Why Are Card Games So Popular In Japan?

By Spencer . April 3, 2014 . 4:07am


The rise of mobile gaming in Japan gave a jolt to the card game genre. In addition to hits like Rage of the Bahamut, practically every popular series from Final Fantasy to Naruto has a card game spinoff. Even though this is a niche genre in the west, card games are big business in Japan. Why? That’s what Siliconera asked Guardian Cross producer Shinichi Tatsuke.


"There are a few reasons card games are so popular in Japan. One is the undeniable compatibility is has with the ‘Gacha’ system, something very intuitive for Japanese players," Tatsuke replied.


"The other reason regards ease of development. From a developer’s perspective, it’s the perfect medium to help players feel the depth and engagement of your world without necessarily using full 3D models, and so on," Tatsuke continued. "The ease of play, while not abandoning the feel of the game world or story, is something Japanese gamers really appreciate. Hopefully more players in the West will begin to take on this mindset as well."


Other regions in Asia have picked up on the card game wave. Square Enix’s Million Arthur series did well when they localized it for Taiwan and Korea. Which made me think of another reason not mentioned by Tatsuke – card games are perfect while commuting to work. Usually battles take just one or two subway stops and most Asian metropolises have excellent public transportation. This allows players to pop into the world of Space Battleship Yamato or One Piece before sitting at their desk. In the States, mobile games tend to be played at home so people gravitate towards stories they can sink themselves in rather than a quick visit to a familiar universe.


What do you think could make the card game genre more popular here?

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  • Ethan_Twain

    Well I think the first step is quality products being available isn’t it? It’s not like we have an overabundance of quality card game options that the market is just ignoring. These games that are so big on the other side of the Pacific just aren’t coming over. Then once we get a litmus test off a few of those games we can figure out a little better what does and does not work about the genre in the west.

    Remember that Blizzard just released a digital card game, and Hearthstone is doing super well for them. Obviously Blizzard is big enough that they’re kind of free to do their own thing free of market trends, but it could be seen as an encouraging sign none the less.

  • Shippoyasha

    I kind of think it’s cool that these games are popular because card games have been a bit of a cute curiosity or worse, a laughing stock in broader videogaming and now these old types of gaming are making it big with mobile gaming.

    Also, it’s a wonderful way for artists to really show off their designs considering that in most games, you only get to see the character designs on character profiles and menu screens at most. While in these games, the graphics largely consist of the hand drawn art by the artists predominantly.

    I loved the old SNK vs Capcom Card Fighters that had a ton of cute crossover art while the gameplay was extremely fierce and competitive even against medium difficulty CPU.

    I know more types of games should be worked on in the mobile space and all, but I just feel happy that card game based videogames are so popular.

  • I can’t say I’m fond of Gacha systems when the odds are stingy, but what makes them especially insufferable is when Skinner’s Box mechanics are involved for monetization. I do like collecting a series of items though, and card illustrations can help too, when they’re well-made.

    • Better than pay2win atleast.

      • Nana

        Actually… Card games are one of the worst type of pay to win, the way japanese developers do them.
        See, cards come in different rarities, each vastly more powerful than the one before. Common cards have less than 10% of the stats of really rare cards. The chance to get a card like that are about 0.01% normally and 0.4%-0.6% when paying a couple bucks each try.
        It doesn’t end there, though. Even if you get a card like that, you need literally hundreds of cards to feed to that card to level it up. AND you need at least four of each card, because cards also have different evolutions. (yeah, you thought compu gacha was banned? They snuck it back in this way)
        typically, it costs you between 500-1k$ for a competitive card. There really isn’t a worse type of p2w around.
        Compare to Magic the Gathering, where commons often offer high power. Card games could be so nice, but the way japanese devs use them just is bad, bad, bad.

  • “Why are card games popular in Japan?” “Because of the Gacha system.”

    I’m glad our answer was an unfamiliar Japanese term that means nothing to me; that cleared everything up.

