Tapjoy will offer its advertising platform on Kakao

Tapjoy logo

Mobile advertising and publishing platform Tapjoy today announced a partnership with South Korea’s largest social mobile platform Kakao, which will allow developers on the Kakao Games platform to monetize with Tapjoy’s advertising and monetization tools.

The Kakao Games platform allows users to play with KakaoTalk users, share game scores, and compete on leaderboards in real-time. Games on the platform now gross more than $40 million per month, the company revealed in a statment.

In March, Tapjoy revealed that approximately 100 million unique viewers who come through its network per month are international, which equates to about 75 percent of its overall unique viewers per month coming from outside the U.S.

The partnership provides Tapjoy the opportunity to deliver premium content within titles on the Kakao Games platform.

KakaoTalk currently has more than 90 million users around the globe, more than 30 million users visiting the platform every day and is South Korea’s practically ubiquitous mobile messaging app. SundayToz was the first developer to get its match-3 puzzler Anipang on KakaoTalk’s game platform. At GDC 2013, SundayToz founder and CEO Kevin Lee told us he spoke with the founder of Kakao, and proposed the idea to turn the messenger app into a game platform, which led to the launch of Anipang for Kakao. Today, Anipang is generating around $500,000 in revenue a day.

Recently, KakaoTalk also demonstrated growth outside of its native South Korea by surpassing the 10 million download mark in Japan on March 24.

Rovio announces Rovio Stars Publishing Initiative

rovio-angry-birds-asset

Finnish mobile game developer and creator of Angry Birds Rovio Entertainment announced the launch of its third-party mobile game publishing initiative, Rovio Stars.

Icerbreaker: A Viking Voyage by developer Nitrome will be the first game published under the Rovio Stars Program, followed by Spanish developer 5 Ants’ stealth puzzle game, Tiny Thief.

Many mobile game developers like Pocket Gems, Zynga, and Kabam have launched their own third-party publishing programs recently, and we’ve heard rumors Rovio would launch a similar program for a while. In January, PocketGamer.biz all but confirmed the program’s existance when it reported that 5 Ants had been signed with Rovio but at the time we weren’t certian that this was not a talent acquisition.

“Rovio Entertainment has positioned itself as one of the powerhouses of mobile entertainment, so moving into publishing is a logical step for us at this point”, Rovio’s executive vice president of games Jami Laes said in a statment. “We want to help our fans find quality entertainment among the more than 100,000 games available in app stores. That’s where Rovio Stars comes in.”

Games that leverage Rovio’s Angry Birds brand are immensely successful, with titles showing up at the top of our weekly charts regularly, but the developer’s more recent titles based on new IP have struggled. Amazing Alex, Rovio’s first new IP after Angry Birds, is currently the No. 258 top paid app in the games genre according to traffic tracking service AppData. The Croods, based on the DreamWorks animated motion picture, is currently the No. 247 top grossing app in the games genre.

Rovio said that Icerbreaker: A Viking Voyage is “coming soon” to iOS. Check back in with Inside Social Games for our full review.

GungHo’s market cap surges to $9B

Puzzle & Dragons app iconGame company GungHo Online, the makers of the Japanese juggernaut mobile game Puzzle & Dragons, saw its market cap surge to $9 billion as its stock prices significantly jumped in the past few days.

GungHo’s stock, which is traded on the Osaka Stock Exchange, has more than doubled in price in April, increasing by about 20 percent from yesterday to today. As industry watcher and analyst Dr. Serkan Toto pointed out, the swell in the Japanese company’s stock price could be attributed to the recent launch of the English version of Puzzle & Dragons on Android, and the announcement for a version of the puzzle and role-playing game hybrid for the Nintendo DS handheld system and a new spin-off game called Puzzle & Dragons Challenge for iOS and Android (both titles are Japan only).

GungHo’s market cap is larger than other Japanese gaming powerhouses like GREE and DeNA as well as Zynga, which released its quarterly earnings yesterday.

Puzzle & Dragons, which is said to be generating $62 million to $86 million per month, was labeled by Distimo as the top grossing app worldwide.

Nonstop Games secures $2.9M in seed funding

nonstop

The game developer founded by former Wooga head of studio Henric Suuronen and Juha Paananen, who previously worked at Nokia, announced that it has secured $2.9 million in seed funding.

