Over the last few years the mobile gaming industry has evolved from a niche market to a massive international entity, moving billions of dollars globally. All this money has sparked a mobile boom, as app developers see an opportunity to make big bucks fast. This rush has made things a lot more competitive, and therefore necessary for developers to hone many aspects of their business strategies that might have been irrelevant before. No longer is it just about making something that’s visually attractive and fun to play; now developers have to take app store positioning, monetization, and distribution into account. There are many factors that play into a game’s success, and what works in one market may not necessarily work in another. Today we’re going to take a deeper look into why some games triumph in one market and flop in another.

Asia represents the market with the biggest potential in the mobile game. A massive population, increasing smartphone penetration, and a large core of avid gamers make it highly attractive to any game studio or developer looking to make quick dividends. Foreign developer success in Asia is, however, less than stellar. Why is this? One of the main reasons, which developers coming from a western background often fail to take into account, is the simple fact that glaringly apparent cultural differences exist between the east and the west. Games that could be hugely popular in one country might be considered laughable or offensive in another. Take the example of Observation Diary of Father Cultivation – a game in which players are responsible for “planting” and caring for babies with the faces of middle aged men. This game is extremely bizarre from a western perspective, but in Japan it has a dedicated following of fans.

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Perhaps a clearer example of the polarities that exist between cultures is a study that analyzed gamer data from a sample group composed of half Asian, half North American users playing the SAME GAME. The Asian sample group was found to enjoy game features that allowed them to buy virtual gifts for their friends, share game achievements, and comment when their friends post game achievements. They were also found to spend more time customizing their avatar than the North American group. These findings show that Asian culture is more oriented towards collectivist values, they play games to feel like a part of a group, as opposed to the more hedonistic individual pleasure or fun seeking tendencies of north american gamers.

The trick, as far as gameplay goes, is to create a gaming experience that has a little something for everybody. This may explain why the “Clash” brand (Clash of Clans, and the recently released Clash Royale, from Finnish developer Supercell) has done well in both Eastern and Western markets. Western players may be more attracted to the fighting, and the rewards that result from it (trophies, gems, etc.) while Eastern gamers enjoy the relationship and community building opportunities that the game provides. According to a Forbes study on Clash of Clans penetration amongst gamers in China from February 2015, 46% of participants played, or were immediately related to a player of the game. Considering the total population of the country, and the amount of gamers within that population, that number is quite significant. Clash Royale, released this month, is sitting at the number one grossing spot in the IOS store in the US, number 2 in China (the only foreign game in the top 15)  and number 14 in Japan (as one of only 2 foreign developer games in the top 20). This is an incredible feat that only reinforces the fact that the game appeals to multiple markets.

Gameplay itself isn’t enough to create a successful (and lucrative) game. Foreign expansion should be something you are thinking about from the very start of the development process. Here are a couple more things you can do to assure a smooth(er) international transition:

  • Think about localization up front. Prep your code for potential translation and adaptation. Trying to change it at the last minute can result in unexpected problems.
  • Research your markets. Often paying attention to cultural references and phenomena can key you in to things you should tweak in the game, more than just a simple language translation (design changes, usability, look and feel, etc.)
  • Monetization: your strategy should not be the same for every country. Know the demographics and spending power that each market wields.
  • Make sure to run pre-launch tests on your adapted versions of the game.

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It’s an exciting time to be in the mobile gaming industry, and if you are interested in learning more about all the possibilities in store, you won’t want to miss out on the Game Developers Conference this coming week in San Francisco. We will be there in full effect, meeting with existing and potential partners and trying to help them achieve their gaming goals, with a special focus on monetization strategies. To schedule a meeting with Abraham Yela (Head of Mobile Business) or Macarena Cenalmor (VP of Client Services) at the GDC, please send an email to events@mobusi.com.