    • Really? I thought “Gashapon”/”Gachapon” is a term well-known enough.

      • Ethan_Twain

        Nope. I have no idea what that is either. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that those words aren’t even English. Care to share?

        • Jadfish


          Gachapon are capsule machines. You can collect a wide variety of stuff from them. They are appearantly popular in Japan, even though I can’t imagine why.

          • Kornelious

            I guess thery’re like our Baseball cards? ¯_(ツ)_/¯

          • GH56734

            Actually, people hated it with a passion when introduced in games and inevitably abused, to the point the Japanese law makers went ahead, stepped in and banned it outright.
            It’s one of the most evil IAP schemes besides “social” games. Think All the Bravest as a twist on that Tendo figurine minigame for Zelda Minish Cap, but with real money you waste on low-res jpg images.

          • Xerain

            People in Japan never hated gacha systems with a passion because they were easily equatable to something in real life they grew up with was kids.

            What they hated and what was made illegal was the “complete gacha.” Complete in the sense of “to complete something” not “completely.”

            In other words, a gacha that only contained fragments of a product. Imagine a capsule machine that contained only single piece of a robot, like and arm or a leg. you had to collect them all to make the complete robot. You’re not just collecting the main limbs, but every individual finger and toe. Except since it’s digital the robot is 100% useless unless you get them all, and of course the odds of getting the head are something like 1%.

          • Namuro

            There are loads of cool trinkets you can get from the Gachapon (at least in Japan…), like limited edition keyrings, smartphone holders, mini-diorama, and figures of popular anime, mascots, celebrities, etc.

            There are so many types of Gachapon, designed for people of all ages. Then there’s the fun from getting the random items, and see if you can get the one you want, or even a “rare” one! It’s a fun time-killer that also come with nice little gifts.

        • My comment has a URL embedded in the words, but I guess it wasn’t visible. They’re basically collectibles you get in two-piece capsules from special coin-operated machines, and the term is apparently trademarked by Bandai.

        • ishyg

          The gacha system probably pertains to something akin to “random collectible”. The Japanese love collecting them.

        • Namuro

          The word is made up from a combination of two “sounds”. The “Gacha” part is the sound of the crank of the capsule machine being turned. The “Pon” part is the sound of an item dropping onto a floor (or the item receptacle, in this case).

          • Guest

            Oh, thank you that clears up the Youkai Watch op, it’s referring to that capsule machine!

      • Ah, I’m familiar with the popular toy capsule machines in Japan. (Metaru-Upa! Tuturu~!) But now I’m not quite seeing what that has to do with card games??
        I suppose I really don’t know anything about these Japanese social game card game video games, so I’d probably need more context to make the connection here. (Other than… it’s just random luck what cards you get? In which case I don’t get how the concept of victory fueled by dumb luck is more popular in Japan than elsewhere.)

        • Namuro

          It’s all about the collection, man!

          Collecting cards is just like collecting stuff from the Gachapon, in a way. Even though, he used the term “Gacha”, I don’t think he was talking about the capsule machines at all. The term merely refers to the “collection” type of entertainment.

        • I believe he was referring to the luck-dependent acquisition that is common between Gachapon and CCGs. As for the popularity, I can’t really explain why, but perhaps they have some sort of appeal comparable to gambling.

      • Kumiko Akimoto

        Maybe in the mmo world. Cause I know few japanese and korean mmos have or used to have those systems

      • Hound

        In other words “luck of the draw” and “gambling” are popular amongst Japanese gamers?

        • GH56734

          Taken out of context, it almost sounds racist.

    • fairysun

      Comment of the week. Somehow your reply made me laugh than I am supposed to.

  • I like that Highschool DxD one on Mobage XP

  • Atmey

    Do you think Hearthstone would be a hit in Japan?

    • Ethan_Twain

      Depends. The PC version obviously isn’t gonna be so hot there, but there’s an iOS version releasing right about now too. If Hearthstone were to work in Japan, it would be the mobile version.

