Colin McKee on Aeria Mobile’s efforts to bring Japanese card-battling games to Western markets
It’s no secret that card-battling games are some of the best-monetizing titles currently available for mobile devices. Aeria Mobile’s been making a name for itself in this genre since June 2012, when the company debuted with Monster Paradise for iOS (which then arrived on Android in August). Aeria’s strategy has been to take popular card-battling games from Japan and adapt them for Western audiences. Aeria Mobile General Manager Colin McKee recently took some time to talk to Inside Social Games about the company’s strategy and how it’s paying off so far.
Inside Social Games: How many games has Aeria launched in Western markets? How many are you in the process of bringing over?
Colin McKee, General Manager of Aeria Mobile: We have launched four card battle games that were licensed from developers in Japan: Monster Paradise, Pirate Maidens, Magimon, and Immortalis. We have already launched French and Spanish versions of Monster Paradise, and we will be selectively launching EU language versions of the other games over the next few months.
ISG: What’s been your most successful game to date here in North America? Is that different from Japan?
McKee: Our newly launched game Immortalis has been our most successful game. We launched in January, and have been in the top 100 grossing on the U.S. iOS charts for most of the time since launching. We do not publish these games in Japan: We merged with Japanese developer Gamepot in December, and they publish in the Japanese market, but at the moment their portfolio is entirely different from ours.
ISG: Since Aeria Mobile has so much experience bringing card battling games over from Japan to the United States, have you noticed that certain elements that are popular in one region tend not to work in the other? If so, what?
McKee: The main issue is art style or theme. Not surprisingly, Japanese games tend to be heavily focused on anime. We find that Western players prefer more of a Western fantasy-art style, although there is a growing appetite for anime among Western gamers. Even in our most Western game, Immortalis, we use some art that is more like anime.
ISG: The mobile market is becoming increasingly saturated with card-battling games, due to the high profile success of games like Rage of Bahamut. How do you increase your titles’ visibility in the App Store?
McKee: We try to differentiate our games. Immortalis, for example, focuses more on guild versus guild battles than on questing and card collecting. Twenty person guilds engage in real-time battles five times per day. This makes for a very intense gaming experience, and it leads to high social engagement for these games. Our message boards are very active with players discussing strategies, recruiting new members, etc. The challenge is getting new players to realize that a game like Immortalis has these extra degrees of competition, strategy and social engagement.
ISG: Have you noticed a difference in spending patterns between Android and iOS? Which is proving to be a more profitable system for you?
McKee: So far, we have only released Monster Paradise English and French on Android, but we plan to release Android versions of a couple of other games soon. iOS remains the higher revenue system for us, but we have high hopes for Android.
ISG: Card-battling games have received a mixed critical reaction: People either seem to love or hate them. That said, they’re proving incredibly profitable on mobile devices. Why do you think that is?
McKee: The best card battle games are highly engaging for the niche of players who enjoy the genre. They mix competitive challenge, social interaction, and a collecting opportunity. The better games require complex strategy and coordination with guild mates. They have well designed monetization mechanisms that encourage spending, which is necessary to make the business equation work out. The good games allow non-spenders to have fun and be competitive, which is also a very important part of the equation.
ISG: One of the main criticisms we’ve seen about card-battling games is they don’t feature much of a plot, despite the fact that the descriptions provide somewhat epic-sounding backstories. Do you think establishing deeper story lines in these titles would bring in more users?
McKee: This is true for many of the games. We have an exception in our game Pirate Maidens, which features, well, sexy pirate maiden art. In addition to the visual appeal of this game, we found that players responded very well to the story-line of the game, which is light-hearted and funny, and actually follows a plot. We started using the tag line “Play Pirate Maidens for the Plot” as a riff on reading Playboy for the articles. Since launching in November, we’ve more than doubled the number of “chapters” in the game, and we are adding bonus stories as side-plots, which we think helps with retention.
ISG: Can you share any user spending data with us?
McKee: We are averaging $1 daily ARPUs in our games. Peak daily ARPUs have gone into the $2.50 range, and even higher in certain countries.
ISG: Do you think card-battling games developed here in North America might eventually be able to find success in Japan?
McKee: Potentially. However, there are very few examples of games from Western markets finding success in Japan. One reason is the art style and theme of games – anime is very popular, and Western art just doesn’t resonate as well.