The Japanese art of monetization; An aging games studio called Gungho, which had a hit with Puzzles and Dragons for iOS and Android, and is creeping up on GREE in terms of revenue and market cap, and is actually above Zynga, at $2.3 billion based on only 8 million monthly active users. Gungho did not use social for distribution, the game succeeded just the on power of the app stores and TV ads.

The Japanese art of monetization


ON MARCH 7, 2013

You can learn a lot about your company from usage behavior in Japan. Just like the Japanese language has a system for incorporating foreign words, when Japan latches onto particular Internet services like it did with Yahoo and Twitter, they become so important and widspread that they take on a trajectory all of their own.

In the case of Twitter, for instance, Japan found mass adoption faster than the US did. In fact, it still holds the highest Tweets per second record for New Year’s day. Within a short time of setting up shop at Joi Ito’s Digital Garage, Twitter made Japan its testing ground for new features and monetization strategies.

Japan is not nearly the largest market in Asia, but with 128 million people, 40 million of which live in Tokyo’s metro area, where strong 3G & LTE networks, tons of carrier WiFi & WiMax access and high incomes are pervasive, you can’t find a better place to test the logic of an internet business. Japan, unlike China, does not block the most successful companies from abroad. Rather, Japan’s internet border is porous. As long as the service’s simplicity prevails over the language barrier, usually the best service wins.

In Osaka, when you say hello you’re asking “Have you profited?” What needs to be stressed here is that in Japan, the internet  – whether desktop or mobile — is a business. Recently, when Facebook declared it had 19 million monthly active users in Japan, it was considered a victory over the legacy Japanese social network Mixi. But Mixi’s valuation peaked with it’s $3 billion IPO in 2006, and neither Facebook nor Mixi have been “winning” in Japan because they were only creating usage and not revenues. Zynga Japan, which came from a US/Chinese company acquisition, recently closed its offices, and neither company has been a pioneer of advertising, in Japan.

The difference in Japan is that there was no period where mobile was unmonetized. They had internet businesses on feature phones, dominated by gaming. It’s true that Japan’s feature phone market slowed its adoption of smartphones, which is why when I used the word “mobile” this past week Japanese colleagues winced, and why the mobile advertising market is still behind the US in terms of sophistication.

The mobile business in Japan started in the 90s with NTT Docomo’s feature phone platform, and two internet powerhouses DeNA (pronounced D-N-A, and who acquired the iFund company ngmoco andGREE together reigned over the feature-phone social gaming segment. Both companies are larger than Zynga yet unfettered by Facebook’s social graph because they had their own social networks. Now, as iOS and Android proliferate, DeNA and GREE no longer are the gatekeepers. However, splitting social and gaming was key in bringing a new balance in internet business.

In the last year, an amazing thing happened. An aging games studio called Gungho, which had a hit with Puzzles and Dragons for iOS and Android, and is creeping up on GREE in terms of revenue and market cap, and is actually above Zynga, at $2.3 billion based on only 8 million monthly active users. Gungho did not use social for distribution, the game succeeded just the on power of the app stores and TV ads.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: