Japanese smartphone and tablet gamers spend a disproportionate amount of money on mobile games compared to the much larger mobile markets of North America and China, according to a new report from EEDAR – a video gaming analytics consultancy. This is despite the fact that the Japanese mobile gaming population is just a third of that of North America and a mere eighth of the Chinese gaming population.
The idea that the Japanese are avid portable/mobile gamers isn’t really a new one. A feature of life in Tokyo, Osaka, and other major city centers are the long train and bus commutes, after all, so the Japanese public tend to find themselves with a lot of time to kill between destinations. In fact, so-called “feature phones,” which were available exclusively in Japan for a decade or so before smartphones steamrolled the older devices, were hosting remarkably complex mobile games long before touchscreen controls and “free-to-play” were the industry standards, so Japanese mobile phone users have been accustomed to on-the-go gaming for decades. But we never realized just how badly the mobile gaming phenomenon was damaging Japanese bank accounts until now.
Perhaps it’s a little telling of Japan’s mobile gaming culture that a game costing “real money to progress” was cited as the fifth most common reason for giving up on or avoiding a game, as opposed to the same reason being listed as the second or third most common in North America and China. On the whole, Japanese mobile gamers seem surprisingly okay with the idea of investing real-world money into their favorite games, even as the “free-to-play” model is widely loathed and derided in the West.
EEDAR’s report concludes that the average Japanese mobile game player (this includes everyone from very casual players to super hardcore gamers) will spend about US$24 per month on mobile games, while the average North American player will spend a comparatively piddling US$6 or so – although the report does mention that a little over half of all players spend no money at all on free-to-play games across all regions.
The EEDAR report doesn’t – and probably can’t, given its numbers-based approach – really get into the exact cultural reasons for the disparity, but being the Japan experts we are, we’d like to posit that it may have something to do with Japan’s die-hard “fan culture.” Overall, when Japanese fans decide they like a certain game, anime, manga, TV show, or what have you, they tend to really, really get into it. If a Japanese anime geek is perfectly willing to drop hundreds of dollars on the latest figurine from their favorite show, it stands to reason that Japanese mobile gamers view dropping a couple bucks once in a while on their preferred games to be a worthwhile investment.
There are all kinds of other interesting tidbits packed into the EEDAR analysis (those particularly interested can download their own copy here, but be aware you’re probably opting into a mailing list), like the fact that RPG games are the second most popular among Japanese players – behind only puzzlers – while RPG-style games barely even make the list of top genres for North Americans. Additionally, North America differs from every other region analyzed as the only place in which female mobile game players are actually the slight majority, accounting for about 55% of players in the region. Japanese gamers are primarily male, although it’s a close race with men making up about 58% of the total player base.
The analysis certainly explains why several of the most lucrative video games ever made come from Japanese companies, and why these games are making such a killing despite almost non-existent market presence in western regions (think Puzzle & Dragons, etc.). In fact, Japanese players have been so willing to practically hand their entire paychecks over to these game developers that the Japanese government stepped in a few years ago and put an end to some of the industry’s more predatory practices.
Regardless, it certainly looks like Japan’s appetite for mobile gaming will only increase from here, since several of the top Japanese developers reported record sales in 2015.