Blogging Inside Social Apps: Emerging International Opportunities for Mobile and Social Developers

We’re at the San Francisco Design center, blogging Inside Network’s third annual Inside Social Apps conference.
Following a short afternoon break, we resumed with “Emerging International Opportunities for Mobile and Social Developers” moderated by AJ Glasser. She is joined by GREE’s VP Marketing, Social Games Sho Masuda, Popcap Games’ VP of Worldwide Publishing Dennis Ryan, Vostu’s Chief Scientist Mario Schlosser, and 6waves Lolapps’ Chief Product Officer Arjun Sethi.
The following is a paraphrased transcript of the discussion.
AJ: We’ll start by discussing the different regions that you’re seeing the most growth in. Where are the largest growth opportunities in your opinion?

Dennis: For us it’s where we’re investing. Three years ago our business outside the Americas was about 10 percent of our business and now it’s about 30 percent, particularly China and Japan. Not to see that other markets have less opportunities, but that’s were we chose to invest.

Arjun: We’ve always monetized in China and Japan. We recently went onto Tencent in China. On Facebook we’ve had a lot of luck in European countries, but Facebook is also growing in Japan. On Android and iOS we’ve see growth in China and Japan – downloads in China and revenues in Japan.

Mario: We’ve seen a lot of growth in Latin America.

Sho: For GREE we’ve seen new users coming from the US and the UK. We’ve seen growth in Korea and China. In terms of market revenues, the US is very important to us, but we’re focusing on a lot of regions.

AJ: So as developers are expanding internationally, how do you approach localization and forming a cultural relationship in each region?

Dennis: We take a country specific approach because we’re trying to build our brands as multi-platform experience. They’re on mobile, console, PC and mac and we try to invest where we can execute that strategy in its entirety.

Sho: We think of localization as making the content meaningful to a region, not just changing the language. We just signed a partnership with five companies. With our new platform, we know its difficult to launch in the Asian market. As a platform we need to provide solutions to help developers penetrate that market.

AJ: How do you choose North American partners?

Sho: We’re working with 2nd parties, like our acquisition of OpenFeint. we’re always looking for a partnership that will benefit both us and them.

AJ: What are some mistakes you’ve seen developers make when they take a game into an international market?

Arjun: Taking the approach that if a game is success on Facebook, you can just take the game into another country and just slap it in. It doesn’t work.

AJ: What about Plants vs. Zombies on Renren?

Dennis: I think we got 50% of that right. In China we decided to take a long term view — we build a studio there. That was right. Another thing we got right was we knew we needed to build a different game, so maybe we got more like 2/3 right. The game on Renren is more competitive and its got different monetization. That’s a start, but in the end it didn’t work on Renren. We and Renren both did a great job launching it and it started with 500,000 DAU but its deteriorated since launch, so at some level we know it’s not working. We haven’t given up.

AJ: What about your experience entering the US with games that were popular in Brazil and on Orkut?

Mario: It depends on the game. Our recent games have done better on Facebook. When you expand to a different country, I would almost look at the city level rather than a country level. 95 percent of viralization works on a city by city basis. In the US now, we don’t have a massive audience, so it’s hard to scale it. When we went into Argentina and Mexico we were able to jumpstart the audience by engaging local bloggers. The stuff we’re launching now we can put more hooks into.

AJ: Everyone is talking about Japan and its massive ARPU like its a golden fleece. What are some mistakes people make when getting into Japan?

Sho: To be honest, it’s hard to say, because everyone’s objective will be very different. Just because you’re not in the top 25 grossing apps doesn’t mean your not doing well. I think there are 3 pieces of advice for someone looking at Japan. One, even if your not thinking about penetrating the East Asian market, think ahead and be ready for future localization. Two, do your due diligence and research. See what similar titles and your competitors are doing. If they’re doing well, you could do well too. Three, start fast. Thanks to Google you can reach market outside the US very easily. You can out to small groups of audiences in a region and see if it’s working. If it is, then you can expand. Speed is important — if you’re not doing it someone else will take it.

AJ: Do you set goals by ARPU rate by region? Do you assume you’ve failed if you’re not monetizing at the peak ARPU rate for a specific country?

Arjun: No. For example, if you just look at the US market and you don’t hit the average ARPU, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. You have to look at what type of game it is. When you talk about Asia you’re looking at Korea, Japan and China. If you’re not hitting the average ARPU it could depend on the the kind of game your making. Casual and hardcore games have very different ARPU. A game in Korea can make up to $1 million a month just in Korea and just from the Korea app store. That’s why we acquired a studio called Smartron5 just to make games in China.

Sho: It’s dangerous just to look at ARPU and say if it doesn’t hit your focus it’s a failure. It’s more important to look at engagement and retention. How does your DAU compare to your download rate? Engagement is the most important factor.

Mario: You can even see very different ARPU with the same demographics on different platforms. In Brazil there’s a lot of friction around Facebook credits. Even with the same game and the same demographics a game can monetize four times higher on Orkut than on Facebook in Brazil.

Dennis: Its not sufficient to focus purely on ARPU and monetization – you have to go by country and by genre. For example for our Facebook game Bejeweled Blitz the monetization rate is pretty similar in the UK, US and Canada, but in Australia it will sometime monetizes 20 – 40 percent higher. In Japan it’s not unreasonable to expect a 5x monetization rate.

AJ: Is that the same game in Japan?

Dennis: Same brand, different game.

AJ: What the challenges of introducing a brand to a new country?

Dennis: For English speaking countries it’s not as much of a challenge. For the Asian markets it will need to be re-implemented and rethought. You have to believe in the core brand. We give our Chinese and Japanese offices the leeway to do that. Even if the mechanics and monetization are different its still the same core brand.

AJ: What was your experience with Ravenwood Fair?

Arjun: When we first took the game to China we gave our partner the leeway to change the game to local tastes. We did see some high engagement and monetization for the beginning but it began to drop off after a week, which means we probably didn’t do a good job. When we looked at Tencent we looked at game from the the ground up.

AJ: Do you see any trends or behaviors by region? What genres are popular in different regions?

Arjun: Worldwide, everyone plays puzzle games. Games like mahjong and poker are pretty popular worldwide with the exception of some countries. Some genres go across the spectrum, but other games wouldn’t be as great in specific countries and regions.

Mario: We had a poker game. It had crappy retention and we were quizzing users about why they weren’t playing and they said they had no idea how to play poker. People didn’t know the rules and it didn’t work out. The games are the real brands. We try to put Vostu in front of people’s faces, but it’s hard to get people in love with the manufacturer of a game – its the actual game they care about.

Sho: There’s definitely certain categories that do well. In Japan RPG and card battle games are always popular, but it’s dangerous to assume that category will always be popular in that region. You should look at your content and assets and do a test. It’s not wise to limit yourself.

Audience Question: What do you see as the potential in India?

Arjun: One of the things that india has a problem with is payment models and methods. Right now it’s controlled by the carriers. Some will charge 80% of the cost of a transaction, so the margins aren’t there. It’s also really cash focused economy, a pay-as-you go economy. It’s not credit card focused. I think it could be there in 8 to 10 years. I think you could look at the evolution of China and see something similar in India eventually, but I wouldn’t be excited to jump in there.