The round was led by Creandum and Lifeline Ventures which are also invested in Spotify and Supercell. Nonstop Games, which has offices in Singapore, Helsinki and San Francisco will use the new funding to expand its San Francisco location, continue development of free-to-play games for touch devices, and launch its first core gaming title, Heroes of Honor.

Heroes of Honor, currently the only game listed on the company’s official website, will launch later this spring. The real-time strategy game is set in a fantasy world where players will be able to build towns, units and form alliances in order to coordinate attacks.

DeNA and Square Enix to release Final Fantasy Airborne Brigade in US, Canada

Mobage network operator DeNA and renowned games developer and publisher Square Enix today announced that the companies will release the hit Japanese game Final Fantasy Airborne Brigade on iOS and Android in the U.S. and Canada. This will mark the first Final Fantasy free-to-play social game to be released in English.

Each player in the game pilots an airship and can form “airborne brigades” with friends to take down powerful bosses, gain experience and acquire skills, all in the signiture style of a Final Fantasy role-playing game.

As. Dr. Serkan Toto recently reported, Final Fantasy Brigade has hit the 3 million user mark in Japan since it launched on Mobage in January, no doubt contributing to DeNA’s record revenues for its Q2 2012.

It’s interesting to note that Square Enix also partnered with DeNA’s primary competitor GREE to publish The Worlds Ends With You and Final Fantasy X GREE in Japan.

DeNA and Square Enix didn’t announce a specific release date but said that the game was coming “soon.” Players who pre-register for the game will be alerted as soon as its released and will also receive a free three-month exclusive in-game card featuring Final Fantasy VII character Cloud.

PlaySpace secures $1.9M in funding

Social games developer PlaySpace today announced via a press release that it secured $1.9 million in funding in an investment round led by PeopleFund with participation of the Spanish venture fund Faraday Ventures. The new funding will help PlaySpace further expand into Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking markets.

Since it was founded in 2011, PlaySpace has successfully launched a variety of Spanish language freemium games on Facebook and the Spanish, private social networking site Tuenti. There are currently 3 million users in PlaySpace’s community across the two social networking platforms, and the developer plans on expanding to iOS and Android soon.

The press release also states that funds will be used to improve PlaySpace’s current products and develop new games. Additionally, PlaySpace plans on launching its portfolio of titles in the United States and Latin America where the company’s goal is to become the leader in social gaming for the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking markets.

Nexon’s Q1 net income hits $154 million, up 60% year-on-year

Free-to-play game giant Nexon posted better than expected results in its Q1 2012 earnings report last week, reporting revenues of 30.3 billion yen ($379.5 million), up 46 percent year-on-year and 37 percent quarter-over-quarter. Net income climbed 60 percent year-on-year to 12.3 billion yen ($154 million).

Nexon credited its earnings to strong performance in China, where revenue increased 89 percent year-on-year to 15.1 billion yen ($189.1 million) and accounted for 49.8 percent of Nexon’s total revenue for the quarter. The company’s North American revenue was the only anomaly among the report, declining 19 percent year-on-year to 1.3 billion yen ($16.2 million). Nexon blamed the decline on a hacking attack and ongoing stability issues.

The company highlighted the strong performance of several new titles, including Cyphers, Mabinogi Heros and the mobile version of its classic Kartrider Franchise, Kartrider Rush. According to Nexon’s earnings report the free-to-play racing game has been downloaded more than 8.2 million times to date between iOS and Android.

Nexon’s monthly active users declined 3.9 percent year-on-year to 82.8 million, but were up 3.5 percent over the company’s Q4 2011 total of 80 million MAU. Nexon also reported 10.9 percent of users paid in Q1 2012, up from the 8.3 percent of paying users the company reported in Q1 2011. Average revenue per paying user (ARPPU) increased to 1,761 yen ($22.05) in Q1 2012, up from 1,427 yen ($17.87) ARPPU in the same period a year ago.

Based on its strong performance during the quarter, Nexon is raising its guidance for the 2012 fiscal year. The company is predicting full-year revenues of 108.3 billion yen ($1.35 billion) up 24 percent year-on-year. Net income is expected to hit 37.8 billion yen ($473.4 million) for the full fiscal year.

Originally a Korean company, Nexon raised $1.17 billion when it made its initial public offering on the Tokyo Stock Exchange last year.  The company’s market cap is currently $7.8 billion — higher than both EA’s ($4.77 billion) and Zynga’s ($5.86 billion). The free-to-play giant is the latest publicly traded Japanese game company to report record revenues, following bumper earnings reports from DeNA and GREE, both of which reported net sales in excess of $500 million for the most recent quarter.


