Crunchyroll Releasing Naruto, Other Facebook Games to Promote Anime Brands

Crunchyroll has until recently been a destination site that runs Japanese animation videos and other Asian media content licensed for international audiences. But it’s beginning to create social games as a way to promote this content, with the first one being the only official application for Naruto, a long-running manga and anime series about a young ninja.

The application itself is a straightforward role-playing game. You undertake missions to gain points and access new levels via text-based combat. While the game already includes offers so users can gain virtual currency for buying virtual goods, the bigger play — at least for now — is to try to promote the Naruto brand, as Crunchyroll chief executive Kun Gao tells us. While the company has not yet added direct payments for virtual goods, the app includes very clear integration points with the home site, including the ability to watch videos in order to receive special items.

Crunchyroll has separately cut deals to run 20 anime titles to date. Almost all of the episodes it offers are free, although there are lots of ads on the site for related types of things, such as for Nexon’s Maple Story massive multiplayer online game. For nearly $7 a month, the site’s premium service stops the ads, offers higher-quality video, and gives users access to the content a week before everyone else. The Naruto game itself also includes ads, apparently offered via Google, that link back to Crunchyroll as well as to other social games.

Due to Crunchyroll’s means of monetizing its content, it has almost certainly made some money off the game.

In the two and a half months that its been out on Facebook, Naruto has grown to 558,000 monthly active users and 60,000 daily active users. This is a promising start for the company’s foray into social gaming, especially considering that the game was developed in-house.

Gao explains that the company’s overall goal isn’t just to drive traffic to the home site, though. Because the license-holders for Naruto and other animes are interested in broader promotion — for Naruto merchandise, for example — the game is intended to broadly promote the brand on social networks. “As long as we promote and grow the brand, we and other licensors will make money,” he tells us. “That’s how we view the whole ecosystem.” In terms of specific dollar amounts, Gao only describes its deals as “revenue shares.”

Crunchyroll, he says, is also working on social games for other titles it licenses, and plans to expand its Naruto offering in the future. Because Facebook users have real-world identities, the company can also begin targeting them for games, videos and ads that are more relevant to the interests they show in their profiles and in the games they play. “Before, it was hard to pinpoint the audience, but now you can engage and upsell the whole experience,” he tells us.

For those not familiar, Crunchyroll has been around since 2006. It got its start running unlicensed content, but has developed relationships with major Japanese anime companies over the years. Today, it offers more than 50 percent of all newly-released one hour anime titles on its site, according to Gao. In the past, animes have typically run in Japan, then are licensed to television broadcasters in the US and other countries, then come out on DVD a year later. Crunchyroll instead broadcasts the titles on its site within an hour or so after they run in Japan, making itself an early way to for anime lovers to access new content.

We haven’t seen many content distributors get into social gaming in the way that Crunchyroll has. Perhaps the closest example are the RPGs that Lolapps has created to promote MMOs and console games from big gaming companies — an effort that seems to have gone well so far. We expect more content companies to experiment with social games in the future.