'GREE Loves Indies:' Facebook And Zynga Rival Swoops In On Competition By Claiming Stake In Indie Market

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By Yannick LeJacq | October 9, 2012 4:28 AM EST

GREE Inc. (TYO: 3632), the Tokyo-based social game company that has continued to expand aggressively despite the apparent hardships faced by similar social media internet companies such as Zynga Inc. (Nasdaq: ZNGA) and Facebook (Nasdaq: FB), is taking another bold step into the Western social game marketplace as the native game industry in those regions continues to flounder.

GREE recently partnered with four new game studios based in US and Canada: Independent developers Enders Fund, Fathom Interactive, Fifth Column, and FreezeTag will all publish games on GREE’s social gaming network. Coming less than a month after GREE acquired App Ant Studios, another San Francisco-based casual and mobile game developer, this latest round of partnerships reaffirms GREE’s mission to bring its platform to a global audience by focusing on locally-sourced development. Already a formidable presence in the Japanese tech industry, the company is hoping to expand into a Western marketplace by focusing on small, independent studios through a new program called “GREE Loves Indies.”

"We're very focused on working with indie talent here at GREE and we're committed to helping these guys succeed," said Eros Resmini, senior vice president of developer relations and marketing at GREE International, in a statement describing the expansion. "We know each of these guys is different. Some need the technology and some want to leverage our know-how -- we're happy to help them however we can."

Announced Monday, the new “GREE Loves Indies” program will extend the social media company’s reach beyond mergers and acquisition alone by, in the company’s words, “recognizing and supporting the efforts of independent developers and small studios across the United States.”

“GREE Loves Indies will build on GREE’s ongoing commitment to independent developers, by offering them access to GREE’s worldwide resources and in-depth expertise,” the company said in an emailed statement. “As a part of GREE Loves Indies, GREE will work with an ‘Indie of the Month’ to launch the selected title to worldwide audiences on GREE Platform.”

“GREE is a strong supporter of independent developers. They are responsible for pushing the limits of creativity and driving innovation within the mobile industry and I feel we have a responsibility to give them the tools and knowledge they need to work their magic,” Resmini added.

Focusing on independent developers gives GREE the advantage of avoiding many of the production pitfalls and steep overhead fees that major companies like Activision Blizzard Inc. (Nasdaq: ATVI) and Electronic Arts Inc. (Nasdaq: EA) face whenever they set out to try and make the next “Call of Duty” level blockbuster. While the prospect of netting $1 billion in little more than a month is appealing to any tech and media company, most developers face the other side of the video game industry today -- high production costs, long development cycles, and all the insecurities of working in a hit-driven business. An independent mobile developer like Rovio Entertainment, meanwhile, can support itself for years off the success of a single franchise.

Beyond risks, working with locally sourced talent provides GREE two particular advantages. First, it leaves the company free to focus on maintaining the mobile platform as its core service while outsourcing the question of actual content production to third party developers.

Second, supporting independent developers taps into local tastes. And in the United States, Europe, and Canada, popular indie titles often attract a dedicated fan-bases that are disenchanted with the current mainstream game industry they see as profoundly iterative and risk-averse. Crowd-sourced projects like the Humble Indie Bundle, a service that sells a handful of indie titles in a pay-what-you-want system, regularly raises upwards of $2 million through its campaigns. In a list of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns compiled on Wikipedia, eight of the top ten most highly-funded projects were either video games themselves or game-related products.

GREE says it is “focused on building the world's leading gaming ecosystem for users and developers, while creating and supporting unique free-to-play game content.” The new “GREE Loves Indies” program is set to being in November, and the company says it expects the first title from the program to come out by the holiday season.

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