      One significant difference is that Hearthstone comes from Blizzard’s extensive history of competitive multiplayer design. Which is great, what they do in Starcraft and Warcraft is second to none. But online competitive multiplayer isn’t as big in Japan.

      See, Japanese card games are using cards to express traditional Japanese game design. The card battles are usually against the computer and are more like JRPG combat systems than anything else. Cards and JRPG have been cross pollinating in the Japanese development scene for decades now. Sometimes for good (Baten Kaitos) but sometimes for ill.

      Hearthstone is 100% about being player versus player, and the mechanics focus way more on play/counter play. So even though it looks like the same thing on the surface, it’s a totally different genre from games like Guardian Cross. Considering how different Hearthstone’s art and monetization are also, making Hearthstone popular would be tricky. Not impossible, but tricky.

      • Atmey

        Hmm.. yeah, look at MH, co-op more than PvP, as for the art, while it is not conventional Japanese I wouldn’t be surprised it would pick off, never expected Star Wars to be big in Japan.

  • shuyai

    “Why are card games popular in Japan?”

    i think its more because of the cute girl in cute cloth drawing

    • rurifan

      Exactly; sexy/moe art is what drives these games and nothing else.

      • Shippoyasha

        Well, they have cool art on top too. Not so different from the kind of appeal games like Magic the Gathering can have.

        And collecting cards and having a combat system can be easy and effective for something with rudimentary touch control of mobile gaming.

      • Abysswalker90

        Well. That’s quite a determinative statement. Card games are awesome.

        This is why: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGkpoYxSep8

    • DenjinJ

      Yes, that and the tons of people there who play video games, but don’t count themselves as “gamers.” There’s nothing more casual than drawing a new card and hoping it’s one you don’t have yet… the gameplay systems are often just a means to that end.

  • Crazy_O

    I played a few of them on my phone.

    But I’d rather have a game for my PC like Kancolle, since I usually drive to work and work on a computer with no restrictions.

  • echokanon

    Shinichi Tatsuke or Sasuke lol

  • Spicydicey

    Not having to use 3d models:

    “The ease of play, while not abandoning the feel of the game world or story, is something Japanese gamers really appreciate.”

    No, this is something Japanese DEVELOPERS appreciate. Why would gamers want something that takes less effort on the developer’s part?

    • ishyg

      Are you Japanese?

      • Odin

        I don’t think that’s what he meant…

        • ishyg

          I know what he meant, I just want to see if he’s in the envelope of what the developers are targeting with their statement.

          And I notice people here on the trains playing them simple match 3 and card games, and I can see where the dev who said that is coming from.

      • Spicydicey

        No. Does that invalidate my opinion?

        • ishyg

          Somehow, but not really. Your statement still stands.

    • Mnstrzero00

      I definitely prefer 2d art over 3d models. 2d art can be exactly as the artist intended but models are always limited by the hardware.

      • Spicydicey

        I agree that 3d can meet limits, but when realised the sense of immersion it gives is a big improvement over 2d. For example, Ni No Kuni would not, in my opinion, be as great without it’s huge detailed world map and winding non-linear smaller areas, rendered in 3d.

    • Kumiko Akimoto

      Psssh you have a card game with 3d models

      • Spicydicey

        Tatsuke didn’t say card games are made in 2d because its easier than 3d. He said that card games are made instead of big 3d games because card games are easier to make.

    • Gemlit

      I prefer both. Cards for each hero/monster/npc/item/etc. so they have a “home” to go into, and 3D models so that players can have interesting and diverse animations and battles to look forwards too.

    • Suicunesol

      I think there’s a mindset that pervades Japanese business/student culture that a more practical, streamlined game is more desirable because most people don’t have the time to play long, drawn-out games with pretty cut scenes and fancy animations in huge worlds. The fact that home consoles don’t sell as well in Japan is evidence of this. Such smaller games are also cheaper, which means they sell to more people.

