Japanese mobile gaming network Mobage launches in US

Japanese web giant DeNA and Ngmoco, its US games publisher partner, has announced the launch of Mobage, the hit Japanese social gaming network for mobile phones only, to English language markets yesterday.

Mobage is quite unique compared to other more established social networks as it is available through  mobile phones only. The service will now be available in Android markets in the US and China as well as its native Japan where it is estimated to have 30 million users.

TechCrunch explains that initially, though not available for the iPhone, users “can choose between 23 different titles from the get-go (i.e. Pocket God, We Rule, Zoo Land, Paper Toss etc. – see the full list here), with more than 100 additional games being in development currently.”

Mobage was formed in October 2010 when DeNA and Ngmoco came together to form one of the largest social gaming networks worldwide launching on iOS (for Apple devices) and Android. It grew quickly in Japan attracting 3 million users in just five months, more than Facebook managed in considerably more time.

But just what is Mobage? VentureBeat describes it below:

The Mobage service sits on top of Google’s Android operating system and essentially creates a portal and social network for games. The service is a platform for developers to deploy their games so that they can be discovered and shared by mobile game users. Already launched in Japan, Mobage is generating $1.3 billion in revenues for DeNA. By taking it worldwide into the Android market, both DeNA and Ngmoco hope the platform will be even more lucrative.

But Mobage is ambitious in that it isn’t limited to just a single platform and it seeks to unite gamers in a worldwide network. In such a network, gamers can make friends with anyone, purchase virtual currency to buy goods in all sorts of games, discovery new games to play, and compete in competitions. It’s sort of like a Facebook for games on top of Android phones.

At our GamesBeat 2011 conference in San Francisco two weeks ago, Young said that Mobage is a social network built around common interests, or an interest graph, rather than the social graph of Facebook. People who like the same games can meet each other and communicate within the Mobage network.

TechCrunch’s  eyes and ears in Japan, Serkan Toto, is more succinct with his explanation:

Think of Mobage as Facebook and Zynga rolled into one, but

– available exclusively on cell phones (no PC version)
– with both first and third-party games (DeNA/ngmoco itself is making games, too)
– and a virtual social graph instead of a real one (most of your friends will probably be strangers, like in the Japanese version)

Japanese mobile users play games on Mobage

Can Mobage succeed outside of Japan?

Japan’s mobile market is significantly ahead of the rest of the world – both in terms of technology and consumer behaviour. With mobile (smartphone) ownership and usage developing rapidly across the Western world and China, amongst other markets, the concept of mobile-only social networks and gaming has greater chance of success than a year or two ago.

Japan’s technology landscape is largely less affected by international trends and forces – such as Facebook – although Twitter has made a huge impact in the country.

An iOS version is not yet ready for the international version of Mobage which could, initially, limit its development. Though Android has the (slight) lead in the US and other Western markets, iPhone users are arguably more adventurous when it comes to gaming and social networks.

Perhaps though, it is time for Japan to start the mobile social gaming trend across the world?

It will certainly be interesting to see how Mobage fares.