Test drive: Visitors try out new game software at the Nintendo 3DS Conference 2011 in Tokyo last week.
Women grow into a driving force for online gaming
Like many young women, Takako Suzuki says the
first thing she does most days is think about who her next boyfriend
should be. Her choices: a cute millionaire, a butler or a samurai.
Whether playing the role of a teenager who
fantasizes about her five rich housemates or flirting with a civil-war
warrior, Suzuki says she can't get enough of "otome" Japanese romance
games geared toward women.
Suzuki, who says she once played 10 different
titles concurrently, buys credit from Gree Inc. to pamper her avatar
with virtual clothes or shoes, and to purchase tickets for additional
"When I wake up in the morning, I play these
games for a while before I really get up," says Suzuki, 28, an office
worker. "I need to play otome games because I'm so stressed out by my
nagging boss at work."
Suzuki and other female gamers are helping
reshape the nation's $10.6 billion video game market, where the
popularity of Gree's social network is luring developers typically
focused on making titles for Sony Corp. and Nintendo Co.
Women will help sales of games played on social
networks triple in the next five years, according to estimates by BNP
"Developers must target women to expand their
market instead of only focusing on men," said Toshihiro Nagahama, chief
economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute Inc. "Dating games became
a blockbuster category among women because characters in those games
give them what they want from men in the real world."
The domestic market for female-oriented games may
reach ¥20 billion in five years from ¥6 billion last year, according to
Hiroshi Yamashina, an analyst at BNP Paribas. Last year's sales
accounted for 6 percent of the overall Japanese industry.
Opportunities include turning manga into
interactive games because female-oriented comics account for an
estimated 70 percent of the ¥65 billion e-book market, Yamashina said in
a report last Friday.
That has benefited Gree, which runs and develops
games for its Facebook-like service in Japan. Shares of the company,
which says women account for more than 40 percent of its users, have
doubled in Tokyo trading this year, helping make it the best performer
on the MSCI Asia Pacific Index.
President Yoshikazu Tanaka, 34, was Japan's
richest bachelor in March with an estimated fortune of $2.2 billion
(¥167.89 billion), according to Forbes magazine. His 49 percent stake in
Gree is now worth $3.4 billion (¥259.46 billion) based on current stock
Tanaka, who pioneered social-network gaming for
mobile phones in 2007, set up Gree's first-ever booth at last week's
Tokyo Game Show next to the event's biggest participant — Sony.
Gree, which counts otome titles as its most
popular gaming genre among women, displayed "Darling wa Geinojin," in
which users play the role of an aspiring artist, and the high-school
dating game "Kimi to Naisho no Kyokara Kareshi" at last week's
DeNA Co., a developer of cellphone games that
counts on women for about 40 percent of its users, has also benefited.
Its shares have climbed 23 percent in Tokyo trading this year, while
Voltage Inc., which develops dating games for women, has risen 21
"Otome games are the hottest thing right now among women," said Keiichi Yoneshima, an analyst at Barclays Capital in Tokyo.
Nintendo, the world's largest maker of video game
machines, has fallen 51 percent this year, while No. 2 Sony has dropped
Nintendo may be catching up. President Satoru
Iwata said last week it will begin selling pink 3DS handheld players in
October to lure women and restore the "good" balance it had between
female and male users.
Sony sells its PSP players in six colors, including pink and white.
Increasing demand for female-oriented titles
is part of the broader surge in the popularity of social-network games
played on computers, phones and tablet PCs. While the games are
typically free via Web browsers, companies including Gree profit by
selling virtual items or chapters of an interactive manga, with the
average user spending about ¥239 a month.
The social-games market in Japan will almost
triple to ¥305 billion in 2013 from ¥107 billion last year, Mitsubishi
UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities Co. estimated in June.
By comparison, the software market for video
game consoles and handheld players shrank to ¥318 billion in 2010, down
12 percent from 2007, according to research firm Enterbrain Inc.
Social networks are attracting developers
including Konami Corp., creator of the "Metal Gear Solid" series, which
has about 10 million registered users for social games. Capcom Co.,
publisher of the "Resident Evil" games, launched the Beeline Interactive
brand in April to make social games on smartphones, including the
The game industry has "now gone to computers
and smartphones or tablets, and social games are booming," said Edwin
Merner, Tokyo-based president of Atlantis Investment Research Corp.,
which manages about $3 billion in assets. "Sony and Nintendo are not in
this business much."
Nintendo and Sony are adding features to
their products as social networks, phones and tablets become
increasingly popular gaming platforms for free titles. Nintendo is
betting on 3-D in its portable game player, while Sony is adding Wi-Fi
and 3G functionality to its upcoming PlayStation Vita player.
Sony is confident gamers will pay as much as
the ¥29,980 sticker price for the Vita because its "value exceeds the
price," Shuhei Yoshida, president of Sony Computer Entertainment
Worldwide Studios, said in an interview last week.
Gree and DeNA say they can coexist with traditional video game companies.
"The parameter for users is totally different
because we target mobile-phone subscribers," DeNA President Isao
Moriyasu said. "Our games can be developed within six months, while
console games take time and money as they are high-specification."
Gree's Tanaka is pushing overseas expansion after purchasing U.S.-based OpenFeint Inc. for $104 million this year.
Gree aims to generate as much as 80 percent
of its sales overseas in three years, compared with almost none now, and
plans to have 1 billion users, he said last week.
While dating games and interactive manga may
not be as popular overseas as they are in Japan, the concept of
targeting women may succeed globally, said Tomoaki Kawasaki, an analyst
at Cosmo Securities Co.
For Japanese women such as Suzuki, the hardest part of playing otome games is staying away.
"I have to play them for 10 to 15 minutes before going to bed," she says.
More reason for me to own/want a pink 3DS *looks at thin wallet*