How Angry Birds And Dragon Collection Changed The Fates Of Two Markets

By Ishaan . June 26, 2013 . 6:44pm

Last month, Marvelous AQL acquired Atlus Online from Index Digital Media, and formed a new company entity named Marvelous USA. While Xseed, Marvelous’ in-house localization team will continue their business of publishing niche games, the new division, Marvelous Online, will focus on online and mobile games.


That’s easier said than done, though. The mobile games market in the U.S. is incredibly competitive, and it can be hard to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Siliconera spoke with Tatsuya Nishioka, the Senior Director at Marvelous Online, to get an idea of what he thinks the differences are, between the Japanese mobile games market and the market in North America. Nishioka has been in charge of the online division at Marvelous AQL for few years now.


For starters, card games are immensely popular in Japan, and Nishioka believes it all comes down to one key title that spurred an interest in the genre—Konami’s Dragon Collection.


“Let’s first look back the history of casual games in Japan,” Nishioka suggested. “Casual games became popular in Japan around 2009 or 2010. In those days, GREE and DeNA were only providing services on feature phones. The card game boom first started in late 2010, when Konami released Dragon Collection. It had a cumulative total of 10 million users then, and at the same time GREE and DeNA were announcing their SNS community was around 20 to 30 million users, so you can understand how huge Dragon Collection was.”


“There are few points here. Why did Dragon Collection succeed? First, in Japan physical card games had been popular, so it was a familiar format for most gamers. Secondly, it was only basic click-and-go controls, but the presentation was like an RPG. Feature phones’ control abilities were very poor due to the nature of the devices themselves, so the click-and-go design was very logical. But such simplicity can easily lead to boredom, so they added an RPG-style presentation. RPGs are a very popular genre in Japan.”


Once Dragon Collection took off, it wasn’t long before imitators began to crop up.


“Generally, the strategy for market followers is copying the market leader, so when Dragon Collection became a big hit, many companies followed in its wake with card games,” Nishioka says. “As a result, card games dominated the Japanese market.”


Then, the smartphone boom hit, and gave companies developing mobile games a chance to bring about change. Only, they didn’t change.


“In 2011, feature phone users started to change their devices to smartphones, but they were still used to the traditional feature phone game click-and-go mechanic, so people preferred that control scheme, even on smartphones,” Nishioka explains. “Each company tried new control schemes which utilize smartphone device characteristics (especially agile-type controls), but the user experience remained click-and-go in the end, and could not make these games successful. That is the background on why card games dominated the Japaese market.”


Now, the Western market followed an entirely different trend. Instead of a card game like Dragon Collection, our market got Angry Birds.


“In the West, the game that established the casual game genre was Angry Birds,” Nishioka feels. “We should pay attention to when the casual game market was established here. In Japan, click-and-go style input games on feature phones were the best fit. In the U.S. market, smartphones were the beginning of the casual game explosion and a previous user experience such as click-and-go was never established. I think this is the reason of difference between the Japanese mobile gaming market and US market now.”


It boils down to those two games, Nishioka feels, and if you observe closely, you can look to Dragon Collection and Angry Birds to understand why certain games find success in Japan, but not in America. One such game is GungHo Online Entertainment’s immensely popular Puzzle & Dragons, with over 15 million users in Japan. Here’s what Nishioka feels happened:


“In Japan, after Dragon Collection, there were quite a lot of card games that were re-skinned with popular IPs. Even though the user experience was click-and-go, people were getting sick of it. Also it was said at that time that social features were very important, so generally all games had a function where the player was rewarded by sending messages to other people. Sending a message became a chore that users got annoyed with.


“Then, Puzzle & Dragons came out. It was not a click-and-go game, and the puzzle mechanic required players to think and strategize a little bit. Plus they didn’t have to send messages to other players (there is no function to do that), and loose social features attracted tired users.


“On the other hand, what is the situation in the U.S.? Card games are not very popular, so players are not at a stage where they are tired of click-and-go style card games. I think this is the reason why Puzzle & Dragons is not as successful in the U.S.


