The success of the mobile game Cookie Run has highlighted a new and profitable business model that’s quickly spreading through the Asia-Pacific region. There, messaging apps are hosting games on their mobile platforms, helping game-makers drive downloads and grow their user base in exchange for a percentage of the game’s revenue.
But while major messaging services in Asia have entered into partnerships with Cookie Run proving that the strategy is successful, their U.S. peers like WhatsApp, have not yet adopted the method.
Cookie Run, an app developed by Seoul-based mobile game studio Devsisters, features a gingerbread man racing to escape from being baked. Since it debuted last year, it has become one of the most downloaded mobile games in Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and South Korea. To date, Cookie Run has been downloaded on about half of all South Korean smartphones, and has attracted 52 million downloads across Asia, says Devsisters.
The gingerbread man has maintained his momentum in Asian markets through a series of collaborations with major messaging apps. This includes its first partner, South Korea’s KaKao Talk, as well as the Japan-based messaging service Line. And soon, according to Devsisters, Cookie Run will expand to China through a partnership with messaging app WeChat.
In these deals, each messaging app charges Devsisters a certain percentage of the Cookie Run revenue – KaKao Talk takes 30 percent, and Line takes 50 percent – left over after Apple and Google take approximately 33 percent for distribution.
“It’s an interesting model we don’t see so much of in domestic markets,” says Tom Farrell, director of marketing at Swrve, an integrated mobile marketing automation platform. “Effectively, platforms like KaKao and Line pull in users by providing talk and messaging services, and within the platform promote games, in addition to other content.”
A Cookie Run player himself, Farrell explains that since these messaging services have a large user base, it can be worth it for a game developer to forfeit a percentage of revenue in order to reach more players and drive downloads.
Given that all of Cookie Run’s messaging service partners are currently based in Asia, it seems possible that their U.S. counterparts, like WhatsApp, could serve as distribution channels for game developers in the future.
However, Farrell thinks this business model is unlikely to catch on in the U.S. “WhatsApp is a great service that essentially does one thing and does it well,” he says. “And it’s also worth nothing that Apple in particular is not keen on apps or services that interfere with organic discovery of apps or games.”
“I wouldn’t expect WhatsApp to go down that path,” he comments.
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