KLabGames is one of the leading providers of mobile gaming content to both Japanese and overseas fans, and the Honey’s Anime team had the pleasure of sitting down with global marketing director Matt to discuss their global plans for current titles (Bleach: Brave Souls and Love Live! School Idol Festival) along with future releases (Captain Tsubasa: Dream Team and Utano☆Princesama Shining Live). KLabGames’ goal is to ensure that fans overseas enjoy the very same experience as their Japan counterparts, bringing the geographically disparate gaming cultures closer together than ever.
Interview with Matt
With there being such a high influx of companies targeting the mobile market, how do you (KLabGames) plan to stand out from the rest of the competition?
We’ve come up with various strategies over the years to really cater to our western fans, especially with the releases of Love Live! School Idol Festival and Bleach: Brave Souls, but our strategy, in a nutshell, is due to our strong relationships with IP owners in Japan and being in the gaming industry for almost 10 years (KLabGames). Our ability to create impactful free-to-play mobile games is the main engine that drives our overseas success. We’ve had our ups and downs over the years, but we feel like we’re truly getting to the point where our growth is consistent. The hardest thing about mobile gaming is branding, and since there’s a lot out there, it’s hard to retain the audience compared to back in the earlier days of gaming. So what I’d like to do is get more people to become more well acquainted with KLabGames and know that we’re all about building great communities around our popular titles, and to get people to know more about games they may not have tried before.
Utano☆Princesama Shining Live is one of our newer titles, and it does incredibly well in Japan, but we’re not sure about how it’ll be received in the West. There are of course a growing number of “otome game” fans around the world, and we’d like to focus on building a strong community around Shining Live and hope fans will enjoy the game more than anything.
Japan really favors the Idol culture a lot, so how do you plan to adhere to global fans who may not be familiar with that culture?
Japan idol culture is like a niche within a niche and to be honest, playing rhythm games can be quite challenging. The core gameplay is there along with the character relationships and that’s what makes the game so popular due to positive relationships players have with each character. The feedback we receive from the community is really positive and they enjoy the aspect about working together to achieve a goal and creating lasting friendships. It’s a game that you don’t really have to push from a marketing perspective because the overall appeal can relate to anybody since it’s really all about building that emotional bond with the characters as you play.
Cultural differences will always play a major role when it comes to marketing specific titles overseas. So why did you decide to choose these specific titles to serve the western audience?
Around the world, there are a large number of anime fans out there who aren’t familiar with every series out there, but because they have this affinity for Japan’s anime culture, it’s easier for them to jump right into a game based on Japanese content due to that familiarity. With Captain Tsubasa: Dream Team, the series is quite popular in France and Captain Tsubasa was watched by a large number of people due to soccer being such a renowned sport. So many world class players such as Zidane grew up watching the series and thought “Yeah I could be a world class player like Tsubasa, too, one day!” but more so, because it’s a global sport there’s a deeper connection involved. Also, through playing the game, you can slowly begin to grasp the strategies behind playing soccer and how everything flows together, along with there being RPG elements to level up your character as you progress (building your squad, etc). There’s the online element as well where you’re able to play against other players and really build your skills, so that competitive element is a major plus. You don’t need to be a Captain Tsubasa fan to truly enjoy the game (of course having familiarity is a nice plus), it’s all about building a rich gaming experience to encourage new and veteran players to have a good time.
This also relates back to Utano☆Princesama Shining Live where we want our fans to really have a unique and enriching experience that improves over time. Since our games are free-to-play, there’s the incentive to earn more rewards over time so it really encourages you to invest more time to see just how far you can go. It’s not so much about the money, but more about grabbing your attention (emotional attachment) and allowing the gameplay to feel rewarding over the long run. It’s all about the long term support that we appreciate.
Japan has a very illustrious mobile gaming industry when compared to that of the West where the environment isn’t as lucrative yet. What do you think is the misconception of mobile gaming in the west?
Perhaps it has a lot to do with most players wanting that sensation of being able to experience those big AAA titles. We totally respect what those companies are doing for the industry but there’s also a space for mobile gamers to really find enjoyment on the go, and so everybody can really relate to each other on a gaming level. We’re not expecting mobile gaming to replace the home console industry, but rather, to create a harmonious environment where you can perhaps play games on the go when you feel like it or play at home. Our lifestyles change quite often and so, sometimes I just want to download a game and play a quick round, so it really depends on the person.
The benefit of mobile gaming is that many titles are free-to-play and back in the day, that wasn’t available to us, so that concept is very powerful in this current environment. A lot of big game companies are now starting to focus on mobile platforms, which gives them more chances to create more unique titles for fans. Mobile gaming is certainly here to stay and it creates such an ambitious feeling for companies since it allows for more risk taking without worrying too much about financial restrictions. Over the years, TOKYO GAME SHOW has seen a large influx of mobile games being promoted so that in itself is a very clear sign of how prominent the mobile gaming culture is.
Final Thoughts - Any last words for your fans around the world?
For me, it’s trying to get people interested in our titles, building long term relationships and hope that people can associate us with creating quality titles using popular Japanese content. Some people like to call us Kebab Games *laughs* (very delicious by the way), but the end goal is that people can resonate positively with our brand with free-to-play mobile games, and we can grow in a healthy way for the future. We all have a passion for the games we create and hopefully fans can come to appreciate that.
Wrapping up the Interview
Thanks once again to Matt for taking the time out of his busy schedule to sit down with us and provide his perspective on KLabGames going forward. We certainly hope that fans around the world can learn to appreciate the value of free-to-play mobile gaming, and that they’ll invest more of their time into creating a jovial experience for the long term. All the best to you, Matt and the rest of the KLabGames team!
Author: Rob "NualphaJPN" B.
A passionate fan of gaming, writing, journalism, anime, and philosophy. I've lived in Japan for many years and consider this place to be my permanent home. I love to travel around Japan and learn about the history and culture! Leave a comment if you enjoy my articles and watch me play on twitch.tv/honeysgaming ! Take care!