You probably own an iPhone. Or at least, you’ve noticed an ever increasing number of your friends clutching an iPhone. They are engrossed in emailing, browsing the web, as well as playing games and using the plethora of useful – and not-so-useful – applications that the iPhone offers. This applies whether you live in the United States, Europe, or Asia. Even Japan, a country long associated with homegrown, hi-tech mobile phones and long considered impervious to a device that, while flashy and stylish, doesn’t allow services such as contactless mobile payments and iMode browsing, is embracing the iPhone.
Sure, if you look at the overall numbers it’s clear that iPhone owners are a small minority: about 2 billion people own mobile phones in Asia and, while Apple doesn’t publish sales data by country, a conservative estimate could point to a total of about 10 million iPhones in the region (about 20% of worldwide sales), or 1 iPhone every 200 mobile phones. But what is lacking in numbers, they surely make up for in visibility, as their owners can be seen constantly fidgeting with them while commuting or moving across the city. Walk around Shanghai, Tokyo or Singapore and you will surely spot them, and you would be forgiven to think that their addiction is infective, as their ranks seem to swell over time. In fact, during the last investor call, Apple declared that the installed base for iPhones in Asia is nearly 10 times larger than what it was one year ago.
But it’s not only in usage that iPhone fans are particularly active: they are also by far the most ardent purchasers of mobile content, games in particular. If globally an iPhone user can purchase 4 or 5 times as much content as a user of another brand of smartphone, in countries with a high income disparity such as China the difference is even higher, to the point that top selling apps reach levels of popularity rarely seen for mobile content in territories where piracy is rife. As such, plenty of local developers are eyeing the market in the hope of making it big, both at home and globally. The App Store model surely levels the playing field and gives small teams without distribution muscle an opportunity to shine, but it’s also fiercely competitive, and only the very best will eventually make it.
In any case, it can be said that the iPhone is reshaping the mobile games industry in Asia, penetrating markets that were previously dominated by local players, and bringing to the forefront a region that has long been neglected by developers. In fact, I’d say that any iPhone publisher looking for global prominence should devote some effort to catering to Asian gamers, from translating App Store game information in local languages, to localizing the game itself, to investing in marketing activities in the region. With respect to the latter point, online advertising rates are much lower in Asia than in the US, and games often sell for a roughly equivalent price, making customer acquisition more cost-effective.
But what are Asian gamers buying? Let’s now take a look at the top 5 games for some Asian countries, as of July 8th:
China: Plants vs. Zombies (Yay!), Fruit Ninja, Real Football, PopStar!, Doodle Jump
Indonesia: Angry Birds, FIFA World Cup, Plants vs. Zombies, The Settlers, PES 2010
Japan: Street Fighter IV, Mr. Driller, Sakura Goldfishing, The Settlers, PopStar!
Philippines: Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, World Series of Poker, Text Twist 2, Bejeweled 2
Singapore: Wolf Boy, Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Bejeweled 2, FIFA World Cup
Vietnam: Bejeweled 2, Robin Hood, Plants Vs Zombies, PES 2010, All-in-1 Gamebox
What can be gathered from this? Well, to start with, it’s evident that China is the most Zombie-crazy nation in the world (and for that reason Plants Vs Zombies will soon launch in Chinese on the App Store… pardon the plug!), and that across the region people are partial to games with curmudgeonly birds. Besides those world shaking revelations, those top 5 closely mirror the ones found in Western countries, with the exception of Japan, where locally developed titles rule the roost. Not a surprising occurrence for a country with such a strong tradition in gaming.
And those Japanese iPhone users, condemned to paying with actual money in shops, to queue to buy train tickets and overall to be shut down from most Japanese mobile entertainment, how do they cope? Simply, they usually carry two phones: an iPhone for apps and style, another phone for everything else.
Giordano Bruno Contestabile is PopCap Games’ senior director of business development – Asia Pacific, a position he’s held for the last two and a half years. In that role he oversees business development, marketing and sales in the APAC region and is responsible for revenues in all channels: Online, Social, Mobile, Retail, Console, Advertising and New Platforms.
He is also involved in shaping the company’s strategy in Asia Pacific, with particular regard to the development and licensing of online and multiplayer products built in our Shanghai studio, and to the development and operations of social games.
Contestabile has more than 10 years of experience in management, business development and strategy, having worked in the Internet, media, mobile and games industries. Follow Giordano Bruno Contestabile on Twitter.