Inside Social Apps profile: GREE’s Sho Masuda

Sho Masuda headshotEditor’s Note: Sho Masuda is vice president of marketing at mobile-social gaming giant GREE. Here’s look into what will be talked about at the “Platform Opportunities for Social Apps” session at Inside Network’s Inside Social Apps conference June 6 to 7.

Inside Mobile Apps: iOS and Android have remained the two top mobile platforms. Is there no more room or opportunity for another competitor to reach a similar market share? Is Windows Phone and Blackberry’s days numbered?

Sho Masuda: iOS and Android have absolutely dominated the market and have done a fabulous job of building an ecosystem of mobile content. Specific to gaming, smartphones and tablets are now the primary devices for gaming-on-the-go,  Where before players couldn’t see past the traditional console first parties for gaming outside of the living room, we are now seeing mobile studios generating millions in revenue daily.

I do believe the market is cyclical and the audience is always looking for the next best thing so there is definitely room for another competitor to swoop in with something completely unexpected. That said, Apple and Android have been leading the market and will likely continue to lead and innovate how people use their devices. I don’t see them losing that market share anytime soon.

As for Windows Phone, Blackberry, or what may be coming — there is potential for them all. This industry is so young and just at the start of what it can do. To put it numerically — there are one billion smartphone users out there and six billion mobile subscribers worldwide — we have just scratched the surface and there is so much more to come.

IMA: Where do you think the relationship between Samsung and Google is heading?

Google and Samsung have had an exceptionally strong relationship to date and it is clear that Samsung has built some of the best Android-operated hardware on the market. One thing we are missing when it comes with Android is the one tablet that owns the Android market — the one that can truly go head-to-head with the iPad. That is definitely something we — as gaming developers — are looking forward to.

GREE hit with another round of layoffs

GREE logoJapanese mobile-social gaming juggernaut GREE recently laid off around 30 employees from its San Francisco office, according to GameIndustry International.

“We have recently aligned GREE’s U.S. studio to focus on creating the next generation of mobile social games,” said Anil Dharni, chief operating officer of GREE, in an official statement. “This shift in focus has been clearly demonstrated by the success and growth of our games. As part of ensuring that we are operating as efficiently as possible, we have made the difficult decision to reduce our work force. The employees leaving today have made great contributions to our success and we wish them all the best.”

In December 2012, GREE restructured its company, letting go 25 people, mostly from GREE’s social networking platform OpenFeint team. GREE announced the closing of OpenFeint a month prior to the layoffs. GREE acquired OpenFeint in April 2011 for $104 million as part of the Japanese company’s efforts to expand into Western markets.

Stay tuned to Inside Mobile Apps for GREE’s Q3 2013 earnings tomorrow.

Mobile apps news roundup: Most top grossing mobile games are integrated with Facebook, Puzzle & Dragons reaches 13 million users in Japan and more

facebookFacebook recaps stats about its games ecosystem from GDC 2013 – In a blog post Monday, Facebook’s director of games Sean Ryan recapped some stats about its games ecosystem that were revealed during the 2013 Game Developers Conference. Ryan says more than 250 million users are playing games on Facebook each month, and 82 percent of the top 100 grossing U.S. mobile games and 75 percent of the top 100 grossing U.S. Android mobile games are integrated with Facebook. In 2012, Facebook paid out more than to $2 billion to game developers and saw total payers increase 24 percent year-over-year from March 2012 to March 2013.

kakaotalk-logo-roundupKakaoTalk’s game platform expands into Vietnam and Indonesia – Messaging app KakaoTalk’s game platform recently expanded into Vietnam and Indonesia, where many of Kakao’s more than 80 million users come from. Indonesia, in particular, has become a hotly contested market for messaging apps. Both Tencent’s WeChat and Kakao have launched TV ad campaigns in the country.

iMessage iconMessaging apps usage surpasses SMS texts for the first time ever, Informa says – Research firm Informa told the BBC Monday that 19 billion messages were sent per day via messaging apps — such as WhatsApp, Kik and iMessenge — in 2012, compared with 17.6 million SMS texts. It’s the first time that the amount of messages send from chat apps have usurped the amount from SMS. Despite the growth of messaging apps, Informa still expects revenue from SMS to grow to $127 billion by 2016, from $115 billion last year.

rovio_logoRovio’s Angry Birds Friends launches on mobile – Finnish game developer Rovio launched Angry Birds Friends, a once Facebook-exclusive title, for iOS and Android yesterday. Angry Birds Friends plays a little differently than the mobile titles in the franchise, where in Friends users can compete against other users in weekly tournaments for the highest score.

ubm-logoUBM TechWeb cancels GDC Online, opens submissions for GDC Next, ADC – UBM TechWeb announced that it’s opened submissions for its two new conferences — Game Developers Conference Next and App Developers Conference. Both conferences will take place in Los Angeles from November 5 to 7. The two conferences replace the GDC Online conference which was held in Austin, Texas. Basically, UBM is looking for input from the game and mobile app industries as to what topics the conference should cover. The deadline for submissions is Wednesday, May 29. Find out more about the submission process here and here.

puzzle-and-dragons-app-icon-roundupPuzzle & Dragons reaches 13 million downloads in Japan – According to Social Game Info, GungHo Online, which now has a market cap of $10 billion, saw its incredibly successful mobile game Puzzle & Dragons reach the 13 million downloads mark across the iOS and Android versions in Japan.

playfirst_logoPlayFirst launches Deep Sea Deli – San Francisco-based mobile game studio PlayFirst launched its latest game this week in Deep Sea Deli, a puzzle-matching arcade title for iOS. Unlike some puzzle-matching games, there’s no time limit on game sessions, meaning the title focuses more on skill.

GREEGREE updates NFL Shuffle with new ‘Talents’ feature – Mobile-social gaming giant GREE updated its card-based game NFL Shuffle with a new feature called ‘Talents’ that is aimed at increasing the game’s competitiveness. Users can now utilize an NFL players Talent, a game-changing boost, to increase a card’s scoring potential. Talents come in the form of gameplay enhancements such as additional swaps, and shuffles, offense and defense team bonuses, and Silver and Gold Football Bonuses.

Mobile apps news roundup: Kabam, GameStick, Wooga and more

Kabam logoKabam launches $50 fund to help bring Japanese games to the West – Mobile-social gaming developer Kabam told the Wall Street Journal on Monday that the company has established a $50 million fund to help bring Japanese games to Western markets. The money provided by Kabam to Japanese game developers will help with localization, translation, analytics tracking, marketing, user acquisition, retention and more. Other major gaming giants like DeNA, GREE, Zynga and Pocket Gems have all invested more and more into the publishing of third-party titles.

playjamPlayJam delays GameStick shipments by two months – PlayJam informed Kickstarter backers of its Android-based games console GameStick that it’s delaying the shipments of the device from April to June. The delay is due to an unexpected amount of units to produce and the company’s apparently-low bank balance, which led to PlayJam changing its shipment plans for the units from air-freight to shipping via boat. Inside Mobile Apps last got its hands on the GameStick a few weeks ago during the 2013 Game Developers Conference.

Plain Vanilla logoPlain Vanilla lands $2.4M in second round funding – Plain Vanilla, the Icelandic game studio known for its trivia games such as Twilight QuizUp, landed $2.4 million in second round funding, which brings its total funding to $3.4 million. With the new influx in cash, Plain vanilla wants to build out its trivia games into a platform.

Wooga logoWooga releases mobile-exclusive title Pocket Village – Wooga released Pocket Village this week, its first exclusively mobile title, for iOS. Inside Mobile Apps first learned about the village building sim back in February.

GREEGREE updates MLB: Full Deck with 2013 rosters and new features – With the start of the 2013 Major League Baseball season, GREE updated its MLB: Full Deck with the 2013 rosters for all 30 MLB clubs. GREE also added new player-versus-player features, including the ability for users to accumulate points with each PVP win and gain rewards from multiple tiers. Other updates include re-designed player profiles, an improved tutorial, new live events and a fresher user interface.

