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PRing mobile games in Japan is tough, but you get better results than trying to PR mobile games in Europe

David McCarthy on when less is more
PRing mobile games in Japan is tough, but you get better results than trying to PR mobile games in Europe

David McCarthy has been employed by Metaps, GREE, Rockstar Games and Edge magazine.

He currently works for Japanese developer Cybird Inc, and writes regularly about the differences and similarities between the Japanese and western mobile game markets.

So after several months of these columns, we have finally gotten round to promoting our new game. 

In case you haven't heard, BFB Champions: Global Kick-Off allows you to become the manager of a football club and compete in leagues and against players all over the world.

Collect and train your players across a series of mini-games; pick your squad, choose your formation, and prove your managerial mettle in the single player career mode; and then take on other managers from all over the world in our multiplayer cups.

Have you got what it takes to become World No.1?

The case for PR

Ahem. Where was I. Oh, yes.

So we finally started promoting our new game.

But - as you might be able to tell if this is the first you have heard of the game's existence - PR for mobile games feels much more challenging in Europe than it is in Japan.

“PR is a crucial part of our promotion strategy in Europe.”
David McCarthy

In fact I've heard from more than a few people that PR is not really effective in general for mobile games in the west.

Certainly, it is difficult to trace a direct link to installs, which makes measuring the return on your PR activity difficult.

But for us, PR is a crucial part of our promotion strategy in Europe.

For a start, we have had a lot of success in Japan with a PR-driven approach. We have built up a really good relationship with both the games and the football press in Japan, which makes it relatively easy for us to get word out about new events in our games.

All of the major media outlets came to our offices recently, for example, to see the new game in action at a special hands-on event, and we got some great coverage out of it.

Important for niche games

The other reason that we are prioritising PR in Europe is that unlike in Japan, our game is likely to have only a niche appeal in the west, at least at launch.

While BFB Champions looks like a standard football management game, it actually plays a little differently.

You collect players for your squad via a gacha mechanic, for a start, and then you train them via mini-games.

A mini Maradona playing a mini-game
A mini Maradona playing a mini-game

And a key part of our game's appeal is our live events and multiplayer tournaments.

So PR is really important for us not just to raise awareness of the game's existence, but also to help people understand how to play and enjoy the game, and then after launch, to help them to know when new features and events are coming.

European reluctance

But as I say, PR feels much more difficult in Europe.

There are a number of challenges that we have to overcome in Europe that seem easier to solve in Japan - which I guess is good news if you are trying to import your game the other way.

For example, western gaming websites are much more fragmented than they are in Japan - a huge swathe of sites offer game-related coverage, but the vast majority of them serve small or niche audiences (or a niche subset of a larger audience).

And with content increasingly mediated through social media in the west it seems that loyalty to one site over another is not as high as it is in Japan, so the effective reach of gaming sites is probably lower than it is in Japan.

“In the west among certain parts of the gaming press, there is an active opposition to mobile games.”
David McCarthy

Another challenge in the west is that gaming websites are much more clearly spit between sites that cover console and PC games and sites that cover mobile games.

Indeed I think it is fair to say that in the west among certain parts of the gaming press, and their readers, there is an active opposition to mobile games or at least certain types of mobile games.

And guess what! As a free-to-play game, of the type that remains hugely popular in Japan, our mobile game is exactly that type of mobile game!

Japanese advertorial

In Japan, by contrast, there are one or two websites - socialgameinfo, for example, or Famitsuapp - that are clearly very influential, with a very large readership, and there is far less reluctance among games journalists to cover social mobile games.

Just as in the real world, mobile games are every bit as prominent as their console counterparts and there doesn't seem to be such an active dislike of them among the players themselves.

The Japanese launch of <em>BFB Champions: Global Kick-Off</em>
The Japanese launch of BFB Champions: Global Kick-Off

And while a smaller number of websites might, in theory, make it more difficult for you to get information about your game out because there are fewer gatekeepers, the huge number of people reading this handful of sites creates a large appetite for mobile game-related content, so, relatively speaking, it is pretty easy to get journalists to write about your mobile games; and because the people reading the sites are active players of mobile games, it is effective coverage.

“In Japan, it seems to be far more acceptable to expect editorial coverage in return for advertising.”
David McCarthy

Another advantage for developers trying to crack Japan with PR is that it seems to be far more acceptable to expect editorial coverage in return for advertising.

There has never been any sort of moral outrage about ethics in games or games journalism in Japan along the lines of Doritogate for example, or GamerGate, and consequently, readers are probably less cynical about editorial coverage.

(I make no comment or judgement on the morals or ethics of that; but for developers who want to get their game in front of players who might be interested in it, it is certainly an advantage.)

(I did discover that there are a lot of western sites who offer paid reviews of mobile games; but most of them seem to have more writers than readers so I figure Japan still comes out on top here).

What's my motivation?

It feels like it might also be easier for developers to come up with a hook for journalists to hang their stories on in Japan, too.

In Europe it feels like journalists will only write about your game if you have an angle that they think will really drive readers to their website.


In Japan, by contrast, if you can get access to the right celebrity (something I touched upon in a previous column), then there will always be someone, somewhere in Japan, who will write about your game.

For us, the news that Diego Maradona will be the face of our game has generated a ton of coverage, for example.

Worth the hassles

There are still challenges for western developers trying to run PR campaigns in Japan, of course.

Running PR campaigns in a different country can be logistically difficult, for example, in terms of creation of assets, and tailoring your messaging to local markets.

“The rewards of a successful PR campaign can certainly make it worth trying to engage with these struggles.”
David McCarthy

And if you don't speak the local language, then, yes, that presents its own difficulties, obviously.

The growing importance of 'influencer' marketing and the ever expanding ecology of youtubers and streamers and so on is also challenging to negotiate in a foreign country.

Japan has a long history of livestreaming type content but finding your way around which influencers are likely to actually reach your target audience can be a struggle without local help.

But the rewards of a successful PR campaign can certainly make it worth trying to engage with these struggles.

Not only can it help generate installs (or pre-registrations); it can also help your target audience understand your game if it's a niche one (and if you are importing a western game into Japan, the chances are that to local audiences it is indeed a niche one!).

In any case, if you need any more help or advice with PR, don't hesitate to get in touch.

For us the results of our PR activities in the west remain to be seen.

But we will keep trying to make sure that the game finds its way to people who are going to enjoy playing it.