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Japan, as a mature games market, stands alone within Asia as a separate discussion. It also can provide us a window to how the other core Asian markets could develop in time. For example: multiple deliveries of game systems, great local online development, high international standards, and wide, varied consumer segments.
Its online segment is growing very quickly, but seems to be driven by a new breed of internet-focused companies. The developers are starting to use their experienced international game design talent to produce what will be both successful and global online content. Japan may not yet be fully seen as a major online market, but there are many examples of how it has already had great success in this segment.
In 2005, one of the earlier Japanese online companies Warpgate converted the Korean Game Knights Online from subscription to item trading. It was a huge risk for the company, but it saw a revenue increase of 400% for an aging game.
This was not primarily increasing users, but simply increasing their individual average spend. Going back even further, Ultima Online was very successful in Japan, making Japan one of the earliest adopters of online gaming.
Japan was one of the first Asian markets to license both Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online, so clearly as a mature market, it is more open to western content.
Within China, three years ago Omake did most of our dealings with only three online majors. In 2008 the list is closer to eight majors.
If, two years ago, you asked us about game development in China, we would have hesitated. Now in 2008, well over 60% of all online content for the Chinese domestic market is created locally. The country's pool of local talent is large and growing daily in experience and quality.
Also as the overseas Chinese, VCs, and global companies flow into the mainland, you can see their positive impact on international business approaches. Like the Korean companies, the Chinese majors will spread internationally and they will seek global representation of their content. The impact of China's online games today is only a fraction of what it will be in years to come.
Giant Interactive's ZT Online
One of the best examples of the pace of learning in China is ZT Online, run by Giant Interactive. This is one of the highest performing games in China today and has perhaps the best item system in all of Asia. Gamers can buy and gamble their way to a godlike level 170. It may be free to play, but every step of the way to 170 will cost you.
Without taking anything away from WoW, The9 in China made that great game a success through its visionary marketing link with Coca-Cola. Millions of cans supporting WoW took it to the mass of the internet community.
The greatest challenge or change to come in the Chinese domestic market is the segmentation of the gamer. It is a young gaming market that has enjoyed many similar RPGs, but the local major operators need now to quickly develop new consumer segments.
Casual online is a form of segmentation that is expanding rapidly. Consumer segmentation will provide openings for western content, if it is localized hand-in-hand with Chinese partners. Trying to throw western content over the wall simply won't work.
Southeast Asia, although important in online gaming, has less of an immediate impact on an approach to Asia at large. One of the key elements is recognizing the lower machine spec requirements. The markets of Thailand and Vietnam have large and active online gaming communities. Games like Lineage (NCSoft Korea) and MapleStory (Nexon Korea), as lower spec casual online RPGs, have had tremendous success in across SEA.