Japanese freemium gaming giant discusses the move into international waters beyond Asia and the US.
GREE was born as a PC-only social games network in 2004, but a rival service was soon launched, prompting the company to move to mobile in 2007.
The company was an early adopter of the freemium (free-to-play with in-app purchases and advertising) download platform, which came under fire in May when the government looked into the legalities of F2P gaming. This saw company shares fall by 500 yen as a result.
GREE has been busy expanding outside of its native Japan and into the US this year, which has seen the opening of multiple American offices, while it has acquired the likes of Funzio and other mobile games developers.
The firm continued to strengthen its position by moving into Europe to open a UK office in London's tech city during the summer. Indeed, the site now boasts more than 40 staff members, with around half working in the studio, and they're looking to hire 100 employees in total.
The first UK partnership was recently announced, with games publisher Thumbstar integrating GREE Platform social features into their debut app, The Adorables.
ME spoke to vice president of developer relations Kyoko Matsushita and game studio vice president Tsuyoshi Tanaka to find out more about their plans for for conquering Britain.
How did the freemium scandal in Japan affect the company?
The government was questioning the mechanics of our games. There are now industry initiatives to regulate the titles, thus ensuring we give a decent user experience and adhere to certain standards.
You've made a large number of acquisitions over the past year, including Funzio, Paprika Lab, App Ant Studios. How important is for you to make takeovers?
Investments and acquisitions are key, and we'll continue to look out for them on a global basis; it's never just about one region. The bottom line is that we want to diversify our product portfolio and look at quality content and games. It's important to have the right resources and chemistry to proceed in a business partnership with new firms.
You've moved from Asia to the US, and now into Europe. What's the big plan of attack?
We have ten studios in Asia, the US, and now the UK, and there's multiple titles in development for the global market at the moment. Our focus is to make games out of the UK studio with European colour and flavour. One of the existing partnerships is with Mind Candy and we'll be driving their Moshi Monsters franchise to mobile. We want to make titles that will work on a continental level, but also on a global level.
How did the Mind Candy partnership come about?
We have a shared vision, and our similar company cultures sealed the deal. Instead of having a meeting, the CEOs ended up playing Street Fighter, which was a great way to break the ice. We're producing two games; Moshi Village is a simulation-based game, while Lost Islands is a card game and the pair will mark our UK debut in 2013.
What are the differences between Japan and the European markets?
We have experience producing console games like Devil May Cry for Capcom and Namco Bandai, so we know how to make games fit for the European space. Sometimes we'll really need to localise an app for specific markets, but in France for example, French consumers are big fans of manga and Japanese styles and localisation isn't really necessary.
In Japan, consumers really enjoy card-based mobile games and puzzlers, but Brits really enjoy shooters, action and simulation. We've taken the latter into consideration with Moshi Monsters Village.
Japanese gamers really enjoy text and guides too, though people in the UK will be put off by too much text. It's those subtle differences that we need to take on board. In six months time, we'll know whether our strategy to fit the region is working or not, we're still learning.
You've used the freemium model to great success. Why do you feel that gamers are more inclined to pay within an app, but not to pay premium prices?
The pay-per-download model is still there, but people want to make sure they pay for quality or well-known games. Freemium works well with casual games because they give users a free experience, which then leaves the choice down to them whether they want to make a purchase to enrich the gameplay, or if they're happy with the level they're on.
Do you find in-app advertising or in-app purchases is a better revenue driver?
In-app purchases are definitely the main bread and butter for the company in general across the majority of games, but advertising still brings in profits, supported by the multiple ad formats we use.
Are you actively trying to encourage UK developers to begin using the GREE Platform?
It's still in a beta stage outside of Japan, where the service has been successful for a number of years, but it's still being improved with added features over here. We'll definitely start pushing it more once we have more titles produced for the Western market.
You've started lots of US-based indie investments and projects, will you repeat these initiatives in the UK?
We're very ambitious and proactive in that sense and we've learned a lot since arriving here. We really want to build our relationship with developers and become a familiar name in the media. The plan is to build our own products, but also partner with other companies for content to accelerate our growth.
There're not as many startups over here as there are in the US, but we've got our eyes on a number of companies and we're looking for partners with the same company vision and chemistry as GREE.