Can Indie Games In Japan Be Successful?


We help all sorts of studios from AAA to indie games in Japan with their marketing efforts as a Japanese advertising agency. As such, we know the difficulties indie developers face. Competing as an indie studio can be difficult enough in your home country. Trying to compete in Japan can be downright daunting.


However, it’s not impossible to turn a profit in Japan. If you have a free-to-play game, it’s relatively straightforward, at least on paper. Localize the game, then start with a test budget to find high-paying users.


For premium games, it’s a bit trickier. You have a limit on the potential revenue from your game so normal user acquisition strategies don’t necessarily work. Also, in Japan, you have an uphill battle. Japanese mobile players overall gravitate towards free-to-play games and premium mobile games in Japan aren’t really a “thing.” That said, it’s not impossible. To prove so, here are 3 examples of indie studios with premium games who have seen massive success in Japan.


Dungeon Maker


Back in May 2018, Dungeon Maker by GameCoaster made it to the top downloaded paid game in Japan and even breaking into the top 100 grossing games overall.


Yengage Hypothesis: If I had to guess, they made their game premium so that it’s more easily discoverable. It’s not as difficult to get into the top paid charts in Japan as it is in the US. To be fair, it would not be in the top paid charts if it was not a good game at its core. It is a fun little game about protecting your dungeon. They did a good job of localization. But the true secret of this game is live ops and available downloadable content (DLC). This game is on the premium charts but it truly shines in how much sheer content they have. Add in a tight game loop and plenty of content, it’s no wonder this game is a success in Japan.


Goat Simulator


Nothing can really beat the true virality of Goat Simulator by Coffee Stain Studios. Breaking into the top grossing in Japan and was the most downloaded paid game back in December 2016 and broke into the top 100 grossing that same month.


Yengage Hypothesis: Part of Goat Simulator’s appeal is that it doesn’t take itself seriously. I mean, unlike some other indie games in Japan trying to be super polished, Goat Simulator intentionally left in bugs as long as they didn’t crash the game. Also, when it was ported from Xbox, it brought with it immediate name recognition. Establishing hype and credibility are important in Japan as we’ve discussed at length in previous blog posts. So combined with the prevalence of smartphones, it’s no surprise that the global viral hit also took off in Japan.


Plague Inc.


Plague Inc. is a classic indie game by Ndemic Creations. It has been in the top 10 for paid games in Japan fairly consistently since its launch and peaked in the top 60 grossing back in 2013.


Yengage Hypothesis: How has it been successful in Japan? Well, it’s a high-quality game with easy game mechanics and good replayability that launched in the earlier days of mobile games. So part of it is first mover advantage. But how has it stayed relevant? In addition to live ops, I think it’s due to a smart user acquisition strategy in Japan. By discounting the game (or making it free), it can climb the charts in Japan. Then it can bring the price back up, but is now discoverable to organic players who search the charts. It also relies on getting featured and since it’s an older game, I would imagine they have a solid relationship with Apple and Google. (But if you know for sure, email us and let us know!)


Indie games in Japan are having more and more success as Japanese players are looking for new gaming experiences. As many Japanese studios aren’t willing to deviate from known formulae (e.g. strong IP, RPG mechanics, gacha system, etc.), you have an opportunity as a foreign developer to introduce your mobile game in Japan. So if you’re an indie studio with a great game and want to try self-publishing in Japan, let us know! Email us at info[at] or click below.


By: Justin Endo. First Published: December 18, 2018.

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