Imagine a Final Fantasy-themed social game. Imagine your Facebook wall plastered with requests from friends who need a fistful of gil to buy themselves a sweet black Chocobo.
It might sound like a nightmare scenario to some, but a Final Fantasy social game is indeed in the works, and we can think of a few fans who will be happy to play it. Oh, and don’t panic: there are no current plans to bring the game to Facebook, so your wall will remain clean for now.
In fact, this yet-unnamed Final Fantasy venture is a partnership between Square-Enix and DeNA. DeNA is the company behind Mobage-town, Japan’s most popular cell phone gaming platform, and Mobage will also serve as home base for the Final Fantasy social game.
Even though we hear a great deal about Japan’s games struggling to remain relevant in today’s industry, there’s also a stream of intriguing news regarding the country’s advancements in the social games genre. Major Japanese game developers and publishers have social projects in the works, including Grasshopper Manufacture, Marvelous Entertainment, and ex-Capcom employee Keiji Inafune. Even more noteworthy is DeNA’s recent claim that it makes 30 times more per user than Facebook, and 15 times more than the Western world’s biggest name in the social game, Zynga.
A Final Fantasy-themed social game will definitely find an audience in Japan, and not just because of the popularity of its franchise or the saturation of Mobage-town. Japan’s dense cities made the country a prime spot for social gaming long before the term entered our vernacular. Consider even the earliest incarnations of the Nintendo DS and games like Nintendogs, both of which were engineered for data-sharing between two people taking the train, or simply walking near each other. Said features proved hugely popular in Japan, whereas the more staggered populations in North America found little use for games and systems that would bark happily when two like-minded gamers passed one another on the street.
Mobage-town doesn’t have a presence in the Western world (though DeNA is working on it: last year, it acquired the US-based mobile game publisher Ngmoco), but its success in Japan is tremendous. Whereas Facebook spam has made Western gamers cynical towards social gaming, Mobage-town houses millions of willing Japanese users who want to connect and play with one another.
Whenever we talk about Japan’s troubles in the industry, we should remember that the country’s market isn’t dying, but merely going through a transition. Despite the decreasing presence of the traditional games industry overseas, there’s no question that Japan’s social market is thriving.