“Puzzle & Dragons’ release in Japan was only a year and a half after Dragon Collection was released. MARVEL WAR OF HEROES, which was recently ranked as one of the top five highest grossing games in the US market, was released in Fall 2012, so if Puzzle & Dragons were to become popular in the U.S., I would project it might start to see significant growth around the end of 2013 to beginning of 2014, based on how things went in Japan.”



Bottom line: the U.S. mobile games market didn’t suffer from genre fatigue; and thus, it’s harder to stand out. So, what then, will Marvelous USA do in order to find their own space in the highly-competitive U.S. mobile games market? Says Nishioka:


“So then, what should we do in the U.S. market? As has been proven in the Japanese market, generally speaking, following the market leader will be the standard winning strategy, though of course with all of our releases we seek to innovate and create game types that have not previously been seen.


“Currently in the U.S., leaders are simulation-type strategy games, puzzle games and casino games, and we expect to see mobile publishers bring many more of these games to market in the near future. Market differences exist, so of course the type of titles and genres of our upcoming games will differ, but the decision-making process itself will not change.”


Pictured at the top of this article: Marvelous AQL’s Cross Horizon, an RPG for Android devices.


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  • AndyLC

    >>For starters, card games are immensely popular in Japan

    They’re immensely popular throughout all of East Asia.

    …but because Japan ignores the Asia market, homegrown copies take the no.1 position. Heck, even a Zynga card game is doing better than Japanese ones in Chinese speaking markets.

    That’s pretty goofy, millions of dollars they’re letting drift by.

    • Lumi

      Not ALL japanese publishers are ignoring the chinese speaking market. At least, Million Arthur, Rage of Bahamut, and Ayakashi released Chinese versions/localizations/servers. Haven’t tried their payment system yet though, because most of them are based in Taiwan and it’s not certain if their payment system is flexible enough for international payments (but why would they ever want to do that?)

  • 60hz

    um card games are popular in the US too (hell it was invented here)… tons of card games on the top 25 (rage of bahamut springs to mind)… really confused at what this guy is talking about…

    • Lumi

      Yeah, but those card games are all Japan produced anyway.

      • 60hz

        Not sure it matters who made the games… he states that they are not popular in the states and they are… weird marketing research going on i guess…

        • Lumi

          Well… if you talk about market penetration, most people on the street knows what Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja is, but less know about Rage of bahamut, even though it IS the top grossing app in Google Play store. It just has a pool of very dedicated players.

  • Serpenter Rex

    If its Marvelous AQL, then I think the solution might indeed be more boobs. Like Senran Kagura.

    On a sliiiightly more serious note, the article was an interesting read. I think our equivalent to this click and go card game thing was the bottom of the barrel Pop-cap casual games. When games like Angry birds and Zombies vs Plants type things came out – combining humor, flashy cartoon graphics, a good interface, and simple, addictive game play, that when things changed here. But then again, the popcap stuff I speak of is more PC… (Though our casual phone game genre really is an expansion of the casual PC game genre, isn’t it?)

  • Laer_HeiSeiRyuu

    Siliconera, do us a favor, the next time you find Marvelous AQL be a dear and ask them when they plan on making a spiritual sequel to Shadow Hearts

  • JustThisOne

    Interesting read… If it’s anything that I’ve noticed about NA mobile games, it’s that they’re generally pretty diverse, imitators aside. I suppose it would be hard to stand out…

    Alpaca Nii-san does a really god job though, haha. Seriously, localize that, and it’ll be a worldwide hit! It really preys on morbid curiosity, something that I’m sure we all have.

  • Göran Isacson

    Interesting comparison- I wonder if there’s something in Angry Birds more “action-oriented” approach that also makes it easier to sell here in the West. Card games, as he said, are kinda like turnbased JRPGs, you think about your move and carefully plan it out and so on. Lots of strategy. Whereas Angry Birds, for all the thinking you have to do in order to knock them houses down, really has more of an “action-game” feel to it. Flying birds, exploding walls, destroying pigs… it feels like it MOVES a lot more.

    Though now I’m curious how well Angry Birds sell over in Asia, as compared to the card games he speaks of.

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