GREE: We’re not threatened by Game Center or Google+

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By Kathleen De Vere

As Japanese social-mobile gaming giant GREE draws closer to the debut of its global platform, the company is finally beginning to share details about its plans.

Up until now, GREE had been releasing information at a snail’s pace compared to rival DeNA, which has been much more vocal in its efforts to bring the Mobage platform to North America.

The GREE platform, as it will be called, will drop OpenFeint branding and feature games from well-known international developers like Gameloft, Ubisoft, Haypi, Hoolai and Punchbox. Several, as-yet-unannounced North American developers now have code in hand and are currently working with the platform in anticipation of its Q2 launch.

Last week, Inside Mobile Apps was able to sit down with Eros Resmini, GREE’s senior vice president of marketing and developer relations. He told us GREE is betting that its combination of indie-friendly developer relations and a global platform with wide variety of both localized and locally produced games will be the secret to replicating its Japanese success abroad. Although more companies are moving into the social-mobile market, GREE isn’t worried. The company sees itself as a complementary service to Game Center and Google+, and is confident it can leverage its experience to give GREE players the best mobile experiences available.

Inside Mobile Apps: GREE has said a few times its goal is to get 1 billion people on its platform. Why is it important to have a large, global network?

Eros Resmini, SVP marketing and developer relations (pictured right): There’s two reasons. First of all, I think gaming is global and players are global in nature. A global experience is more interesting for players. From a developer’s perspective I don’t think they want to interact with multiple networks and multiple SDKs in order to reach certain regions. A global platform provides developers an awesome one-stop-shop solution. From both the player and developer standpoint, it makes a lot of sense.

IMA: GREE has been staffing up significantly. Why has GREE been concentrating so hard on establishing a Western presence?

Resmini: First is really related to building our own content. We have a first-party games studio and we recognize that some of the content we’ve built in Japan will not easily translate to Western markets. We’re better off building content locally, for local audiences. We’ve got a San Francisco studio, so we’re focused on building content here, but we’re also setting up studios in Latin America, China and Europe with the same thought in mind — let’s bring content to local areas, built by local developers who understand local tastes. We want also want to reach third party developers for the same reason. We think having a presence in the local market will allow us to reach local talent.

IMA: One of the things GREE announced earlier was localization support to help bring games from China, Korea and Japan into the North American market. Why is it important for GREE to make games on its platform global?

Resmini: To be clear, we’re building local studios in each of our regions, but we’re also looking at content that we think applies to other regions. Those are the games we’re looking at bringing over. We talk internally a lot about the notion of localizing — simply changing the words from Japanese to English — and how it compares to “culturalization,” which is trying to take advantage of art-style preferences, menu style preferences and game mechanics. We have that range, and depending on the title itself, you might just need to change words or you might have to culturalize the game. I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer. It really depends on the title itself. Some won’t apply at all. The thing is that players want content and they want variety. I think its in our best interest and the players best interest to try and bring content over that we think will work. Some of it will be successful and some of it won’t.

IMA: GREE’s revenues in Japan are very good. The company’s net income was $167.3 million in the holiday quarter alone. One of the things that helps GREE earn money in Japan is its universal network currency. Obviously that will work on Android, but it won’t work on iOS. What is GREE going to offer developers on iOS? 

Resmini: We will have single game currency on iOS, because its Apple’s policy. I’m actually really curious to see what happens when we have the same game on Android with a universal currency and on iOS with a single game currency. I don’t actually know which will monetize better or do better for the developer. That remains to be seen.

I’m not necessarily convinced that its universal currency that’s driving revenues in Japan. It could be a contributor, but I’m not sure how important that is to the success of the company. We’ll have a very interesting A/B test in the marketplace, and we’ll be able to go back to developers and say either “hey, this universal currency thing is really important, maybe you should invest more in your Android games because you can make more money there” or we may find out it doesn’t matter and we don’t need a universal currency on Android or iOS.

IMA: How is GREE going to maintain the momentum behind its earnings? 

Resmini: A lot of [the success] relies on having a powerful social network players care about it. I think that players want to be part of the GREE network. We’re very friendly and very good with our third party developers because they bring in a significant amount of revenue.

As we opened up GREE’s platform, revenue really grew. We’ve had some great success with third parties like EA and its FIFA title on GREE and many Capcom titles. I thinks its been a combination of players really liking the platform and great third party content that’s really helped us accelerate revenue. We just have to keep on doing it. The formula of making a great destination and making great content is the core of it. How we’re going to execute on a market by market basis is still to be determined. That’s part of the reason we’re opening up local offices. It gives us people on the ground close to developers and players who can make sure we’re adapting the platform and technology for local needs.

IMA: What does GREE bring to Western developers?

Resmini: It’s a couple of different things. First and foremost, the global platform is really important. They don’t have much choice now with regards to bringing the extra features of a social network into their games and having global access at the same time. They need to build separate SKUs in order to target those regions.

The second reason is one of the reasons we acquired OpenFeint. We loved OpenFeint’s indie friendly, content friendly openness as a platform. We want to bring the same spirit to the new GREE platform. A network is powerful because of its content, and independent content is as important as content that’s coming from our biggest partners like Capcom and Konami. We think that gives players more variety and make it a destination of choice for them. Ultimately that will make developers more successful on the platform. Outside of that we build great tech and we’re a great company to work with. We’ve obviously proven we can be successful in Japan and we think we can replicate that worldwide.

IMA: What will the revenue share be for developers on the new GREE platform?

Resmini: It’s 15 percent of gross, 10.5 percent of net. After Apple and Google.

IMA: Where does GREE see the greater opportunity: iOS or Android? 

Resmini: Depending on the region, I think my answer would be different. If you look at Western markets and the U.S., iOS is clearly monetizing better. But if you look at China and Japan, Android is really starting to take off and it looks like it will have more momentum than iOS. As a whole, it looks like it will be a really close race. You have the iOS ecosystem with have audiences that are more willing to pay and a better buying experience, but Android clearly has volume in terms of handsets.

Ultimately we’re a cross platform network and we’re not really thinking about it in terms of one versus the other. We’re trying to bring players a cross platform experience.

IMA: So GREE games will all launch cross-platform? Will you be helping smaller developers take their game cross platform?

Resmini: Some of them may start on one platform, but the majority will launch cross-platform. We will be helping developers, but we’re also making sure our platform is compatible with some of the cross-platform tools out there — Adobe Air, Unity, etc.

IMA: If you see equal opportunity on both Android and iOS, are you concerned about Google’s plans to build a unified gaming network on Android?

Resmini: I think its really smart of them. They needed to unify their platform and it was the right move for the Google ecosystem. It’s become a little too siloed in my opinion. We’re not worried about it, no. It’s the same way that we interact with Game Center and are compatible with it. We’re going to treat anything that Google comes out with in a similar manner. Ultimately we’re about cross-platform and focusing on gaming experiences across devices.

IMA: As GREE expands, which company is it looking at as its greatest competition? Who worries you in the Western market?

Resmini: There’s a bunch of great companies in the space. Facebook is doing a great job here in the west. They’re starting to make a presence on mobile and we’re watching what they’re doing. They do have a compelling offering for both developers and players. We obviously have DeNA, who is a big competitor of ours in Japan and has started to make their move here. But there’s also a number of large game developers that are starting to think about platform plays. Zynga’s the most recent, and we’re watching what they’re doing. They’re web focused now.

What I think is unique about our offering is that we’re clearly focused on mobile. We don’t intend to go other platforms. We think players are going to mobile in the future and we have a very interesting offer because we’ve been on mobile for so long now.