The video game series “Yakuza” is big in Japan, and its fifth installment, “Yakuza: Of the End,” which pits the gangsters against zombies (a match made in game geek heaven), even has its own branded Twitter client. According to the description in the iTunes store the Yakuza series has sold more than 400 million copies. The Twitter client, not so much.
Is there a market for branded clients? Your Spidey sense is probably tingling with a big “no.” They are low-feature by nature, with an appeal that hovers somewhere between background wallpaper and bedazzling. Judging by the number of downloads of the “Yakuza” app we’d have to say that even Japanese teenagers are not interested (though they’ve been preoccupied). Yakuza for Twitter, which is in Japanese (though, of course your tweets appear in whatever language they are sent) was built by Genesis and (as far as we can tell from using it, though we don’t speak Japanese) is a fairly slick, if basic, Twitter client. Send tweets and read tweets over a choice of backgrounds from the game. Google translates the features’ description in the iTunes store as, “basic functions are easy to understand terms used in the beginners.”
The bar for custom branded Twitter apps is pretty low. Basically anyone can make one. There are even a cheesy affiliate marketing companies offering very basic “Build-Your-Own App” services. Essentially what you get is your banner over a window from which a user can send posts to Twitter that nobody in his right mind would ever download.
So, as far as branded clients go “Yakuza for Twitter” made by Genesis is about as sophisticated as they comes.
One of the advantages – in fact, some might argue, the only advantage – of branded clients is that they attach a “via” tag to posts identifying the client (or a website, or whatever you specify). These are the little messages that say “2 minutes ago via Twitter for iPhone” or “HootSuite” or what have you. This can be customized in other ways using the Twitter API and the Consumer Key (for example, there are WordPress plug ins that will denote that the tweet came via your blog).
With this tag you can tweet your face off from your own custom-branded client and everyone will you get the link on the bottom of your posts. Yakuza for Twitter’s says “via 龍が如” which links back to Genesis’s developer site, not the game’s. So how much attention anyone pays to that as a branding benefit is debatable.
The real value would come from a client that integrates the brand with the functionality, and we have yet to see that.