Mobile news roundup: Ouya details, iOS 6.1 issues and more

feast or famine

Feast or Famine arrives on iOS — X4 Games’ new action-platformer Feast or Famine launched on iOS this week. The game is set in the Netolithic era and has players hunting animals, while designed to look like a cave painting. An Android version of the game is expected to launch soon.

appgratis

AppGratis surpasses 10 million users — App discovery firm AppGratis announced this week it’s secured over 10 million users worldwide, 3 million of which connect every day. The service regularly drives apps to receive between 500,000 and 1 million downloads, often sending apps into the top five positions on the iTunes App Store.

where'smywater

Disney Mobile gets in on the Valentine’s Day spirit — Disney Mobile is feeling the love, adding Valentine’s Day content to Where’s My Holiday? The free update gives players 12 limited-time levels filled with hearts to play.

Glu-Mobile-logo1

Glu launches Dragon Storm – Mobile game developer Glu launched Dragon Storm for iOS, an MMO-style strategy game developed by Griptonite Games. In the game players build up their kingdoms, join up with or battle other players and play across multiple devices utilizing iCloud. You can find the game on the iTunes App Store here.

Ouya

Ouya at Best Buy, Target, Amazon, GameStop for $99.99 in June – Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman told the Wall Street Journal that the people who funded the Android-based open console on Kickstarter will receive their units in March. Orders from Ouya’s official site will ship out in April, and the retail version will go on sale in June.

animoca

Animoca launches Robo5 exclusively through the Amazon Appstore – Cross-platform app publisher Animoca announced its previously released iOS game Robo5 is coming to Android, exclusively through Amazon’s Appstore. In the 3D-Action-Puzzle game, players control a tiny robot climbing from the bottom of a mountain of boxes all the way to the top. You can find the game here.

sega-logo

Sega launches After Burner Climax – Sega Europe announced that its bringing the classic arcade game After Burner to iOS. The action fighter jet game features 20 levels, a selection of aircraft and leaderboards. The game is a universal app, available from the iTunes App Store for $2.99.

GREE

Eros resmini joins Peter Relan in new stealth project – Former OpenFeint and GREE executive Eros Resmini is joining YouWeb founder Peter Relan as an “entrepreneur in residence,” working on an “undisclosed project that will reshape the startup growth landscape.” Details on the special project will emerge in the coming months.

EA

Electronic Arts announces TMi Trivia for iOS — Games developer and publisher Electronic Arts announced that it will release a new trivia game for iOS, TMi Trivia, later this spring. Players will be invited to answer questions about themselves and their friends. TMi will then use that information to provide the player with question based on his interest. In addition, EA is partnering with Variety, SPIN, Celebuzz, and Fanhattan so the questions are also based on what’s trending on the web at the time.

apple-logo

Users report overheating and connectivity issues caused by iOS 6.1 – Several users in the discussion forums on Apple’s official website are reporting shorter battery life and overheating after they upgraded to iOS 6.1, which apple released in Jan. 28. As reported by MacRumors, UK carrier Vodafone has gone as far as to send texts to their users, warning them not to upgrade to the latest version of iOS if they have an iPhone 4 due to 3G performance issues.

GREE lifts the lid off $10M investment fund for mobile game developers

GREE today lifted the lid off the GREE Partners Fund, a new program where the mobile-social gaming powerhouse will be making significant equity investments in talented, independent mobile game developers in the free-to-play space.GREE logo

“From our perspective, we view [the GREE Partners Fund] as if this is going to be a long-term relationship, then we can open the kimono and share everything that we’ve learned,” says jim Ying, GREE’s new VP of developer relations and publishing.

Last year, the Tokyo-headquartered company acquired developer Funzio, who’s now developing first-party games for GREE, and invested an undisclosed amount of money in Vancouver, Canada-based IUGO Mobile and $3 million in independent mobile game studio MunkyFun. All the acquisitions and investments are part of GREE’s strategy of making significant investments in developers.

