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


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.


Ishaan Sahdev
About The Author
Ishaan specializes in game design/sales analysis. He's the former managing editor of Siliconera and wrote the book "The Legend of Zelda - A Complete Development History". He also used to moonlight as a professional manga editor. These days, his day job has nothing to do with games, but the two inform each other nonetheless.