Who’s next on Zynga’s acquisition list?

A week out from its Q1 earnings call, Zynga is talking about making more multi-million dollar acquisitions on the order of OMGPOP’s $180-million buy last month. Who could Zynga buy and where can they be found?

If Zynga really has a $1.8-billion war chest, then it can afford to shop strategically for studios that will provide games with long shelf lives or services it can integrate with its own games platform in the long term. While the OMGPOP buy was all about doubling its mobile footprint and cross-promotion network, we think the next acquisition will be more about compensating for Zynga’s weaknesses.

One place where Zynga is not weak is Facebook; its games have had a death grip on at least five out of the top 10 games on our AppData rankings charts for almost two years. Off-Facebook, however, Zynga is still figuring out mobile — particularly Android — and its Zynga.com games platform is young and fragile. It seems like the next major buys will be aimed at shoring up these parts of the business.

Editor’s Note: Some obvious choices in social and mobile are left off this list because we’ve heard that these studios already received and rejected acquisition offers from Zynga. They could always come back to the table in the future, but as far as we know, they’re not in M&A talks at this time.

Mobile

Zynga has made it clear it’s looking to mobile for expansion. But why invest in another iOS developer when it could get an Android expert? Google Play may not monetize as well as iOS, but Amazon’s Appstore is an Android variant that is doing extremely well — which tells us it’s not the platform itself that has issues.

In the long term, investing in established Android developers is a good idea for Zynga because the platform not only has a size advantage in the U.S., it’s also more popular in emerging markets like China and Korea. An Android developer with international appeal will help Zynga expand its userbase out from its North American hub. An Asian developer could also help Zynga’s Japan and China studios gain better footing in the lucrative South Korean and Japanese mobile markets.

Finally, while Zynga does casual well, it might also look to pick up a more core-focused developer to help it expand its established user-base beyond casual-social players.

Using that line of thinking, here are the mobile developers Zynga might consider:

Gamevil — The South Korean company currently has two games in the top 50 of the Android top grossing charts, plus a larger catalog of popular games. It also has a market cap of US$326 million, which makes it seem expensive, but that’s far less than what Zynga was reportedly willing to pay for Rovio.

DroidHen — This is the Sequoia Capital-backed company behind Android’s current top-grossing title, Defender II. For the past few months it’s been rare not to see a DroidHen game somewhere on the top of the Android charts.

Creative Mobile — This Estonian developer’s sports-themed Drag Racing games have been a hit. It’s currently the No. 4 top grossing Android app. Given the small size of the studio, Zynga could likely make the purchase at a fairly low price.

Social

For social game studio acquisitions, Zynga is likely looking in two different directions: Asia and the West. While an experienced studio like Hoolai Games or Happy Elements would help Zynga break into or amplify its presence on Asian games networks like Tencent or Mixi, a Western acquisition would be more about finding talent than anything else.

As for what kind of talent, we’re thinking developers that can offer a service as opposed to a game — much like how DNA’s testing methods attracted an acquisition last year. This could help Zynga grow its games platform out of its too-similar-to-Facebook nascent stage. We’re also thinking of developers with experience in transmedia properties — like the studios that know how to make a TV show into a game or the ones that have experience in converting a non-social video game franchise into a social game. Zynga Slingo proves that there’s room for growth there with the right IP.

Zynga could also shop around on Facebook for developers to pad out its platform with games that it doesn’t already make itself. Hardcore combat games or classic casual titles, for example, are the kinds of things Zynga hasn’t made in the past that still perform well on Facebook and on other games portals. We’ve heard some developers speculate that if a third-party game performs well on Zynga.com, it could fast track its developer to an acquisition; if true, Playdemic, MobScience and Row Sham Bow are first in line.

Aside from those developers, here are a few that could be interesting prospects for Zynga:

3 Blokes (What’s left of it) — Though publisher RockYou acquired and then shut down the Australian developer, the key people at the studio are reportedly soldiering on in the core strategy genre. Assuming larger studios with expertise in these kinds of games are off the table, this might be an easy way to get into the core strategy market and to improve combat game mechanics in Empires & Allies.

A Bit Lucky — This Nexon-backed niche game studio has some smart ex-MMO developers behind it. Its last Facebook title, Lucky Space, never saw the traction of its predecessor, Lucky Train. Even so, both games had a lot more going on under the hood than the average social game from UI design and art to layered gameplay mechanics. At the very least, this team could help Zynga resolve its mapping issues in the various ‘Ville games.

