Flaregames, a German publisher of mobile games, has had a rare success with a Western-made game in the ultra-competitive South Korean mobile-games market. In the past week, Royal Revolt 2 has climbed the charts on the leading mobile-chat platform Kakao.
The success tells us something about the global nature of mobile gaming and how clever alliances and local customization can create an opening in an otherwise cutthroat market. And it shows that viral marketing tactics — which would be considered spam in the West — can actually be quite welcome in Asian markets. Flaregames figured out that it had to break a lot of rules to have a successful launch in the East.
Karlsruhe, Germany-based Flaregames’ action-strategy game has hit No. 1 on Kakao and broken into the top five most-downloaded apps on Google Play. Flaregames did so by striking a deal with Incross, a South Korean game publisher that showed a lot of passion for Royal Revolt 2, said Georg Broxtermann, Flaregames cofounder and head of Asian partnerships, in an interview with GamesBeat.
“The setting and style of the game is working worldwide for us,” Broxtermann. “It’s quite rare in having a character and art style that works globally.”
It’s not a complete runaway success. It hit 120,000 downloads in its first 24 hours. After four days, the game reached the top five of the most-downloaded apps in the Google Play Korea store, and it entered the top-25 ranks of the top-grossing apps. Only a handful of Western games have had such success in Korea, which is the third-largest mobile-game market in the world.
That’s not a bad market to go after considering that the Western markets are locked up by leaders such as Supercell, King, and Machine Zone.
“The rising cost of user acquisition is madness,” Broxtermann said. “It is so crazy. So you have to think about building a strong franchise and alternative markets.”
The original Royal Revolt came out in November 2012 as a player-versus-player action-strategy game with anime-style characters and environments. It was a hit, but the second version, Royal Revolt 2, came out in February 2014 on iOS and later on Android, Windows Phone, and Windows 8. That title was downloaded more than 20 million times, and it has been translated to 16 languages. A global version is accessible in Korea, which has 50 million people — a small number compared to other markets. But Korean gamers are among the most active in the world.
Flaregames received a lot of queries from potential Asian publishers, but the company did its homework and waited. It found that one particular publisher, Incross, cared a whole lot about the game and waited 19 months for the chance to publish it.
Incross, a Seoul-based company that is known for publishing TheAppsGames brand, helped Flaregames make a more “culturalized” version for Korea. It modified Royal Revolt 2 so that it supported communications systems on Kakao. It added gifting, adjusted the balancing, and made it possible to communicate between the publisher and fans. It launched the title last week in the Google Play store as a free-to-play download, as well as in the app store of Korean search giant Naver.
“The interesting thing is that all of the marketing activities are not available in Western markets,” Broxtermann said. “You can do a lot more in Asian countries than you can in the West. Kakao by itself is very viral. People are forced to invite each other, compete with each other, and send gifts to their friends. It’s much more aggressive than if you compare this to Facebook,” which doesn’t allow such “spam-like” activities.
One of those was “pre-registration,” which is like signing up for a preordered video game in the West. That generated 175,000 registrations on Kakao and Naver. Incross also enlisted an endorsement from South Korean rap stars C. Jamm and Vasco (see below), who made songs and videos about the game. Incross also did some “lock screen marketing” that also isn’t popular in the West.
“Royal Revolt 2 has enjoyed great success in the Western markets, and we believe it can easily be as successful in South Korea,” said Incross CEO Jaewon Lee in a statement. “Together with our friends at Flaregames and our partners at Kakao, we have worked hard to adapt the game to the taste of the Korean gamers.”
Kakao Game global business team manager Khan Ko said in a statement, “We are excited to see Royal Revolt 2 launch on Kakao Game Platform. We hope to see great results from this game over the coming months.”
The result is a pretty good for Flaregames, which was founded in 2011 by Klaas Kersting, who previously founded online gaming firm Gameforge. Flaregames’ studio in Frankfurt, Germany built Royal Revolt 2 with a team of 10 to 15 people. About six more games are in the works, including a mobile real-time strategy game called Dawn of Steel. Flaregames’ backers include Accel Partners and T-Venture.
“Royal Revolt 2 has now come full circle – it is a truly global brand with success in every major region, from Europe to the Americas to Asia,” said Kersting in a statement. “But that’s just the first arrow in our quiver for 2015: We expect to surpass the success of Royal Revolt 2 with our upcoming mobile RTS Dawn of Steel.”
As far as advice, Broxtermann said that you have to take your time and choose your Asian partners wisely.
“When you are a small developer, the wrong publisher can break your neck,” he said.
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