According to NewZoo, Japan is the world’s #3 games market overall, producing revenues of $19.0 billion in 2019. A market where women are likelier to be mobile-first gamers and users play in short bursts sessions. We looked for a Mobile Mastermind who had experience taking its app to the land of the rising sun, and Michael Jessen was the one.
Michael is a User Acquisition Specialist at the game publisher Social Point, responsible for promoting the cooking titles within the company. Aways on the lookout for new audiences and concocting innovative ways to connect with potential new players, the app daily challenge is getting them interested enough to give their games a try, and creating an epic all-around experience that makes its users long-term fans. But Japan has been a completely different challenge.
So how did Social Point make the decision that it was the right time to expand to Japan?
In our search for new markets, at Social Point we discovered that Japan is a big market for gaming apps. They love games, have an active mobile gaming culture and are highly engaged users that accounted for 15.4% of the global app revenues in 2018. With our cooking titles, we explored several Asian markets, but when looking at Japan, we saw high potential. Their users monetize very well, have high retention rates, are high-value users, but the CPI’s are high and the market competitive, so the challenge is to find profitability. Therefore, an expansion to the land of the rising sun made total sense.
What steps are required to adapt the marketing of an app to the Japanese market?
Before expanding the Japanese market we tested our grounds with a couple of things. We started testing campaigns on ad-networks with Japanese translated creatives made by our in-house translation team. This worked pretty well, but we knew we could do better in terms of performance and retention.
During the second phase, we worked closely with our in-house localization team to translate our English creatives into Japanese. Results improved, but we were not quite there yet. When we benchmarked our creatives and App Stores for Japan on AppAnnie versus several competitors, we knew we were missing something.For this third iteration of exploring the Japanese market and optimizing our performance, we worked closely with a local creative agency. We provided them with our assets and asked to “culturalise” our content to match it better with the local app ecosystem and give it a Japanese touch.
What we received were assets with anime-style characters effects and flashy texts. We tested the culturalised creatives on several ad-networks that historically worked well for us in Japan and saw that results improved instantly.
App Store Optimization required similar adaptations for the Japan app stores?
As creative performance improved, store conversion was our next objective. We worked together with our localization team again to translate our US store into the Japanese language.
One of the key things in the ASO strategy was to adopt the store in the same style as the ads. Following that we looked after the title of the game, subtitle and store descriptions. There we focused more on keywords that are popular in Japan versus the US, e.g “sushi” rather than “hamburger” or “pizza”. The title was another challenge because translating something literally to Japanese does not always have the same flow as it does in English. Therefore we tested various titles and subtitles, but we always remained the main title of the game.
How were the results of your first campaigns in the market?
Once our App Stores and creatives were ready to hit the market we checked what was the best platform to reach the local audience. We tried several ad-networks and Facebook, but we noticed quickly that this was not the right approach due to the high CPI’s and lower reach.
We decided to work with a local agency for our advertising as well. Japanese mobile gamers are the most likely to discover new games from social network updates and news (24%). LINE Messenger is by far the largest social network platform in Japan, so we decided to start our campaigns there. Together with the optimized App Store and culturalized creatives the campaigns took off. However, the quality was low, volume was low and performance was not there yet. Besides all of that, we saw that the CPI’s we were paying were not sustainable, so 4 weeks after launch, we decided to pause the experiment with Line.
Overall, what do you think are the most valuable advertising channels for gaming apps in Japan?
The Japanese market is a very young market with a smartphone penetration of 55%. With ARPU averaging around 24$ for both Android and iOS, this fast-growing market is very valuable for app marketers. In total 46% of the Japanese smartphone players paid for games in 2018, three times higher than the world average. Despite being the industry’s biggest spenders, the CPI’s have been increasing over the last few years and the creative becomes more and more important.
When looking at non-paid mobile advertising, influencer marketing is very popular in Japan for app campaigns to boost organics. Frequently, using a spokesman or celebrity works pretty well in terms of performance. Outside of Line, other popular networks are Twitter, and SDK video ad-networks such as Unity, Vungle and AdColony. However, everything depends on the genre of your game. The top 3 in 2018 was led by the Role-Playing, Action and Adventure genre in terms of bringing in the most revenue.
The Japanese audience responds better to localized creatives, what about ad formats?
Over the last couple of months, we have tested several creative formats and several advertising channels. Some have performed well, while others did not. Where portrait formats, in general, performs well in Tier 1 countries, the opposite was true for Japan. We saw a big difference in ROI and volume with the landscape format (25% more ROI). Outside of this, we noticed that the Japanese market is very keen on playable ads. We tested our best working playable after translation and this soon became the best working creative. After localization and culturalization we saw an uplift in CTR and CVR, which resulted in lower CPI and higher eCPM. Another thing you can do when entering Asian markets is to check where they spend the most in-app currency on and adjust your creatives to these elements accordingly.
What are your conclusions after your efforts in marketing a gaming app in Japan?
- Japan is a highly competitive and expensive market to enter, but once you crack it, the results are much better than most of the Tier 1 countries.
- Before you enter, localize and culturalize every aspect of the app experience.
- Landscape and playable ads outperform portraits.
- Expect high CPI’s, with high retention rates and ROI.
- Make good use of local social media channels.