serkan AT kantan-games.co.jp

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GREE Rolls Out Open Beta Of Their Global Platform – And It Disappoints [Social Games]

Was this the plan? GREE finally announced the launch of their global platform today, but the company is mainly addressing developers. As I mentioned earlier, following a developer-centric strategy is the best that GREE can do – but rolling out a new app and two new games to, you know, appeal to end users and show the strengths of the platform to other companies, is a bit thin in my view.

New GREE platform for developers

Developers can download the new GREE platform SDK (3.0.0β) from here.

GREE explains:

This all-new, lighter SDK will offer developers access to a series of social features – including an Invite Service, a Request Service and a Share Service, as well as casual API’s, including Leaderboards and Achievements — all with the goal in mind of building a strong developer and player community.

New GREE platform for players

Now here comes the disappointing part: GREE apparently managed to get just two new games in English ready for players, Pirates Age and Cerberus Age, next to a new GREE “portal” app (iOS, Android).

Screenshot from the US App Store:

Pirates Age and Cerberus Age are localized versions of two of GREE’s most popular 1st-party games in Japan, offered as separate apps. The titles can be accessed from within the GREE portal app (which has been available in Japan all along).

Technically, the Japanese and English portal apps are the same. GREE has taken “a hint or two” from Facebook’s smartphone app for the UI (notice the icon on the top left, for example: tap it and just like with Facebook’s app, a new menu appears on the left).

Would it be too much to call this a rip-off? Judge for yourself:

The same page, after tapping the triple bar icon on the top left:

Players can expect an “app portal” (from where the games can be accessed), a “stream” (a newsfeed), friend lists, communities, etc. The games are separated into different categories:

What’s weird is that I can’t access the US apps (Zombie Jombie, Alien Family, and the 2 new titles) from within the app from Japan. For example, if I search for “Pirates Age”, the search yields no results: I had to go to the App Store, search for the app there and download it to have it appear in the Japanese GREE app.

If I didn’t have a US iTunes account, I’d be out of luck: but wasn’t the pitch that US developers can reach the IAP-crazy Japanese user base through one, integrated platform? Hopefully, this will be changed soon, as this isn’t really a “global” approach.

The Japanese app uses English menus (probably because I am using English in the device setting for my iPhone) and pulls Japanese GREE games, as to be expected.

I was notified that outside Japan, GREE offers up Openfeint-powered games in the English app (thanks, Daniel):

Noogra Nuts, which you can see above, for example, is still Openfeint (not GREE)-branded AND paid – even though GREE says in the press release today the plan is to focus on freemium games. Needless to say, the game isn’t accessible from GREE’s app in Japan.

This is also new (from GREE’s press release today):

As part of its initial launch, the GREE platform will be available in both English and Japanese with plans to launch over 60 titles and localize into 14 other languages by September 2012.

That’s the first time I hear about the date in September. I am interpreting this as a postponement of the real launch date, apparently GREE is trying to stretch the launch from May to September.

I am fully aware that building a mobile social networking app isn’t trivial and this is a beta, but I was expecting more from this launch. For the last months already, I have been under the impression that GREE has a PR and Communications problem: drumming up interest for months and then coming up with a half-baked platform isn’t a good sign.

The press release today doesn’t even mention the app, it just talks about the SDK. I am really wondering who inside GREE greenlights such decisions.

Again, I know the app is in beta, but DeNA was more clever in launching the iOS version of Mobage in English in the US App Store quietly and going from there. Mobage’s international version was launched with one title more on iOS and with no PR efforts at all in March.

In July last year, DeNA launched Mobage in English on Android (also in beta) with 23 games. I was expecting something in the same ballpark from GREE today.

GREE plans to translate the app into a total of 14 languages by September: I hope the company uses the time for rapidly ramping up the number of games, ironing out the UI kinks, and turn the app into a truly global platform for social games. There is not much time.

Serkan Toto About Serkan Toto
I am the CEO & Founder of Kantan Games, Inc., a Tokyo-based game industry consultancy focused on the Japanese market. Please subscribe to updates on this site via RSS or Email.