Key Differences for Mobile IP Licensing in the US, Japan, and China

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Games that use licensed IP have a consistent presence in the top-grossing ranks of iOS games. Finding the correct IP for your genre and market can significantly differentiate your game’s player acquisition, especially in the post-IDFA era. Good intellectual property is compatible with a game’s subgenre, player demographics, and game feature set and must be combined from an early stage to ensure an optimal gaming experience. Let’s take a look at some of the IP utilization trends and how they differ significantly across three of the top iOS markets we tracked: the US, Japan, and China.


Above: External IPs in the US market.

Above: Actions of different IPs by type.

Looking at the most successful games on the US iOS market, it is clear that with the notable exception of Pokémon Go, the top 10 list is filled with original games that are not based on known external IPs. .

Looking at the current data, we see that the proportion of IP-based titles (excluding PC and mobile IP such as Call of Duty, Angry Birds or Candy Crush) had increased modestly to 27% compared to when we last looked in 2019when it was 24%. The distribution of different types of external IPs is relatively uniform across the US, where IPs based on consumer products and TV / movies are leading the way. We can also see a variety of types of game genres that use the IP, from midcore games such as turn-based, fighting and action RPG to casual Match 3. There are also narrative-based games like Interactive Story and Adventure.

Above: Subgenres of the 100 highest grossing games held in the US with a TV / movie IP.

In these top 100 grossing games, there are clear synergies between IPs and game subgenres. IPs with a rich selection of heroes and villains, such as the Marvel Universe, are combined with subgenres of RPG that take full advantage of this diversity. The same goes for 4X strategy games that use the rich selection of existing characters and the dynamics of competing factions present on IP such as Game of Thrones.


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For the US market, the most successful IP strategy is to take a brand known as the Marvel Universe, with its extensive roster of characters and action-packed world, and adapt it to a sub-genre of RPG. The American market also favors fighting games more than China and Japan, which often opt for turn-based or action RPGs.


Above: External IPs in the Japanese market.

Sixty-six percent of the top 200 top-earning iOS games are based on some type of external IP. What distinguishes Japan from the US (but, as we’ll see, it’s similar to China) is that a large chunk of these IPs are popular game titles existing on other platforms, with 57% of games based on in IP that they have the game (PC / console / arcade) or the type of IP of the game (mobile).

Anime / manga is the most popular non-gaming IP used in the 200 highest-grossing games in Japan. This reflects the popularity of comic and television-based IPs in the US Since popular anime and manga franchises are widely known, they are easy to integrate into the broader brand universe. Another type of IP that stands out is the use of PC / console / arcade IP. However, this is usually the result of using cross-platform IP like Pokémon or other anime and game iterations.

RPGs, especially turn-based games, are a popular choice to combine with anime / manga IP. This follows the general popularity of turn-based RPGs in the Japanese market. In the RPG genre, 72% of the games on the top-grossing 200 list have an external IP. The most popular are anime / manga with 22% and games (PC / console / arcade), with 30%. While there may be some overlap between these (Fate / Grand Order is an example of a game with both), the two emerge as clear favorites in high-performance RPGs in Japan.

Above: Top 100 highest grossing games held in Japan with anime / manga IP. This list is full of different types of RPGs.

RPGs often dovetail well with anime / manga titles, as both tend to be character-driven, with existing fan bases for both the title and the individual characters. This provides ample opportunity for character collection and development mechanics and gacha or other monetization based on character acquisition. People are likely to want to collect and develop their favorite characters perfectly.

Other sub-genres like Match-3 use far fewer IPs, with many successful entries being the same as what we see on top-grossing charts in other markets like the US However, this dynamic changes when we look at the puzzle-RPG sub-genre, where Anime IPs are popular again. This includes hit titles such as Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle, which is currently in the top 50 gross. This again shows that anime IPs work well with deeper games with character development and gathering mechanics.


Above: External IPs in China.

Above: Different types of IP in China.

PC / console / arcade IP-based games dominate in China with 51% of IP games opting for this type. Most of these come from PC games, as consoles are restricted in China.

Japanese anime / manga titles are also popular, with localized Japanese games and original productions made for the Chinese market using anime and manga IPs, such as One Piece: Fighting Path, making its way into the top 200 box office. However, all other types of intellectual property are relatively evenly represented in this market.

Above: The most successful Chinese mobile games based on the game sub-genre (PC / console / arcade).

Comic / novel IPs are also popular, which explains the popularity of games based on wuxia (martial arts) and novels of the MMORPG subgenre. These novels tend to be widely known among Chinese readers and often have expansive character rosters and are inspired by ancient China, which fits the aesthetic popular with many Chinese MMORPGs. Moonlight Blade is an example of a game based on a classic wuxia novel, along with 100 other major titles such as The Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils.

Popular Chinese games tend to lean heavily towards midcore sub-genres like MMORPG and 4X strategy. A peculiarity of the Chinese market is that they are often adapted from existing PC game titles, with expansive storylines and relatively complex gameplay mechanics. Examples include Three Kingdoms Tactics and Moonlight Blade, both of which are in the top 20 grossing and are adapted or based on PC games.

The Chinese mobile gaming market favors more serious and complex IPs at the cost of lighter IP types that were often initially targeted at a younger audience (brands like Pokémon come to mind). The game’s more expansive worlds and serious and deep stories and traditions fit well with midcore games. The main reason for complex IPs is the region’s history with the history of PCs and therefore their IPs. While there have been initiatives to limit minors’ gambling for some years now, the government has not really strictly enforced them. The most recent restrictions that were implemented in the last month could have some effect in the future. For example, five years ago there were no limitations for minors of any kind and the market already favored more “complex” IPs.

That We have learned

IP usage in all markets hovers around 25% -30% when we exclude existing game IP types (think Pac-Man, Warcraft, and the like). This means that there is still room to discover new opportunities to combine games with a popular IP (such as Demon Slayer). As we’ve seen, the three markets here have significant differences in what IP brands manage to be commercially successful in the iOS market. In top-grossing games, local is king – each market favors IPs consumers already know and love, such as anime titles for Japan and comic book and television properties for the US.

Finally, in the post-IFDA world, IPs can serve as a vital organic pathway for user acquisition. By leveraging a well-known brand with an established enthusiastic fan base and combining it with the right type of game, developers and publishers can access a large potential pool of players who will discover their game. without view targeted ads.

Mikael Orpana is the Head of Marketing for analytics company GameRefinery by Vungle, which provides role-level analytics, market insights and benchmarks for the mobile games industry..


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