I am a hardcore user of Q&A service Quora where I just gave a detailed answer to this question:
In Japan, by far the world’s biggest market for mobile social games, social card games (social card battle games or social collectible card games) are the most popular genre at the moment. (Note: I am based in Japan, a hardcore gamer, and a consultant focusing on the social gaming industry).
I understand your question to be if Japan is ahead of the curve and if this popularity can spill over to other markets, i.e. South East Asia.
As I mention in the comments in my answer to the question What is the actual gameplay of Japanese mobile social card games? from December 2011, my view is this genre has potential outside Japan, too.
There are some pointers that indicate this is already the case, at least in the United States. It appears to be both DeNA’s and GREE’s strategy is to see how things pan out in the US before tackling other markets like South East Asia.
So let’s first have a look at how things look like in the US.
In the US App Store, a social card game called Legend of the Cryptids, has peaked at the No. 13 spot in the free app chart on May 13, 2012 (source in Japanese: http://gamebiz.jp/?p=6018
Legend of the Cryptids is what I would call a typical mobile social card battle game (created by a Japanese company). It has since fallen in the free app chart, but it still holds a respectable position (No. 62) in the top grossing ranking in the US App Store right now (May 16, 2012).
Link to the game:
GREE’s first American social game, Zombie Jombie, mixes Japanese and Western game elements and has been very successful – as a social card game.
It was released in the US App Store in March 2012 and peaked at the No. 3 spot in the ranking of the top free apps. Zombie Jombie fell out of the charts quickly, but right now, the game is the No. 16 in the top grossing app ranking. It boasts over 1 million downloads overall.
Link to the game:
On Google Play, a social card game developed by a Japanese company and offered in the English Mobage network, has been topping the top grossing rank for about 4 weeks now (source: http://www.insidemobileap
The title, Rage Of Bahamut, is a typical Japanese mobile social card game.
Link to the game.
I personally think that these initial success stories confirm my hunch from last year that games belonging to this genre do have a chance outside Japan, not only in the US but also South East Asia.
Gameplay-wise, there shouldn’t be too many differences between the taste of Japanese vs. non-Japanese players in the case of this specific genre. If created in the right way, this genre can produce games that are very addicting and hard to put down, regardless of the player’s nationality or cultural background.
There are physical card games that have been doing very well in the global market for years, with Magic The Gathering being just one example. The gameplay and general structure is, in parts, very similar to mobile social card games.
If your question is if Japanese games belonging to this genre can be successfully ported to other country markets: I think that in this case, the titles must fit a certain design to appeal to a mass market in the US or Europe. The three games mentioned above don’t use manga-esque artwork but rather appeal to Western design tastes – I am doubting that they would be as successful otherwise.
One example for this hypothesis is Spirit Force, which Tokyo-based Drecom rolled out in the US App Store last year:
This game uses extremely manga-inspired artwork and has not been very successful outside Japan (I am neglecting other factors like marketing efforts or PR but do see a causality here). Great for Japanophiles, but probably not the right way to go to appeal to a broad, global audience.
To conclude, I think that social card games – if executed and marketed in the right way – can catch on in regions outside Japan.
One development I don’t see for the future of social card games in the US or South East Asia is that this genre will be as dominant as in Japan: I think that the level of the popularity social card games are seeing is unique to this country.