      Also consider that these small games don’t target “gamers” as you know them, but they do target casual gamers (who outnumber hardcore gamers!)

      • Spicydicey

        I think you hit the nail on the head. But it’s rather a shame, as it may mean we see less ‘Ni No Kuni’ and ‘Xenoblade Chronicles’ type games in the future, which I think at least Siliconera agrees are better than most card games.

  • Skeptika Crediblus

    Cheap to make, easy to crank out, and micro transactions?

    • GH56734

      I remember Zelda Minish Cap having a Tendo Figurine minigame (if it can even be called a minigame) that’s essentially here sold with real-life money for the individual low-res pics.
      It’s sad, really.

  • Pyrofrost

    Most likely because they are inexpensive, addictive as hell to play, easily accessible, and it’s something that’s easy to whip out any time and get a quick game on.

    It’s the same reason why games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush got so popular. They are inexpensive, addictive, easily accessible, and don’t require a big time investment (you can pull it out, get a quick game in, and put it away).

    • GodLikesSnacks

      Sorry, but I loled at the end: “you can pull it out, get a quick game in, and put it away”!
      I can do the same with my penis!

  • Matty

    Because only in the Japanese market are they willing to spend tons of money on digital cards and accept having their collection stripped from them when the game goes offline in a few years.

  • michel

    I like card games on digital devices for the same reason I like them in tabletop form: they are fun, strategic, immersive and can convey a sense of narration through their (poular) characters interactions.
    A way to make them appreciated in the west could be make them EXISTENT in the west, for a start. Cardfight Vanguard is Japanese only, Milion Arthur requires a Japanese account on the Vita, and, if I ever had a smartphone, how am I supposed to connect to mobage?

    • Hound

      Actually.. Cardfight Vanguard IS available in english.


      Personally, I prefer physical card games like Tanto Cuore, Miskatonic School for Girls, and Dominion where there is no competitive buying. They unfortunately play differently, but hopefully some standard TCG-like games come out in the future that are made the same way. Without all of that rarity and exclusive nonsense.

      • michel

        But I meant the 3DS version of Cardfight Vanguard! :)

  • Mnstrzero00

    But card games have a following in the west. People play magic and yugioh. Its just that these mobile browsers apps aren’t really games. They are slot machines with outstanding art attached. Americans are more privvy to gambling and quicker to realize that they are just bleedig the player.

    • Kumiko Akimoto

      Non physical card games

      • Mnstrzero00

        There doesn’t have to be any difference. Games like Guardian Cross require absolutely no strategy and they consist of the thinnest interpretation of gameplay. Make a card game app that is an actual game and people will bite on in the west.

        • Kumiko Akimoto

          I never said there was any other difference. There are plenty of fun card games on mobile and not out there, so i don’t know what that has to do with anything.

          • Mnstrzero00

            Like what? I can’t think of a single critically acclaimed mobile card game.

          • Kumiko Akimoto

            So you only play games that have won awards and are highly praised across the board? You must be missing out on a lot.

          • Mnstrzero00

            No. I’m saying that whatever game you are talking about is absolutely under the radar. What game is it?

          • Kumiko Akimoto

            I’m not talking about any game in particular there are a lot of card games on the mobile with different styles to them.
            So any game you don’t know about is automatically crap?

    • Suicunesol

      Magic Cards and Yu-gi-oh Cards come from Booster Packs, which also contain random sets of cards. Why wouldn’t buying booster packs of physical cards be considered a form of gambling?

      • Guest

        cause you don’t earn money from them…

        • darke

          Err… no. It can be surprisingly profitable to sell rare cards.

          It’s profitable to the point where there are actually programs out there that calculate which boosters out of a box are most likely to have the more expensive cards in them (Wizards randomisation when printing isn’t very random). So you can open the boosters to get the expensive cards to sell, and flog the rest on ebay on the cheap and still make a profit even after buying a box.

