Japan and Japanese video games — it’s hard to think of one without the other. But gamers can be tough critics. The gaming industry is more competitive than ever, and the challenge is ever-increasing for Japanese game developers and publishers to successfully communicate why their game is the next big global hit. In this article, we’ll break down some of the best practices to market Japanese games internationally.
Japan is the third largest gaming market in the world. Pokémon, Super Mario, Monster Hunter: World, Animal Crossing, Zelda—these are just a few popular Japanese gaming franchises who’ve already cemented their spot in history. But Japanese gaming isn’t just historical success—new technologies are paving the way for future dominance.
We’ve already seen the explosive potential of Japanese video games adopting augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies. Pokémon Go showed how revolutionary AR gaming can be, becoming a global phenomenon with over 100 million downloads. Dragon Quest Walk followed, becoming the second-largest grossing launch month for any AR exploration game. Japan’s apparent willingness to lead the way in adopting new technologies has the future of Japanese gaming looking bright.
Executing an effective pre-launch strategy sets a game up for success. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 hasn’t got an official release date yet (it’ll be sometime in 2022), but media and gaming community hype is off the scale.
It’s important to not treat pre-launch as a last-minute afterthought. You’ll want exposure across reputable gaming sites and news outlets through a dedicated video game PR strategy. Creating authentic, engaging gameplay trailers reinforced by a considered organic social media presence is always a good move, too. To further amplify your organic content, paid promotion through ads and gaming influencers associated with Japanese games helps ensure your pre-launch is attracting audiences who’ll genuinely appreciate your work.
Another example that illustrates successful stimulation of a video game pre-launch anticipation was shown by Monster Hunter: World by Capcom. In 2018, Capcom launched a marketing campaign that promised the company would pay anyone who was able to find evidence of the existence of some of folklore’s most popular monsters. In partnership with Jon Downes of The Centre of Fortean Zoology, Capcom was offering UK residents a £50 000 ($70 000) cash prize to anybody who was able to provide undeniable proof that one of 10 vastly debated creatures does actually exist.
The decision to go with a marketing campaign that bold and creative has definitely helped drive attention to Monster Hunter: World within the gaming community.
Leveraging nostalgia is a powerful way to amplify your marketing strategy and Nintendo’s success is a solid proof of the effectiveness of this approach. Take Animal Crossing as an example, which was first released in 2001. Animal Crossing keeps delivering new adaptations of the game franchise, while still achieving record sales.
Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. series is another title that appeals to the nostalgic sentiment of its target players. First released in 1999, today’s Smash still offers retro characters that date back to the 90’s.
The same can be said for other historic Japanese video games franchises like Mario and Zelda. Gamers grow up with these franchises, with each new entry continuing to develop and refine their favorite characters and fictional worlds. New entries don’t necessarily have to mean a brand new game, either. Animal Crossing releases constant updates to the series’ most recent title (Animal Crossing: New Horizons), allowing games to maintain audience attention throughout an existing game’s lifecycle.
Animal Crossing also offers a lens to discuss the importance of demographics when it comes to cracking the Japanese gaming market. Nintendo had done an excellent job at appealing to “core gamers” (defined here as males aged 25-34) with their Nintendo Switch console, but other market segments remained largely untapped.
With Animal Crossing, their largest demographic was females aged 19-24. By identifying the biggest demographics for your video game, you can market accordingly to what might be an underserved market—increasing your chances of standing out from the crowd.
When it comes to targeting specific region-based audiences, localizing the marketing approach can be a beneficial tactic. To revamp the game’s success Pokémon Go launched Pokémon Go Travel and collaborated with regional gaming influencers from their target markets, including America, Europe, and Asia.
The selected content creators traveled to Japan to learn about Japanese culture firsthand, explore the country, and share their experiences on social media. All while playing Pokémon Go.
Understanding the key demographics for your Japanese game cannot be understated, but it’s possible to go even deeper. Once you identify top-level demographics, start thinking about what the personalities and interests of your users could be—and how you can appeal to that.
Japanese culture, in general, has exploded in popularity, particularly since huge global platforms like Netflix now provide easy access to Japanese anime and movies for international markets. As we discussed earlier, Japanese games can leverage this culture, bringing it to life in an interactive manner that only video games can.
Just as culture takes on new forms and iterations, so does the society it exists in. Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released in March 2020, essentially at the same time as pandemic-induced lockdowns hit. People were more receptive than ever to a new world to explore alongside other players as they adapted to long periods indoors. It wasn’t just the global population that benefited from Animal Crossing, however, with many brands capitalizing on an opportunity to showcase their brand in the game via virtual clothing. As society continues to become more and more digital, brands too will have ample opportunity to present themselves in new online worlds.
While Japanese culture has international audiences eager to consume it, you should still spare a thought for the localization of your product.
Gaming influencers can transform your Japanese game marketing campaign. In the case of The Wonderful 101: Remastered, CloutBoost used gaming influencers to ignite the popularity of a forgotten cult classic. Overall, the campaign generated over 5.6 million total Reach, 1.7 million Views, and a 6.43% average Engagement Rate. Short-form and long-form influencer content was produced, alongside giveaways to help build an interactive relationship with audiences.
Data tracking played a significant role in measuring audience reaction to this influencer content. CloutBoost utilized best practices for unique click tracking across each influencer’s videos to identify exactly how each was performing. We successfully targeted audiences of gaming influencers who were familiar with similar games, tapping into an existing enthusiasm for Japanese gaming and culture.
Check out this influencer marketing case study by CloutBoost for more details.
The use of influencers to promote blockbuster Japanese games is far from a new and untested practice. You only have to look at Nintendo’s marketing strategy for the release of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D in 2013 for evidence of that. Nintendo chose Arashi—a Japanese band—as their influencers, contributing significantly to an overall marketing launch strategy involving TV spots, huge pre-launch events, and in-store displays. Like we mentioned earlier with social media promotion, you don’t have to choose organic or paid—you can and should do both if your budget allows.
Ultimately, as a Japanese video game developer or publisher, you have a ready-and-waiting global audience eager to consume your content—but it’s not guaranteed. You’ll have to clearly position yourself from pre-launch in a way that appeals to your target demographics and audience, while delicately balancing different strategies such as influencers, social, digital ads, and video game PR. To successfully target your desired audience, CloutBoost can help.
CloutBoost is a video game marketing company experienced in working with Japanese gaming companies. We understand how to effectively market a Japanese game, taking a data driven approach to deliver real results.
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