“We unofficially announced the [GREE Partners Fund] a month back with MunkyFun, Ying tells Inside Mobile Apps. “It’s the same model. We’re including it as the first recipient of the fund.”

Ying will run the program, and GREE will invest $1 million or more into developers. Similar to the IUGO Mobile and MunkyFun deals, GREE will be investing money into developers for equity. GREE’s not only brining money to the table, it will also share its knowledge and know-how in areas such as monetization and retention as well as support partners through marketing efforts, post-launch operations, growth initiatives and more. Partners will also have access to GREE’s business analytics team, so partners can drill down into their game metrics.

GREE is focusing more on partnering with a developer based on a team’s talent pool and track record over anything else like a specific game a developer made, Ying adds. GREE aren’t just looking for any old developer, though. GREE is only looking to partner with developers who have the potential to make games that can be a top 25 grossing title, Ying says. The developer also had to have released a free-to-play mobile game that has had some success, and have experience in post-launch operations such as events or content.

Since this partnership model is hands-on, GREE will be initially looking for local developers from North and South America. Developers who are interested in the GREE Partner Fund can find information or apply here.

Former Funzio executives return at the helm of Wormhole Games

Wormhole Games today came out of stealth and revealed it’s already nearing completion of its first mobile title. The company is co-founded by Jamil Moledina and James Kelm, both previously of Funzio. If that name sounds familiar to you, it should: Funzio was acquired by GREE last year for $210 million.

For Moledina and Kelm, Wormhole represents a return to the indie game world after becoming a part of GREE’s larger company last Spring, where Moledina only stayed for a month before striking out on his own. Moledina tells us Wormhole Games’ was being staffed by October.

Currently, the studio funded via seed money raised from friends and family, and we’re told the company is staffed with a “handful of folks” that includes six full-time employees. Moledina also tells us his studio is planning to do a round of angel funding.

“I love being indie,” Kelm says. Before I was in the game world, I was in the tech world and loved the big places I worked for but it’s tremendous fun getting to call your own shots. Being in this situation means we’re building from scratch so we can take risks with design and how we build things.”

Wormhole games is focused on developing core titles for tablets, much like Funzio was doing before it was acquired, and the first of these games is expected to arrive on iOS in early 2013 with an Android version to follow later on. When asked about possibly developing for Microsoft’s Surface tablets, we’re told the company views the device as having a lot of potential but won’t commit to anything right now.

The specifics of the game aren’t revealed, but Moledina explains what Wormhole won’t be doing. He tells us the company won’t be making games that look like Flash ports of other games on Facebook, nor will they implement the mechanics that many mobile versions of existing games (he’s particularly vehement about not using virtual joysticks. However, Moledina says it will stay true to the company’s philosophy.

“The incumbents of social mobile games were frequently releasing games that were very similar to what got them success in the first place,” he tells us. “For us, we began to sense that a startup is a structure that enables people to take the kind of risks necessary  to make a great kind of game. At the same time, we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. But we’ve seen there are ways to take fun elements from traditional games things and adapt them over into what we learned and operated into the social games industries. For us, it’s all about creating fun, gorgeous and badass multiplayer games.”

This story originally appeared on our sister site, Inside Social Games.

GREE invests in mobile game developer MunkyFun

Mobile-social gaming powerhouse GREE announced on Dec. 6 that it invested $3 million in independent mobile game studio MunkyFun, a partnership, MunkyFun believes, that aligns with the direction both the companies plan to pursue.MunkyFun GREE investment logos

“MunkyFun is about making fun above all else and connecting people,” said Nick Pavis, CEO and co-founder of MunkyFun. “We see that connecting people through games is where things are going and this is where GREE has made a lot of success in Japan and foreign territories.”

MunkyFun, which was founded in 2008 by a group of former LucasArts developers that worked on Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, had developed notable titles including free-to-play iOS title My Horse under the guidance of developer NaturalMotion and FPS Archetype.

“Back in 2008, we decided we wanted to do something a little bit more interesting than ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Indiana Jones’ repeatedly,” Pavis said.

