2016 might go down in gaming history as the year in which Pokémon GO conquered the world. Nintendo and Niantic's record-breaking smash hit dominated the mobile gaming market globally, topping mobile download charts in 70 different countries simultaneously since its initial launch on July 6, 2016. But there's one corner of the world that has resisted total Pokéfication, and it might just be the last place you'd expect.
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Fate/Grand Order Rules The Mobile Game Market In Japan
The game is based on an anime TV series called Fate, and the setting allows players to travel back in time and team up with historical figures like Julius Caesar, Leonardo da Vinci and Joan of Arc in order to save the world from an impending apocalypse. As is typical in mobile gaming, the base game is free to play, but players can purchase items that unlock content or speed up gameplay.
The story must be compelling enough to persuade players to invest real money in the game, because Fate/Grand Order has been on or just under the top rank for Japan's app revenue rankings all year and has been downloaded more than 7 million times since its release in July 2015. Throughout 2016 it has smashed #PokemonGO in daily revenues, too, beating the Pocket Monsters on their home turf.
At Sony's latest quarterly financial report, Sony Chief Financial Officer Kenichiro Yoshida highlighted the game at a press conference for its significant financial contribution. Fate/Grand Order's success is a sign of how important Sony's gaming and entertainment businesses are to the company as they struggle with narrow profit margins in the hardware sector. The company plans to follow up with more titles in more markets in the coming months.
The Secret To Success? A Deep, Involving Story
The original Fate TV series and more recent game emerged from Sony's Aniplex studio, which has a focus on producing anime TV shows and movies. Atsuhiro Iwakami, the studio's president, came up with the idea to branch out into gaming three years ago when he realized the show's narrative complexity and large cast of characters lent itself well to the mechanics of mobile games.
So far, the depth of Fate's story seems to be keeping fans engaged, and the game's writers very busy indeed. Every time there's a gap in the story line, usage drops, so there's a lot of pressure to keep up the pace of the narrative. Because the time travel plot allows the game to be set in any period of history, they have a lot of source material available to turn into game content.
The Fate fictional universe is dense and complex, featuring magic, time travel, romance and rather unconventional interpretations of historical and legendary figures. For example, Fate/Grand Order's roster includes a minotaur beserker and a corpulent but brilliant Julius Caesar, as well as King Arthur and Attila the Hun presented as hot girls. The player can team up with these 'servants' to defeat enemies like King Solomon, the legendary Hebrew monarch and binder of demons.
Could Fate/Grand Order Work In The West?
At the moment Fate/Grand Order is only available in Japan and some parts of China, largely because of its reliance on the Fate anime series fanbase. Without a big push of related media into Western markets, it's hard to see Fate/Grand Order garnering new fans on pure gameplay alone.
On top of that, the ultra-stylized fanservice-heavy aesthetics of the game might be par for the course in Japanese media, but may be quite off-putting to Western audiences. A lot of the designs would come across as too sexualized or deviate too much from their historical/mythological source material for players to take seriously.
There's also the issue of the game's microtransactions. Fate/Grand Order makes money through typical Japanese 'gacha' technique, which encourages players to buy virtual items without knowing what they have already been paid for. Many of these manipulative tactics have come under fire from regulators, and unethical microtransactions have become one of the main rage triggers of the gaming community.
Fate/Grand Order trailer shows off their distinctive style:
Of course, even if replicating the success of Fate/Grand Order in European or American markets would be difficult, it could still be a model for the next big hitting mobile game sensation, one that moves away from story-lite Pokémon GO and tries to get people invested with an evolving storyline and deeper tactical gameplay. With the right cultural approach, we could be seeing Fate/Grand Order, or something like it, take over mobile gaming at some point in the near future.
Would you like to see Fate/Grand Order released in the West?