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How are Japanese indie game developers doing/surviving in Japan?

Source: App Marketing Labo, http://appmarketinglabo.net/rural-appdev/ (photos inside)

Sidora Marketing’s beginning comment

As you knew, Japan is the biggest mobile game market in the world. Most of the market share is taken by those game giants such as Ganho, Mixi or LINE, and it’s a very competitive market. However, there are also many indie mobile game developers there in Japan. How are they doing and what are their games look like? There is a new article published 4 days ago interviewing 2 indie mobile game developers in Japan to answer these questions.

Indie game developer (1): Asobox

Asobox is located in Hokkaido, northern Japan (with an environment similar to Finland), and is composed of a husband for coding and a wife for planning. The husband used to work in a game company in Tokyo and he tried to develop a game by himself at that time. The game called “Brain Power + Payment Ability Certificate (脳力+ 支払い技術検定)” was launched in 2013 and got 1.4 million DLs. He realized the income was higher than his salary, so he quit the job and became an indie game developer.

In the past 3 years, they launched 9 games with 3 hit titles that brought 300,000 DLs, 100,000 DLs and 100,000 DLs respectively. However, no one can surpass the record of the first game. He felt in the past several years, the competition is getting more serious and difficult to return back to the top ranking on store chart if once fell down from the top positions.

Taking the latest title “Reborn! Karakara Planet (再生! カラカラ惑星)” as an example, the DLs is 100,000 which is lower than he expected. However, half of the revenue is from in-app purchase, which is quite good in this genre (tap-a-bit-and-wait) of games. For development cost, we spent 7 months for this game, and most graphics are from free materials with specific characters drawn by ourselves. For sales promotion, we did A/B tests for icon, screenshot and game description. As a result, simplification of game description raised average daily download 3~30%! Modification of the icon and screenshot brought growth in average daily download for 10~35%!

At the end, they expressed that they really love game development, especially in polishing the game while being close to release. They also enjoyed viewing players’ reaction on websites and twitter. They said they will never leave game industry even if they can’t make their lives through indie game development.

Indie game developer (2): Mr. Okada

Mr. Okada is developing mobile games at south west of Japan, a city called Okayama. He had experience from a system development company and a social game development company before become an indie game developer. At the beginning, his wife objected his decision to be indie game developers due to the uncertainty of the life. However, he negotiated with his wife and convinced with the condition of making more money from indie game development than a monthly salary in 2 years. In the first year, the profitability was good and his wife was satisfied with his income, but it was getting worse in the following years. The income is still sufficient for making life, but it may not be enough for future retirement. He launched 6 titles with total DLs of 1.7 million. As a reference, the in-app advertisement revenue of Himatsubu Danjon (ひまつぶダンジョン) was 820,000 yen (~6,000 EUR, 28% from iOS and 72% from Android) from 160,000 DLs (3.8 cents/DL). Additionally, about the point in his game development, he focuses on the easiness in game operation. Basically, all of his games can be operated with one single finger. For example, he gave the button with a bigger size for the players to tap easier and also something like a “skip” button for game stories.

Sidora Marketing’s ending comment

So, how do you feel to these 2 Japanese indie game developers? Definitely the competition is becoming more and more severe, which is basically the same in all mobile game markets in the world. However, you can also understand that some/many indie teams are very small in Japan, but they still made it to get several hundred thousand download for their small titles (relatively easy coding and graphics). Some of them also tried well with A/B test for sales optimization even “just” icon, screenshot and game description. I believe you can learn something from these 2 examples like me and have a more real feeling for the chance of your (future) games in Japan.