Entering a Unique Market, Japan
Japan, home to some of the biggest video game companies since the industry emerged, is also one of the first countries in the world where games were played by everyone. With a gaming culture built over decades, they became early adopters of mobile games before it was a thing in the west. Top games in Japan are played much longer compared to other countries. Consumer spend is one of the highest in the world. When they find a game they love, their dedication and passion are unparalleled.
This has become obvious to us looking at the performance of our games in the region. We ran worldwide advertising campaigns, reaching people all over the world. As a result of these campaigns, we had a relatively small user base in Japan, which was sufficient for us to see how much Toon Blast was loved, and its huge potential for growth. In June 2019, our team was ready to learn everything about the market and how we could grow our game to be one of the top games in Japan like we did in the US.
Challenges & Approach
In the US, Toon Blast has millions of active users and has consistently ranked in the top 10 grossing mobile games. Reaching this success, we gained a great deal of experience and knowledge. Japan, however, is a completely different market. After all, we had not been to Japan in our lives, none of us spoke Japanese, and their culture is very different from ours.
Our approach during the launch period was: “Forget everything you know and test first!”. Since the Japanese market has a unique culture and different gaming habits, it is sometimes very difficult to understand for foreigners. Thanks to our approach and intense day-to-day operational efforts, we have become one of the few Western game companies excelling in the country.
We did our research, took advice from professionals, and learned all the best practices, but these sometimes included clichés, and we didn’t want to apply them blindly. Therefore, we ran our tests, got feedback from our users, and adjusted our strategy accordingly. That’s how we were able to break the taboos about the Japanese gaming market.
Unlike many other Western companies, we did not take a hands-off approach, simply delegating all our work to external agencies. We always want to be on top of our own operations, because we believe that is the only way to tackle a market holistically. From our point of view, great metrics are not an indicator of success on their own, learning new things and improving the knowledge of the team is what we value most. In the end, consistently great outcomes occur as a result.
Having a focused and agile team is essential when entering a unique market like Japan. This team needs to adapt its perspective and try to get to know their target market by testing new methods, ad placements, and creatives. We built this team and initially focused on finding the best partners in Japan, building close relationships with them.
There was a lot to consider as there are many different local ad placements and marketing practices in Japan. For instance, local social networking app Line is preferred over Facebook for communication. Manga reading apps are very popular and users like to discover new games by reading game review websites. These are quite different from the user behaviors we know from our global operations, therefore we understood that we need to reach Japanese users in different ways.
Moreover, the creatives and their content have different tastes. We encountered more text-heavy, vibrant and kawaii images in Japan, whereas most of our Western markets are not accustomed to them. We adjusted our ad contents according to Japanese users’ preferences.
While traditional methods such as TV and billboards are more common even for tech companies, performance marketing has been a relatively underdeveloped field in Japan. Sharing our know-how and evolving mutually is very valuable for us. We learned a lot from our partners and also Japanese marketing ecosystems evolved alongside us.
Starting our Japan journey in June 2019, Toon Blast was on the top spot on the App Store in just two months! Following our massive launch, we continued full throttle and Toon Blast became the most downloaded game of 2020 on both the App Store and Google Play Store. Throughout 2020, our game surpassed some of the biggest and most established puzzle games in terms of daily active users. It has been one of the top five most revenue-generating puzzle games since then.
These are all metrics that signal our dominance in Japan, but what really makes this a success story for us is that we managed to make all of these true by the efforts of our small dedicated team, learning along the way. We entered a market we were completely alien to, strived to learn everything we could, tested everything without fearing failure, and we put progress above all other metrics. This made our success possible.