      • Nana

        The difference is that you can compete on the current level (that is, the recent block) with relatively cheap cards. In japanese card games, that is outright impossible.
        The reason for the difference is that japanese card games equate rarity AND new set with power. This is not the case in MTG.

        • Suicunesol

          Huh. So then how do the makers of MTG encourage players to buy whatever new booster pack comes out next?

          • Mnstrzero00

            If people want to compete on a tournament level they have to buy new cards but if you want to play with friends like most players then you can play with whatever you have.

      • Mnstrzero00

        But I also said slot machines gambling specifically. Playing something like Guardian Cross is basically a session with the one arm bandit. There’s no real reward and the entire system is based around getting money out of the player while giving the player nothing.
        But games like Magic I can take buy a deck and play with that deck and enjoy the game with friends for the rest of my life. I don’t have to buy anything. And if I do want a special card I can buy that card specifically. I don’t have to buy booster packs to update my deck and end up spending 100s in pursuit of a cool card.

  • Kumiko Akimoto

    It was surprising the first time I played one on a ipad, I was avoiding them because I didn’t like the sound of card game but they were or can be pretty interesting.

  • taekk

    Gacha-Comp is pure evil and drove many people to spend thousands of dollars on useless digital “items”.

  • new_tradition

    I played a few Yu-Gi-Oh! video games (from early 2000) on top of playing the actual card game (which I sucked at xD), and those are fun, but them micro-transactions and subsequent need for steady data connection for whatever I see on the Play Store really sullies the experience for me.

    When I see something as interesting as Lord of Vermillion with so many updates and fanservice as only a arcarde game, I get pouty. Granted, the integration of real cards might pose a problem, but they could think of something, can’t they? D:

    I was excited when I heard about Monster Monpiece coming over before realizing all the cards were depicting girls and even less women. I want my boys, men and other creature stuff, dang it! That’s a reason why I liked YGO >_<

    • nonscpo

      Yugioh has cute girls too in the artwork

      • new_tradition

        Which is fine. I just want some variety >3>

  • Learii

    I like cards games too as long is not like rock paper and scissor system lol

  • nonscpo

    What do you think could make the card game genre more popular here?

    Card games on motorcycles…oh wait we tried that already

    • Kaihedgie

      Card games in giant robots

    • Hound

      Card games that look totally metal and lack the whole “gambling” aspect. Maybe a heavy grinding aspect like the one in Sword Girls Online with a “pay for resources or spend a lot time grinding for them” aspect.

      (minus the 1000 USD brokenly powerful exclusive cards that you can only otherwise get through a possibly much worse pay to gamble system that absolutely destroy the balance of the game in tournament play…)

  • d19xx

    This reminds me. We need Metal Gear Acid 3…..

    • michel

      That was much more than a “card game”… ;)

  • Gemlit

    A class changing system for the cards and 3-D models so we can see better and more distinct animations for each “card.” And the class changing system would give more depth to the battle mechanics, story, and feel of the game.

  • Dexward

    This just reminds me of Deity Wars. I’ve played that card game religiously for a year only to finally end 3 days ago.

  • Million Arthur got an english sea release btw…
    use my invite code for a rare card: bdc

  • Scourge626

    The other major reason these games are becoming popular is because these kind of easily made games are the only kinds of games they have time to play.

  • kotorinyan9

    I think they are popular because of the “feeling” of winning something declare “rare or limited edition” from a random lottery is the draw.

    Kind of like back in the days with toy cereals or happy meals with a random toy from mc donalds.

    I get super excited I get something declare SR. Im not sure exactly why. But I just do! and thats why i enjoy playing these games. As long as i can “gamble” to reach that “feeling of winning.”

  • Callonia

    Gacha = gamble your money away on not getting the stuff you want!

    You’re better off going to las vegas and visiting the strip bars instead.

  • Ric Vazquez

    The reasons…

  • Alex Webber

    I don’t want the card game genre to become more popular over here so I will think of nothing :P

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