Pavis told Inside Mobile Apps that although the indie developer considered multiple companies to partner with, GREE stood out to MunkyFun the most. The Tokyo-headquartered company is moving toward building more technologically advanced games, he added, which aligns with MunkyFun’s plans as well. GREE, who’ve been in talks with MunkyFun for quite some time, will also bring its expertise in user acquisition, marketing and monetization.

“Another thing that GREE brings to the table for a small developer like ourselves is cash-flow,” Pavis said. “This investment is allowing us to expand in line with the industry. The industry is exploding and there’s just a wealth of opportunity. It’s moving quite fast. It’s good to get an injection of cash to help us expand at the rate that we need to in order to take full advantage of this growth in this industry at this time.”

MunkyFun also plans to expand its team and move its office to a former Ghirardelli Chocolate factory at Jackson Square in San Francisco.

The studio, which has 15 to 20 million total game downloads to date, plans to launch a couple of new games in early Q1 2013 on GREE’s platform.

MunkyFun has been independently and privately funded company up until GREE’s recent investment.

GREE designs RPG for a casual and core audience with Knights & Dragons: Rise of the Dark Prince

GREE’s first game from its minority stake in mobile game developer IUGO Mobile is finally surfacing. The game is Knights & Dragons: Rise of the Dark Prince, a title which Jori Pearsall, GREE lead product manager on Knights and Dragons, calls an “immersive casual RPG” for iOS devices.

“This was our attempt to do something different and make a unique experience that combines the best of a more casual game with some of those more immersive RPG-style elements you usually see in more hardcore games,” Pearsall says.

Set in medieval times, players are tasked with saving a kingdom that’s been ravaged by an evil Dark Prince and his army. Users take control of knights that can be outfitted with armor for fighting baddies through a series of quests. Players can also invite their friends’ knights to play alongside them or compete against their friends in weekly PvP tournaments or in the leaderboards. Along the way, players unlock more knights and collect materials to craft new armor sets to make knights stronger and better looking. There’s an elemental system — fire, water, spirit, air and earth — that adds a layer of strategy to the game by allowing users to equip armor with a particular element to gain an advantage against baddies or monsters equipped with the opposing element.Knights & Dragons: Rise of the Dark Prince screenshot 1

Pearsall said that in GREE’s relatively small beta test, the company saw more than 400,000 PvP battles completed and more than 200,000 users bringing in their friends to help in battles, which he attributed to the addictiveness of challenging friends or cooperatively fighting alongside them.

Knights & Dragons was co-developed by GREE and Vancouver, B.C.-based IUGO, the first of a series of free-to-play mobile games the two companies will collaborate to make, according to the terms of the agreement.

The game monetizes through players purchasing either the premium currency in gems or gold, which is the in-game currency. The premium and in-game currencies can be used to craft armor more quickly, get extra PvP battles, heal knights to progress through quests faster and more.

Knights & Dragons is available starting today for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices. Stay tuned to Inside Mobile Apps for a review of the game in the near future.Knights & Dragons: Rise of the Dark Prince screenshot 2

25 people laid off from GREE’s U.S. offices, consolidates existing teams

Mobile-social gaming giant GREE announced a restructuring yesterday that will see part of the platform team moving from San Francisco back to its headquarters in Tokyo, with 25 people losing their jobs in the process, reported TechCrunch. GREE also created two new organizations in an effort to consolidate, which includes a publishing and partnerships team focusing on second and third-party studios and a growth and revenue team focusing on first and second-party games.

In GREE’s Q1 2013 quarterly results, the company’s net profit in Q1 2013 fell 26.3 percent quarter-over-quarter. The Japanese giant’s profit were hamstrung by the high costs of international expansion and the kompu gacha ban by Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency. Kompu gacha is a practice that heavily incentivized the purchase of random virtual goods.

According to TechCrunch, most of the layoffs hit GREE’s social networking platform OpenFeint, which it recently announced it will shut down by Dec. 14. GREE first acquired OpenFeint in April 2011 for $104 million, with the hopes to further break into the U.S. market.

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