Worldwide top grosser but never in the US top 100: Why Mixi canned Monster Strike

Is the chasm between Japanese and American tastes a bridge too far?

Worldwide top grosser but never in the US top 100: Why Mixi canned Monster Strike

It is hard to believe that what may have been the top grossing mobile game of 2016 has been deemed so unprofitable in Western territories that its English-language version is being canned.

But that's exactly what's happening to XFLAG/Mixi's Monster Strike, which made $1.3 billion and enjoyed a successful tie-in movie release in 2016.

Despite such success in its native Japan, it will be pulled from app stores in the US and other Western countries on July 2nd 2017.

In an interview with PocketGamer.biz in January, XFLAG's Langer Lee was open about the fact that Western markets played little part in the Monster Strike strategy going forward.

“Markets that are closer to Japan have a higher chance of success,” he said.

“Traditional Chinese-speaking markets like Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau are still very large markets for us, primarily due to their preference for Japanese content."

Looking elsewhere

He went on to explain that in the quest for growth, XFLAG was looking more closely at Latin America and Southeast Asia - no mention of the US or Western markets.

Take a look at its US iPhone grossing performance since its October 2014 launch, and the explanation for this is clear. 

Data from App Annie

In more than two years on the US App Store, Monster Strike has not spent a single day in the top 100 - a far cry from its dominance in Japan where it hasn't fallen out of the App Store top 10 grossing since early 2014.

Its peak position was 144th on May 16th 2015, in a decent but far from spectacular first year in which it largely remained within the top 500.

But it fell away further in 2016, and in recent months it's barely even registered high enough to be given a ranking. On the occasions it does return, it's often outside of the top 1,000.

Out with a bang

A line in XFLAG's announcement of Monster Strike's imminent closure is that "sustaining the game at a satisfactory level has become difficult".

Sustaining the game at a satisfactory level has become difficult.

Considering how little of its worldwide revenues are being generated by the English language version, it's understandable.

But in-game events have proven a great way for XFLAG to sustain Monster Strike revenues in Japan, and while it's too late to save the English version, there's a packed few months planned with a flurry of final events before in-app purchases are removed on July 2nd.

What's next

In a statement from XFLAG, it said that despite the gane's imminent closure, it still "wants to make sure that the last few months are as fun as they can be".

Interestingly, it also hints that "new projects await", but will those projects get launched in the US after this chastening experience? Clearly, Japanese success is not enough to guarantee the same in the West.

But if XFLAG is to target the US again in the future, perhaps it could take a look at fellow Japanese developer GungHo and its relative success in the US with Puzzle & Dragons.

That title was in a similar position to Monster Strike a couple of years earlier, becoming a phenomenon in its homeland before setting out to conquer the US in late 2012, but has fared much better.

Data from App Annie

Quickly establishing itself in the top 50 US iPhone grossing charts, and occasionally peaking within the top 10, it remains a solid presence in the top 500 more than four years later.

Analysing the potential reasons behind this is a topic for another article, although given the success of other match-3/RPG hybrids, it seems as though US gamers are receptive to this style of gameplay.

However, what it no doubt proves is that there's no inherent incompatibility between Japanese and US audiences that makes a hit in both countries impossible - although finding success on the same scale in both will be extremely difficult.

Whether XFLAG is willing to give it another shot, taking the experience of Monster Strike and learning from it, will certainly be intriguing to see.

Features Editor

Matt is really bad at playing games, but hopefully a little better at writing about them. He's Features Editor for PocketGamer.biz, and has also written for lesser publications such as IGN, VICE, and Paste Magazine.