Japan’s two social-game-networking giants, Gree and Mobage, have been spending enormous amounts on producing TV advertising recently, and as a result they have each attracted approximately 20 percent of the population to their services, selling vast number of virtual items. In the West it is unusual to promote Web services on traditional media such as TV, as good Web services are thought to be self-promotional and gain publicity virally, so the move by Gree and Mobage is an interesting business tactic.
Compared to the West, the traditional media in Japan has also tended to look down on Internet businesses and pushes the idea that the Web is a dirty and dangerous place. However, with the kind of business strategies that social-game companies are now implementing, cross promotions between the traditional media and the Web are increasing.
There have long been video games made based on movies and dramas, such as “The Terminator” and “Star Wars” and many, many others. However, the framework of social games, in which players are assigned tasks to collect virtual items, gain status and see more achievement- based events, has a strong potential to be drama based.
Adding new drama-themed games is an important tactic for social-game companies, and Gree and Mobage especially are competing fiercely, hoping potential customers will think “If can play a game based on my favorite TV drama, then I may try social games.”
And now things are moving in the opposite direction too, as social-game-based content is moving over into traditional media.
This autumn, two social games are being dramatized on TV. The first is “Kaitou Royal,” a flagship game from Mobage boasting 10 million registered users. The TV drama version of the game began airing on Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) in October. Despite not being broadcast during prime time, but rather on weekdays after midnight, the first episode’s viewer rating of 4.2 percent was pretty good for such time slot.
A manga version of “Kaitou Royal” is also running in two magazines — Weekly Young Jump, which targets young men, and Cookie, a monthly women’s magazine. Weekly Young Jump alone has a circulation of 760,000 copies each week, making it very good promotion for the both the “Kaitou Royal” game and the Mobage platform. (Mobage’s rival, Gree has also started running a manga of its social-game “Dragon Collection” from Konami in Weekly Shonen Magazine, which has a weekly circulation of 1.5 million copies.)
The other game to be dramatized is “Watashino Host-chan” (“My Sweet Host”), a social game depicting male hosts working at a host bar. Host and hostess bars are a popular theme recently, probably because they are similar to good-old-fashioned yakuza dramas from a few decades ago. CyberAgent, who runs the “Watashino Host-chan” game on its social network Ameba, is keeping its distance from the Gree/Mobage battle, but still succeeds in attracting subscribers by using celebrity blogs and a virtual world named Ameba Pigg with cute avatars. Whole episodes of “Watashino Host-chan” are also uploaded to YouTube and other sites, which shows the drama is used as promotion for the game.
Web companies are moving into the world of sports sponsorship too. Decades ago, many Japanese pro-baseball teams were owned by railway companies, and ownership changes have always been a good litmus tests as to which industry was growing. Last decade, the companies that purchased teams included the cellphone company SoftBank, which owns the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and utilizes promotional power through its subsidiary Yahoo! Japan; and the online mall company Rakuten, which owns the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
But now it is the turn of social-game companies as DeNA (who run Mobage) has just bought the Yokohama BayStars and is awaiting approval from Nippon Professional Baseball’s executive committee. That’s because when a company makes a bid to buy an NPA league team, 75 percent of the owners of the other teams in the NPA must agree to the purchase.
When Livedoor — at the time a growing Web-service company before it was raided by Tokyo prosecutors for security fraud in January 2006 — intended to enter the baseball business in 2004, and planned Internet broadcasts of games, there was an adverse reaction from the owners of other teams, some of which owned traditional media and criticized Livedoor as being a kyogyou (fake business).
But SoftBank later introduced game broadcasts on the Internet, and now DeNA says that they may broadcast the new team game on Mobage — so the issue of Internet broadcasts no longer seems to be an issue. This time, the owners who rejected Livedoor are not objecting to a new media company buying a team — though ironically Rakuten, themselves a Web-based company, opposed the purchase. The reason for the change of heart by owners may be that these days traditional media companies are making a lot of cash by selling advertising to social game companies.
Akky Akimoto writes for Asiajin.com, an English blog on the Japanese Web scene. You can follow him @akky on Twitter.