Say what you will about the games themselves, but it's pretty fair to conclude at this point that mobile and social games are where nearly all of the economic growth in the Japanese game marketplace is coming from at this point. There are few better examples of this than Tokyo-based Cygames, a company that was founded in May 2011, released its first game four months later, and now enjoys an audience of over 20 million users worldwide.
Half of that audience is for Rage of Bahamut, a fantasy-themed card game whose English version launched a year ago and still shows up in Apple's top-grossing app rankings to this day. For Cygames director Yuito Kimura, a console veteran who founded the company with two industry friends, it was a success he hoped for.
"With my past experience in making console games, I had the idea that we needed to challenge ourselves with the international market ahead of the pack," he told Famitsu magazine in this week's issue. "You could say that I was nervous, but you could also say that we were in no shape to have it be a total failure. We gave it everything we had, but there's no way I could say that we launched overseas because we knew we'd be successful, or because we even had an idea that we could. I just thought that getting ourselves quickly into the international market would have benefits for our company down the line."
In Kimura's eyes, Bahamut's international success is a relief, but it's only the start of the story for Cygames. "I think card games like Bahamut still have a while to go before they really solidify themselves in the eyes of overseas gamers," he said. "I do, however, feel like the market is really booming. I think we helped build a foundation for our international efforts, but we don't really feel like a major player yet, so we're going to continue challenging ourselves this year, too."
Cygames' other big hit in Japan is The Idolmaster: Cinderella Girls, another trading-card game based around Namco's girl-centric adventure series. They have other mobile tie-ins with a few other popular anime and games series in Japan ongoing, but Kimura wants the company to take more of an original route in the future.
"This year I'd like us to launch some more original content," he told Famitsu, "and I'm hoping we'll have an announcement along those lines in the spring. I'm hoping we can develop that end of our business in balance with our other licensed products. We'll have new games in 2013, and Bahamut's going to see some new developments as well. If you haven't played it yet, I'd love you to try it out, and if you are right now, I hope you keep looking forward to what's new."