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Yahoo Japan’s new gaming platform turns the browser into a console

Bloomberg

Yahoo Japan Corp., operator of the nation’s second-most popular website, has announced a new web-based gaming platform called Game Plus.

The new service, which started Tuesday in Japan with 39 games, offers titles through cloud streaming and those built on HTML5. Yahoo Japan is partnering with 52 game publishers including Square Enix Holdings Co. and Koei Tecmo Holdings Co. to offer new titles and rereleases of console games like Final Fantasy X.

Yahoo Japan joins Facebook Inc., Tencent Holdings Ltd., and Rakuten Inc. in embracing web-based games, which allow smartphone and desktop users to play without downloading apps or software. The technology is growing in popularity as it circumvents app stores run by Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc. and lets publishers capture a bigger share of the mobile gaming market, which globally generated about $50 billion in sales last year, according to App Annie.

“Until now games were held back by hardware, but now through the web you can play freely anytime and anywhere you want,” Yahoo Japan Chief Operating Officer Kentaro Kawabe said at a news briefing.

Game Plus will offer a mix of free-to-play games with in-game purchases, and others that require a one-time payment. Many titles featured during a news briefing were aimed at female players, while streaming-based titles like Final Fantasy XIII are likely to appeal to core gamers.

“Cloud streaming means you no longer need a console,” said Gaku Sudo, head of Yahoo Japan’s new service. “As long as you have a smartphone or even a PC with low specs, you can use our service through multiple devices.”

Games streaming has gained appeal in recent years, mostly notably through Sony Corp.’s PlayStation Now service that allows gamers to stream and play PS3 and PS4 titles through their consoles or even PCs.

HTML5, the latest version of the language that powers websites, has in recent years been beefed up with graphical capabilities, allowing developers to create more sophisticated games. Prior to HTML5, Adobe Systems Inc.’s Flash was a popular way for people to get multimedia content via browsers and was used to power popular games like FarmVille. The two standards clashed for a while, but Flash wasn’t supported on Apple’s iPhones and eventually lost out.

For Yahoo Japan, games present a new potential growth engine. The company, which operates Japan’s most popular website after Google, counts almost a third of the nation’s population as users, accessing its news and shopping through online auctions.

Allowing its 39 million users to more seamlessly play games could boost revenue, which in the latest fiscal year rose 31 percent to a record ¥854 billion ($7.6 billion), driven by advertising and online shopping. Japanese gamers are expected to spend about ¥960 billion on mobile games this year, according to Yano Research Institute Ltd.

Unlike its former parent company Yahoo Inc., which splintered into various entities, Yahoo Japan has thrived as a portal. It counts SoftBank Group Corp. as its largest shareholder, which holds 43 percent of outstanding shares. Altaba Inc., the investment company spun out of Yahoo Inc., is the second-largest holder with 35.6 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.