Should I Self-Publish In Japan? A Guide For Mobile Games Studios And Developers

What to expect from a mobile games publisher and the benefits of using a local partner should you decide to self-publish in Japan.

So your game hit the top rankings on the US iOS App Store or Google Play? Great news! Now where to next? Other English speaking countries is an obvious choice as is Europe. Assuming you’ve conquered western markets, you’d naturally turn to the East. And most devs and studios agree that to enter Asia, you need a partner. While not impossible to self-publish in Japan or other Asian countries, you will still need a partner for a lot of the publishing activities.


While every situation is different, I attended a great talk at Pocket Gamer Connects in San Francisco that summarized the benefits of working with a games publisher perfectly. I’ve included the comprehensive list and turned it into a guide for you. Now without further ado:


What To Expect From A Mobile Games Publisher


While each publisher may specialize in different portions of these publishing activities, when you use a games publisher for Japan instead of self-publishing, you can expect them to help you with some or all the following:


• Marketing creatives (for advertising and App Store Optimization or ASO)

• User Acquisition (especially paid UA)

• App store relations and featuring

• PR and media outreach

• F2P expertise and analytics (particularly relevant in the gacha filled world of Japan)

• Customer service and community management

• Functional QA testing

• Localization and localization QA

• Development funding or royalty advances

• Marketing guarantees

• IP licensing


The benefits of a publisher are enormous. The most obvious comes to sharing your risk, especially as an indie studio. You also get to focus on doing what you love: making games. Moreover, a lot of the major gaming companies use local games publishers when launching their game in Japan. They receive other benefits like the expertise and marketing know-how of their partner publisher. This can be a huge benefit when dealing with the foreignness of markets not your own.


The obvious downsides are that you pay for it, both in loss of flexibility and money revenue. The less obvious downsides vary by country. Transparency and trust are important but often difficult to find in China. Japan has different challenges–many publishers are highly risk averse and won’t partner with foreign games unless the games are already very Japan oriented (i.e. culturalized content).


Can I self-publish in Japan?


While finding a local publisher for Japan is a great option for most games, there are many reasons why you should consider self-publishing. The high risk aversion of Japanese companies means it’s difficult to get published. Furthermore, negotiations can take years. Also, many games publishers like to see an existing user base in Japan so that all they need to do is help you scale. That means you’d have to have already self-published your game. It’s sort of a chicken-egg scenario in that sense.


There are some easy low-risk ways of getting your game out there. If you want to do it on your own without a partner, make sure your game is localized and easily found in the app store (ASO). Then consider doing some basic user acquistion on social media (we recommend Twitter first). And of course, make sure your game is fun and engaging with a clear monetization strategy.


If you’re looking for a partner to help you self-publish in Japan or anywhere else in Asia, we at Yengage offer almost every service above, such as user acquisition, help with monetization, or localization… pretty much everything except IP licensing and funding/royalty advances (though it’s more a question that we’ve never tried). As an agency, we work on a management fee which means you keep all of your revenue. So if you have a game that you want to try to self-publish in Japan, send us a message!


By: Justin Endo. First Published: July 4, 2017.

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