Tech

Tim Culpan is a technology columnist for Bloomberg Gadfly. He previously covered technology for Bloomberg News.

Yahoo Japan Corp. is an advertising company, and it's an e-commerce company. It's not a gaming company.

That's about to change.

The decision to launch Game Plus indicates that Japan's second-most popular website really wants to make a go of this new category, further evidenced by deals signed with 52 games publishers including Square Enix Holdings Co. and Koei Tecmo Holdings Co.

As Bloomberg's Yuji Nakamura and Yuki Furakawa wrote, Yahoo Japan now joins Facebook Inc. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. in embracing web-based games. This technology choice is important. By developing around HTML5, internet players can skirt the native platforms of Apple Inc.'s iOS and Alphabet Inc.'s Android while still delivering games on mobile and PC.

Games are a cornerstone of Apple's mobile ecosystem, accounting for 25.1 percent of active apps in July. Business titles trail far behind, at 9.8 percent. Games tend to attract more spending, too, either for paid apps or in-app purchases.

Find the Action
Games are by far the most popular category on iPhone
Source: PocketGamer.biz, Statista
Note: Data shows share of active apps in Apple's App store for July, 2017.

However, a look at its most recent investor presentation indicates little interest by Yahoo Japan executives in playing games. The first mention of the topic is on page 99 of a 106-page PDF, where it's lumped in with the last dot-point under Consumer Business. The leadership is obsessed with becoming a "Multi-Big-Data-Driven Company" and delivering better-targeted ads to content viewers and shoppers.

The Eyes Have It
Yahoo Japan is an ad and e-commerce business, driven by viewership and clicks. Games barely factor into its revenue model
Source: Bloomberg

Game Plus could aid in that endeavor. Internet executives from Jeff Bezos to Pony Ma are working hard to hold visitors on their real estate longer. It makes sense that Yahoo Japan would want to lure gamers in and keep them around, in order to collate more data and feed more ads.

It's hard to argue with the approach: Operating income has climbed an average 45 percent over the past decade, outpacing revenue growth that averaged 16 percent over the same period. Investors have been less impressed, though, with the stock lagging Tokyo's Topix Information and Communication Index.

Unimpressed
Yahoo Japan shares have been less fancied than most of their IT peers
Source: Bloomberg

But there are telltale signs that Yahoo Japan may be taking games seriously for their own sake. First, it's charging for access instead of giving away the entire library -- if the company wanted only to boost traffic, it wouldn't put up a paywall. Final Fantasy XIII, for example, will cost 1,800 yen ($16) for three years, while Final Fantasy X/X2-HD is priced at 3,400 yen. These are the kinds of prices you charge serious gamers, not eyeballs to which you just want to push advertising. 

By using HTML5, Apple and Android don't get their 30 percent cut, but there's a risk: Yahoo Japan might lose users as they click through to open a web page to play.

Adding gravitas to Yahoo Japan's entry is the parade of game industry executives at a Tuesday press conference. It's doubtful Square Enix CEO Yosuke Matsuda or legendary games producer Kou Shibusawa would have turned up if their products were to be used as mere clickbait.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Tim Culpan in Taipei at tculpan1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Paul Sillitoe at psillitoe@bloomberg.net