downloads worldwide increased by 15% in Q1 20204. As for mobile games, gaming apps accounted for 65% of all sales on iOS and 85% on Google Play. On the latter platform, the USA, Japan and South Korea were the top three markets. 


How to promote games in Japan

It has been said that Japan is like the Galapagos due to it having such a unique market. In order to promote physical products, there are many hoops to jump through when registering a business in Japan. This is why it is much more difficult to sell console games in the already saturated and complex market. Mobile games, on the other hand, are much easier for foreign companies to promote and monetise as everything can be done digitally and remotely. For this reason, we will focus on the promotion of game apps.

1. Know your customers and target audience

The key to promoting any product in Japan is to understand who you are targeting. Understanding the market and its consumer behaviour will help you identify where your customers can be found. In addition, it’s important to know how to reach your target audience. Knowing your user demographics will be necessary for selecting the right channels for your promotions. 


2. Create a comprehensive market entry plan and strategy

We recommend having a comprehensive marketing plan for your game entry into Japan. This should include SEO, online advertising and social media marketing. Will you launch on both Android and iOS? Do you need to hire a Japanese market manager to handle all your Japanese enquiries and help execute the plan? We would be happy to assist you with our consultation services and also use our network to help you acquire talent and any other support you may require.


3. Choose the right marketing channels

By knowing your target audience, you can choose the best platforms for your promotions. We recommend having a presence on Twitter and LINE as they are Japan’s most popular social media platforms. As for PPC ads, in order to reach the highest number of mobile gamers in Japan, we would suggest promoting your game via display ads on Google, Yahoo! JAPAN and LINE


4. Localise the game, creative and landing pages

For mobile games, localise the actual game as well as the landing pages properly. These pages include both the Google Play and Apple App Store pages. Ensure that you use a native Japanese translator experienced in localising games. We can introduce you to a Japanese game localisation specialist should you require one. In terms of creative, this will also require customisation for the Japanese market. What may have worked well in another market may not have the same effect in Japan. As long as you have existing content from your game, the creative can be easily tweaked. Should you decide to run Yahoo! JAPAN Display Ads, you can enjoy complimentary banner and video ad creation – please let us know if you are interested. 


5. Run test campaigns with a decent budget

It goes without saying, but in order to acquire new users in a new market, you need to set aside a budget for online advertising. You also need to test campaigns for at least three months in order to get enough data for analysing and optimising campaigns. This leads us to the next step.


6. Analyse and Optimise

After launching your campaigns in Japan, it is best to monitor performance data on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. This will allow you to compare results and use the information to improve new campaigns and adjust your content and SEO. 

We hope you have found this guideline on how to start promoting a mobile game in Japan informative. Entering the Japanese market can seem like a daunting task, especially when you do not have a Japanese native speaker on your team. Fortunately, the digital marketing experts on our team have experience helping mobile game app clients enter Japan digitally.

Contact us for your free initial consultation today and access the world’s third largest game industry.

1Source: Video Games Report by Statista (May 2020)
2Source: “Digital 2020” report by Hootsuite
3Source: The Japan Times (March 2020)
4Source: Weekly time spend on apps grows 20% YOY by AppAnnie (April 2020) 

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