Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) is looking toward mobile gaming markets in Japan and Korea to boost Google Play revenue, according to a recent Bloomberg report. Google will increase support for Japanese publishers like Square Enix, Colopl, Mixi, and GungHo Online Entertainment, and expand its team in Seoul to provide better support for Korean developers. Google will also offer translation assistance, face-to-face meetings, more analytics tools, and assistance for smaller developers.
They are doing this to help close the "app gap."
Google Android is installed on 84.7% of the world's smartphones, compared to 11.7% for Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS, according to research firm IDC. However, Google only paid out $5 billion to developers over the past year ending in June, compared to $10 billion from Apple. Since both Google and Apple take a 30% cut of the revenue from apps, it means that Google is only generating half the app store revenue as Apple from seven times as many mobile users.
Meanwhile, App Annie announced in January that three countries -- the U.S., Japan, and South Korea -- accounted for a whopping 75% of Google Play's revenue. App Annie also ranks Japan as the largest app market in the world, followed by the U.S. and South Korea.
A concentrated strategy for Japan and Korea, which Google has lacked until now, could be essential in pulling even with Apple.
Are Android gamers cheaper than iOS ones?
According to research firm Swrve, iOS users spend roughly 45% more on in-app purchases than Android users, although Android users spend more time playing games and using apps. According to Andreessen Horowitz's Benedict Evans, this problem is due to Android's dominance in low-income countries and the cheaper price of Android handsets, which appeals to a thriftier crowd.
Gamers in Japan and Korea, however, spend heavily on mobile games. Last year, Japan's mobile gaming industry more than doubled in size to $5 billion in annual revenues, eclipsing console game sales in the process. The South Korean market was worth $754 million last year, while the U.S. market was worth approximately $3.1 billion.
What's amazing is that with a combined population of only 57% of the United States, Japan and South Korea generate 86% more annual revenue than the U.S. mobile gaming market -- clearly indicating that gamers in those two countries are willing to spend much more on paid apps and in-app purchases.
The business of Japanese and Korean mobile games
The Japanese gaming market is defined by three things -- a lack of a PC gaming culture, a love for handhelds, and a preference for monster hunting and RPG titles.
Therefore, it's not surprising that games like Square Enix's Dragon Quest VIII, Mixi's Monster Strike, GungHo Online Entertainment's Puzzle & Dragons, and Colopl's touch screen RPG Shiro Neko Project have dominated Japanese mobile gaming charts over the past year. Shiro Neko Project notably became Japan's fastest growing smartphone game earlier this month, hitting 12 million downloads in less than two months. GungHo Online was the country's top grossing app developer last year, thanks to Puzzle & Dragons, which has been downloaded more than 30 million times.
The South Korean market is dominated by games designed for Kakao's KakaoTalk, the country's top mobile messaging service. Like Naver's LINE and Tencent's WeChat, Kakao games connect to the messaging app to create a social gaming network. Kakao's puzzle game Anipang was its first big hit, and was downloaded 400 million times within the first year. Since then, Kakao has branched out with new trading card, puzzle, and RPG games. According to App Annie, six of the top 10 grossing iPhone games and seven of the top 10 grossing Android games in Korea were released by Kakao.
But what about China?
While it's clear that Japan and South Korea are fertile growth markets, Google will still have a tough time convincing developers to make Android exclusive games.
Many Japanese and Korean developers are expanding to China, the world's third largest gaming market. Unfortunately, Google Play is locked out of China, which means that Google can't monetize sales of Android apps within the country. Apple, however, runs a China-specific iOS app store with government approved apps and games.
This means that ambitious Japanese and Korean developers will likely develop iOS versions of their games before porting them to Android, which could keep Google from catching up to Apple.
A Foolish final thought
Google believes that increasing its local presence in Japan and Korea will lead to the development of more Android games from those two markets.
That may occur, but there's nothing stopping these developers from also launching iOS versions. Therefore, Google's initiative might generate more revenue from its Play Store, but I don't think it will close the revenue gap between Google Play and Apple's App Store -- that tough problem can't be solved with a simple regional expansion.
Leo Sun owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.