Q&A with GREE’s CEO, Naoki Aoyagi
There’s a lot going on in the world of GREE lately, with their business expanding both financially and physically to new markets. I got the opportunity to ask the CEO of GREE, Naoki Aoyagi, some questions about his thoughts on the future of GREE and the mobile gaming market.
What difference does the US market have compared to markets like Japan? Has the different evolution of mobile devices and mobile gaming had a significant effect on user behavior, particularly in making money off of the players?
The US and Japanese mobile markets are different in several ways and one of the key things is that Japan has been focused on the free-to-play business model and in-game social features for much longer than the US has. Japan has had more time and experience in building robust social networks as part of an overall social gaming ecosystem and because of that has managed to successfully create a network of high-engagement players and high-quality games. Because Japan embraced the free-to-play business earlier than the US, we see huge growth potential in the US market as it is still so young and constantly evolving with respect to embracing new free-to-play business models.
The evolution of mobile devices/gaming has certainly made an impact as well, particularly in how people play games. Smartphones, for example, combine all the benefits of console, computer, and mobile games. The rise in popularity of smartphones has made the social aspect of gaming much more prominent. In terms of how the evolution of devices has impacted revenues, I would say one of the biggest thing is the evolution of payment systems and how much easier it is now for users to access those in territories around the world. This has created the ideal ecosystem to really grow the free-to-play business model while giving developers the opportunity to focus on high-quality content.
What role will OpenFeint play in the global expansion of GREE? In particular, is there any threat from Game Center’s expanding feature set?
OpenFeint, without a doubt, plays a very important role in our overall business expansion. We know OpenFeint has the largest network of users and developers and that, coupled with GREE’s expertise in free-to-play business models and social platforms, has helped us step into the US/Western markets and prepare for the launch of a new a global mobile social gaming platform – GREE Platform – to be released in Q2 2012. Our goal is to leverage both GREE and OpenFeint’s unique industry expertise, and create a fully “borderless” system (both geographically and related to operating systems and game engines) and offer a robust set of tools for developers to create, distribute, and market games to users all around the world.
In terms of Game Center, Apple has been a leader in the smartphone market and iOS and iPhones/iPads have changed the face of social mobile games. We have the utmost respect for them and continue our focus on developers and users and creating a best-in-class product for everyone around the world to enjoy.
What kind of effect do Apple’s policies have on GREE’s monetization strategies versus Android and other platforms? Is Android more appealing as a platform because of their policies?
Both Google and Apple are valuable partners to us. Apple has had a lot of success and has helped evolve the smartphone gaming market to what it is today and we also see the potential that Android brings to the table and are excited to work with them.
We recognize that Apple’s recent policy changes have affected the entire industry, however at GREE, our goal is to focus on our developers and what allows them to create and deliver the best games for our players.
Is there a significant future for gaming in HTML5 in GREE’s future?
We are always interested in learning about new technologies in our industry. We are definitely excited to be working with HTML5 and see all the interesting things that developers do with it moving forward.
Social and free to play titles released on the App Store like Tiny Tower and Triple Town have been part of disputes about cloning, particularly with other titles lifting elements wholesale from them. Was this kind of behavior also seen in markets where GREE has primarily worked in?
There have been cases of accusations of cloning in the Japanese market and it is always unfortunate to see that happen. Our vision has always been to create games from scratch that bring unique experiences incorporating the latest technologies and social features.