GameVentures — We get the impression that this sports-centric developer has more of a presence on open web than on Facebook. Its baseball and cricket games, however, attract a more male audience than what Zynga’s is perceived to be and could the titles could tap into the fantasy sports league types. EA and Disney Playdom have already proven the appeal of the genre and Zynga currently doesn’t have anything in the sports category.

If you’ve heard anything you think we haven’t about Zynga’s current M&A prospects, drop us a line: mail (at) insidesocialgames (dot) com. If you’re somebody looking to get bought, check out Inside Mobile Apps’ article, Secrets of the acquisition process.

PapayaMobile looks to bring social game developers to Android with Social Splash

PapayaMobile is looking to bolster the Android side of its social-mobile gaming network with a new development tool called Social Splash.

The free tool will allow developers with Flash or HTML5-based games to port their titles to Android using Social Splash as wrapper that renders the game into an Android friendly format, essentially converting it into a native app. It sounds similar to what streaming game service iSwifter does to Flash apps. According to the company’s press release, developers won’t need any specialized Android knowledge to use the product. PapayaMobile’s product is aimed at developers who are currently working on Facebook and Google+.

The move is an interesting one for PapayaMobile for a couple of reasons:

First, while its becoming more common for social game developers like Zynga, Wooga and Playdom to bring out iOS versions of popular Facebook games, not many social game companies have made the jump to Android yet due to the platform’s trickier monetization. Even fairly successful mobile developers working on iOS like the U.K.-based Hogrocket have been slow to bring their games to Android, telling Inside Mobile Apps that Android ports can be a risk in terms of time and effort when compared to the potential payoff.

If Social Splash allows developers to create Android experiences that rival the ones found online, it could be a good tool for companies looking to branch out from Facebook and get into mobile.

“This tool is for every developer that has felt abandoned by Flash and crowded out by Zynga,” PapayaMobile’s co-founder Si Shen said in a statement. “We believe in helping HTML5 and Flash developers make the transition to mobile a seamless experience. Not only does this new tool decrease development time, but it also allows developers to launch their entire games catalog onto mobile without having to learn a new coding language.”

Second, Social Splash could also help PapayaMobile, which no longer develops its own games, shore up relationships with third party developers as competition from better-funded competitors like GREE, DeNA and Facebook intensifies in the social-mobile gaming space.

GREE has been aggressively courting developers for its upcoming global platform and recently announced it was partnering with 11 high profile Chinese and Korean developers to bring their games to the English-speaking market. It is also working with with Ubisoft and Gameloft on platform exclusive titles. DeNA has been busy building out the Mobage network, signing deals with developers like Glu Mobile and TinyCo. The company also just announced it would be opening a subsidiary studio in Vancouver, BC headed by Gameview co-founder Irfan Virk.  Facebook is also investing heavily in its HTML5 based mobile platform, bringing its viral channels to the service and absorbing the costs of carrier-powered payments in order to entice developers.

PapayaMobile’s mobile-social gaming network  more than 50 million users on Android and iOS, up from the 38 million users it reported in December.

Game Insight sees revenues hit $50 million in 2011

Russian social and mobile game company Game Insight revealed it earned $50 million in revenue in 2011. The company’s CEO, Alisa Chumachenko shared the numbers last week in her talk at the Russian social game conference Sociality Rocks!. According to Chumachenko, the company aims to reach $150 million in annual revenues in 2012.

The $50 million figure fits with the performance of the company’s games. Game Insight told us last year that it was earning $1 million a month from its free-to-play Android hit Paradise Island, and the iOS version of My Country was earning $150,000 a week while it was at the top of the iPad top grossing charts. Game Insight currently operates 14 development studios and just announced the opening of a new office in San Francisco to help the company pursue mobile publishing.

The company currently has three free-to-play games in the top-grossing Android app charts holding the No. 14, No. 17 and No. 26 spots. Its game Mystery Manor: Hidden Adventures is currently the No. 3 highest grossing iPad app. On Facebook, the company has 4.6 million monthly active users and just over 690,000 daily active users according to AppData.

Game Insight maintains an agressive international strategy, bringing its games to more than 20 social networks and app stores including GFan (China), Mobage, T-store (south Korea), Vkontakte, Orkut and Draugiem. It also operates its own web-based gaming platform, Funzay!com, which has upward of 15 million players.

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