Japanese ecommerce giant Rakuten has partnered with US startup Blackstorm Labs to launch a brand new HTML5 social game platform called RGames.
The two companies have established through joint investment a new outfit called Rakuten Games which is responsible for the operation of RGames and, at present, the development of all games on the platform.
Up and running
Rakuten Games already has a team of more than 25 up and running in Japan, headed up by CEO Shigenori Araki who has previously worked at Popcap, EA and Take-Two, as well as holding an advisory role at Blackstorm since January.
Rakuten's first serious move into gaming, RGames is launching with 15 titles - Pac-Run and Invader Blast - licensed new takes on Pac-Man and Space Invaders respectively - being two of the most recognisable. All of these games are playable through web browsers on mobile and PC.
Social features include competition between users and video replay sharing. Tying it all back into Rakuten's core business are Medals, RGames' virtual currency, which can be bought using the Rakuten Super Points earned for spending money in the online store.
Little and large
RGames is launching just in Japan right now, but it's Silicon Valley-based Blackstorm Labs - developer of EverWing on Facebook Instant Games - who is providing the base technology.
And for a company dedicated to 'post-app store technology', this deal obviously represents a major development towards its overall vision.
“If I think about leading internet services companies in Asia, Rakuten definitely comes to the top of my mind,” Blackstorm co-founder Ernestine Fu tells PocketGamer.biz.
You don't typically have a large, multi-billion dollar corporation partnering with a tiny startup.Ernestine Fu
“Everyone's been waiting for Rakuten to go into gaming, and this definitely ties back into Blackstorm's vision of the post-app store ecosystem and the new distribution platforms that we see.”
As for Rakuten, partnering with Blackstorm is an unexpected move.
"You don't typically have a large, multi-billion dollar corporation partnering with a tiny startup with less than 30 people in Silicon Valley,” admits Fu.
This is especially interesting given the structure of the deal. Described by Fu as a "joint spin-out”, Rakuten Games has a majority independent board: “one person from Blackstorm, one person from Rakuten, one person from Rakuten Games - the CEO - and two independent board seats."
But despite its size, Blackstorm's strong technological grounding in the development of HTML5 games makes it well-positioned to help a major corporation that wants to enter the lucrative gaming market without leaving its comfortable home turf: the web browser.
“You have, in every single country in the world, large internet consumer companies that naturally have these large user bases that are already part of their ecosystem," considers Fu.
“When you think about creating new distribution platforms, you obviously want that consumer userbase to help bypass the App Store. Naturally, an HTML5, mobile web-based portal is one huge thing that we've always believed in for that end.”
Blackstorm is in good company with this, with Fu also pointing out that the App Store was not initially part of Steve Jobs' vision for the iPhone.
Instead, he envisioned that users would run web-based apps through the Safari browser. Both Rakuten and Blackstorm will now be hoping that this proves prescient.
“[RGames] actually has the potential to completely disrupt the mobile games industry in Japan," concludes Fu.
"Everyone in Japan already uses Rakuten… there's no other portal or platform that allows users to take those Super Points and apply it to games in any fashion.”