We recently had the chance to play with GCrest’s TinierMe, a virtual world dedicated to Japanese anime and culture, and we were pleasantly compelled by the authentic Japanese presentation and rich graphics. To follow up, I had a chance to visit with Masaru “Nogi” Ohnogi, the CEO of GCrest America and Emily Joffrion of Inner Circle Labs who’s working with TinierMe to help promote the game in North America. We discussed the social elements of TinierMe, the formation of the business, a few key metrics and more. Read the interview after the jump.
First off, for those of you who haven’t tried the game, check it out here. TinierMe represents one of the first of a wave of Japanese games that are hitting Western shores and attempting to cut into the booming Facebook gaming market. The distinctly Japanese art style and user interface differ greatly from the current slew of Western games, and we at Social Times are taking particular interest and will be reporting on the growth of various Japanese social games in the weeks to come.
Social Times: TinierMe seems to be aimed at fans of Japanese culture and anime fans specifically, so what are you doing to find and recruit those users specifically?
Masaru Ohnogi: We have started by recruiting through targeted advertisements and cross-promotion from our other games.
Emily: We’ll also be doing promotion at Anime Expo, and we’re looking into other places where we can visit and meet users when they’re away from their computer. We want to remind them that we’re around. Something I love about the TinierMe world is the fact that the game focuses on education about Japanese culture itself, rather than just theming the game with Japanese players. Events like the Sakura Blossoms and traditional Sword Fighting events are great for young players who want to experience cultural events like this but may not have the social skills or means to go out and see them for themselves.
ST: Interesting that you’re aiming at engaging with user’s real emotions and interests by using this social game as a medium. Was it part of your original design goal to engage people in this way about Japanese culture, or was it a social game first and the Japan theme came along after?
MO: The TinierMe game started in Japan, and is very popular as a game titled @Games. We wanted to bring this experience and animation style to the overseas market, and found that social gaming is a perfect way to start. This game was designed for the Japanese user and the fact that it is authentic was one of the first reasons we thought it would work overseas.
Emily: We’ve been asked about how we differentiate from other similar Japanese games, and we see this as an echo of an authentic Japanese experience. This is a game being played by kids who have read manga all their life, and they are going to know the subtle nuances that make this truly Japanese.
ST: So how did this game take off in Japan then?
MO: In Japan, the game is called “@Games”, and gained popularity by being one of the first great web game series. We saw that this was a great series to take over to the United States, but we needed to do some modifications. That’s where I came in.
ST: So what’s your specific role and how did you personally get started on this project?
MO: I was chosen by GCrest, our parent company, as the person to translate this business to North America. Some of my tasks were to examine the branding, modify the product and develop business relationships over here. Before this, I started a successful virtual currency company in Japan.