Comment & Opinion

Top 5 features games developers should consider to make it big in Japan

GameRefinery’s tool identifies the most popular gameplay mechanics

Top 5 features games developers should consider to make it big in Japan

Launching a successful game in Japan’s mature and highly competitive mobile games market is difficult enough for publishers within the country, and it’s even harder for developers outside it.

There aren’t many successes at the top of the charts from developers based outside of Japan, particularly when it comes to Western studios.

Japanese players have their own gaming tastes that can differ significantly from people in European countries and the US, making it difficult to create a game with truly global appeal that will also do well in Japan. And the same applies vice-versa.

Feature analysis

To give you an idea of what Japanese players look for, here you’ll find a rundown of the top five features developers should consider to improve the chances of success in Japan.

The data comes from GameRefinery, which lets developers identify winning features, calculate the revenue potential of feature sets and get inspiration for innovative features from games and markets. It analyses 180+ features across the top 200 grossing games as well as hundreds of titles outside those rankings.

Of course, the following doesn’t guarantee success, but should be used as an indicator of Japanese trends and what your chances of success may be based on your game’s design.

Click here to view the list »
  • 1 Gacha

    You’ve probably heard of gacha before, and there’s good reason. It’s an incredibly popular monetisation method in Japan and it’s used by most games in the top 100 grossing list. By comparison, only around 60% of games outside the top 100 use it.

    Gacha is a randomised mechanic, such as a chest box or other gadget, used in games whereby players don’t know exactly what they’ll get when it’s triggered. These can be purchased or sometimes received as free gifts or rewards.

    The real key here though is that a gacha can reward players with items or characters that have a major role in gameplay, typically with varying degrees of rarity.

    For examples of gacha in a mobile game, check out Puzzle & Dragons and Monster Strike. If you’re based in the West, you might also want to try Heroes Charge and The Walking Dead: Road to Survival.

    Heroes Charge uses gacha mechanics

  • 2 Different rarity classes for characters and items

    Over 90% of games in the top 100 grossing mobile titles assign different rarity ratings on characters and items. Just over half of those outside of this make use of the feature.

    Rarity classes should be expressed clearly to the player, for example in the form of a star rating or some other kind of indication such as “super rare” and “legendary”.

    Typically, the rarer the character or item is, the better its stats and maximum level potential.

    Oftentimes these characters or items can also be promoted through simple levelling up or using a fusion system. It’s a feature that works particularly well with the aforementioned gacha mechanics.

    Given how popular RPG elements are in Japan and throughout Asian countries, it’s easy to see why an array of characters and items with varying degrees of rarity will be appealing to players.

    Examples of this feature in use include Seven Knights and Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.

    Hearthstone cards have different rarities expressed by the coloured gem in the middle of the card

  • 3 Five or more different currencies

    Currencies are primarily earned by a player actively playing a game and are used to purchased various things within it.

    Common currency types include:

    • Soft currency that is earned in large volumes by completing levels or tasks
    • Premium/hard currency that is purchased with real money and sometimes earned in small amounts from special tasks
    • Social currencies that are earned from various social activities (e.g. guild activities, helping others)
    • Special currencies that are earned from special tasks and have a really specific purpose (e.g. various gacha-currencies)

    An example of a game with various currencies is Summoners War, in which there are several for players to earn by actively playing the game. One example here is Glory Points, a social currency earned by participating in guild-related activities.

    This feature reiterates once again that Japanese players generally like choice and don’t mind added complexity in their games.

    Sumoners War has various currencies for players to earn by actively playing the game, such as Glory Points, a social currency earned by participating in guild-related activities.

  • 4 Tonnes of characters

    Once again, more choice is popular in Japan, and a game’s characters are no different.

    Specifically, characters in this context refer to those that you can control and play with in the game.

    Examples may include the dozens of different pet monsters (characters) that can be acquired in Puzzle & Dragons, and different starting character classes to choose from, like in Order & Chaos Online.

    Given the popularity of RPG elements, gacha monetisation and variety of in-game items that are popular features in Japan, it’s no surprise this stems to characters as well.

    This collecting aspect has resulted in two of Japan’s most successful ever games: Puzzle & Dragons and Monster Strike. Both titles have raked in more than $1 billion in lifetime revenues and continue to perform well years after release.

  • 5 Live events with benefits

    Live operations underpin every single one of the most successful mobile games across the world. You may be able to get the downloads and convert consumers to paying users, but giving players a reason to come back could keep your game going for years.

    So it’s no wonder that around 90% of the top 100 grossers in Japan implement continuous live events that offer unique benefits. These exclusives are typically event-only items and/or characters (Like the Christmas Pikachu in Pokemon GO) that can only be earned by participating in the limited time event.

    In this case it means obtaining something tangible and permanent, rather than getting an event-specific game mechanic like a limited time event shop, special one-off quests or temporary rewards.

    Lots of games use live events with special benefits well, such as Puzzle & Dragons and Injustice: Gods Among Us.

    There are special events in Puzzle & Dragons, when new monsters (characters) become available for limited time only

    For more on how certain features could improve your game’s chances of success and how they typically work with other features, check out GameRefinery’s dedicated tool. regularly posts content from a variety of guest writers across the games industry. These encompass a wide range of topics and people from different backgrounds and diversities, sharing their opinion on the hottest trending topics, undiscovered gems and what the future of the business holds.