Is mobile games user acquisition in Japan different from the US? If so, how different?


This is a question I hear a lot from user acquisition managers both in-house and agency-side. While the marketing fundamentals are the same (segment, target, position), the way you approach tactics may differ than what you’re used to. Here’s our take as a Japanese advertising agency.


Social Media Advertising in Japan (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)


While you may be tempted to use your big two American publishers, Japan’s social media landscape is different. We cover the smaller social networks later in this post, so let’s stick with the big US ones you already know. So if not Facebook and Google, then what? Let’s talk about Twitter. While possibly in its death throes in the US, Twitter is still extremely popular in Japan. It often beats Facebook in terms of ROAS and LTV, especially for mobile games. In many cases, it even beats Japan’s largest messaging and social network, Line.


Why? We have several hypotheses. However, the main reason:


  • Twitter is anonymous so you can multiple accounts.
  • Japanese are more likely to have more than one account for different social groups. This means different accounts for different reasons. For example, Japanese Twitter users may have a handle for their college friends and a different one for high school friends. They also may have an account per hobby or interest. Most importantly to you, they may have a handle for the games they play!
  • This makes targeting higher quality users easier. It’s like gaming users are opting into getting gaming ads. This means higher engagement and potentially, easier access to high LTV players.


So if you or your user acquisition manager haven’t tried running your social media ads on Twitter, give it a try and see! Maybe you can get a couple quick wins.


There Are A Lot More Smaller, Niche Content Publishers


As a general rule, Japanese prefer to read about their interests, including what games they should play from a wider variety of publishers than Western audiences. While Japanese also read user-generated content and mainstream news sites, there are two additional formats you need to be aware of:


  1. Curated news sites or apps (e.g. popular app SmartNews has a gaming tab for readers to keep up to date with the latest games). This is also why Yahoo! Japan is still so popular. Japanese prefer to read what “experts” tell them to read.
  2. Smaller platforms and boutique publishers within their very specific interests. Mobile gaming has their own subset of publishers. There’s even whole websites dedicated to games that haven’t launched yet.


So what does this mean for your mobile games user acquisition strategy in Japan? Well, for starters, once you’ve achieved a certain scale, you might have to add some unique traffic to your approach. Try working with a local ad network or two. This gives you access to unique publishers and these portals not found on GDN or YDN. These publishers, while smaller in terms of readership, may have the exact target players you’re looking for! Also, leveraging Web PR is one way to break into this cycle. Get your game and content in front of unique viewers!


TV Is Still King, Even For Mobile Games User Acquisition In Japan


In a recent internal study, the two most common answers in Japan to, “Why did you download your latest mobile game?” can be attributed to TV: either PR or commercials. So what does that mean for mobile games user acquisition in Japan? The big guys, both Japanese and foreign, spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a month running TV commercials and integrating them with their user acquisition campaigns.


So the obvious answer is run TV campaigns if you can afford it. Almost all of the top 100 grossing games in Japan run TV ads.


But what if you don’t have a couple grand to drop on TV ads? Not all is lost. The best advice I have is twofold:


  1. Mix up your user acquisition strategy. Just because you can’t afford the most expensive channel doesn’t mean you can’t use an integrated approach to user acquisition. Maybe use a social influencer with a PR campaign in addition to your existing UA strategy and then use the influencer’s likeness in your still and video creative. Youtubers are becoming quite popular for this.
  2. Also, because TV and traditional PR is still heavily relied on by major gaming companies in Japan, the latest digital UA tactics are often overlooked. Getting your App Store Optimization (ASO) strategy right might be a way to compete with the big guys. Also, keep in might that Google Play and the Apple App Store often roll out their latest features in the United States first. For example, App Store ads are still underused in the US, but they’re not even launched yet in Japan (note: as of Spring 2017). Learning the best practices in the US gives you an edge when it finally launches in Japan!


There are plenty of other differences, but for now, I hope that helps! Mobile games user acquisition in Japan doesn’t have to be so hard! If you haven’t launched your game yet, check out our tips and tricks before you launch. If you are a marketing manager trying to scale up your game in Japan, let us know! We can provide in-depth help with your mobile game or app. Reach out to us at info[at] or click below.


By: Justin Endo. First Published: May 6, 2017.

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