Japanese Gaming Giant GREE Debuts Its First U.S.-Designed Title For Western Audiences

GREE, the $5.9 billion Japanese mobile gaming company making a big push in international markets, debuted its first-ever title designed by U.S. talent for Western audiences today.

Taking the evergreen zombie theme that has fueled countless mobile gaming hits, GREE’s game “Zombie Jombie” is designed from the perspective of zombies who must battle humans. In the game, players become a “Jombie,” which has the power to raise and control zombies. It’s a trading card game where players must build a deck of cards representing different zombies to compete with friends. They can battle each other, bosses, or do quests in different U.S. cities.

This game is a big test for GREE. Compared to U.S. gaming companies like Zynga, the company is almost absurdly profitable. GREE has triple the profit margins that Zynga does. (Crazy.) The company made 12.7 billion yen ($152.7 million) on 41.5 billion yen ($497.8 million) in revenue in the last quarter alone. And those numbers were about triple what they were a year earlier. Zynga in contrast did $37.2 million in net income excluding a massive, one-time charge related to its IPO on $311.2 million in revenue in the same period.

The question is: can it grow outside of its home market of Japan?

GREE has a very distinct model in which it is both a platform for other games and a game producer in its own right. In the U.S., companies that support gaming platforms like Apple and Facebook would never produce their own in-house titles. It’s just not clear yet whether the company has the right understanding of U.S. tastes and culture to succeed. That’s why it has hired so aggressively in Silicon Valley, going so far as buying a billboard in the hope that local talent will help the company find its way. It also recently opened a 40,000 square foot gaming studio in San Francisco.

On top of that, GREE wants to earn revenue from more than just its own games. It wants to build a global platform where it can take an additional 15 percent cut of revenues from third-party games after Apple’s or Google Android’s 30 percent share. It plans to roll out a global mobile gaming platform last year, on the back of its $104 million acquisition of mobile-gaming network OpenFeint last year.