American, Japanese virtual habits differ

Online virtual worlds boast an expansive global fan base, and effectively communicating with and marketing to this diverse user base can present opportunities for professionals.

At TinierMe, an avatar-based world focused around Japanese anime, we have gathered user analytics from international online events, virtual communities and the TinierMe game center to unveil that, just as cultural characteristics differ from country to country, online user habits vary significantly based on geographical location.

These findings, based on research conducted in Dec. 2010 and culled from our base of over 1,000,000 users, can help professionals gain insight into significant virtual world marketing and communication opportunities.

TinierMe virtual world. (Image courtesy GCrest America Inc. )

Americans more interested in public discussions

The ways that users communicate with each other online can vary drastically through different cultures and geographic regions, and a strong communications strategy should be built around these customs in order to build healthy virtual communities. For example, in TinierMe, Americans are open to speaking publicly and love to start lively discussions in big groups and forums. Furthermore, many

Filipino users are fluent in both English and Tagalog, allowing them to form close-knit online Filipino communities where Tagalog is the main language used, while also openly interacting with other global users outside these groups. Users from Singapore live in a country that is geographically small and can therefore find each other in the real world and meet at offline events relatively easily.

Our initial fan base in Japan sets itself apart from international users as well. TinierMe was originally developed for the Japanese market, and we’ve seen surprising differences between our users on the Japanese site and those on the localized English site. Japanese users often prefer to chat in their own personal rooms with close friends, rather than the community at large. They are also much less likely to share real photographs of themselves, and rely heavily on their personal avatars to facilitate communication.

American users, on the other hand, love to personalize their profiles with photos, drawings and more. We were considering upgrading TinierMe’s current framework to the framework that is currently being used on the Japanese version of TinierMe, but have hesitated because although it would improve diary sharing functions and other social aspects of the site, it would prevent users from using HTML to customize their personal profiles by creatively adding photos, drawings and graphics, which we know is very important to our American users.

Foreign users explore Japanese culture

Another unique aspect that has set TinierMe apart from other international avatar sites is that users from around the world can experience authentic Japanese culture first-hand. Many international users share a strong interest in Japan and even choose Japanese names for their avatars.

Because TinierMe was originally developed in Japan and has strong ties with Japan’s creative community, we have built partnerships with major brands including anime artists and publishers and J-Pop musicians. Campaigns we’ve created with these partners have introduced new layers of Japanese culture to our user base, allowing our community to engage with characters such as Hatsune Mike and Black Butler, and the musician SUGIZO. Reciprocally, these popular Japanese icons bring their own following to our world, allowing loyal fans a deeper form of interaction and engagement.

On top of this, online events based on Japanese traditions such as hanami, or cherry blossom viewing in the spring, have been very well received by our members. We’ve also introduced clothing lines based on Japanese legends and historical periods. These items bring history to life. This is encouraging evidence of how a single culture can be marketed to the international community within a virtual world.

Virtual goods help extend brands

Online commerce and the virtual goods industry are rapidly growing markets, but are still new to many real-world retailers, service providers and marketers. Differences in purchasing behavior observed at TinierMe reveal new exposure strategy opportunities for a variety of businesses.

For example, our campaign with popular Vocaloid character Hatsune Miku was the largest grossing collaboration for our company to date. The popularity of the campaign within TinierMe gave Hatsune Miku extensive exposure to the international market, and even now after the campaign has ended the items sold are still worn by many of our users on a regular basis, leading to extended exposure for the Hatsune Miku brand.

Because we also have a large Southeast Asian user base, we also introduced the sponsor Alodia Gosiengfiao, a top cosplayer and model from the Philippines. Our partnership with Alodia has been mutually beneficial, increasing registration from the Philippines and also improving Alodia’s presence in North America.

Real-world retailers and marketers can not only effectively reach potential real-world customers within virtual worlds, they can also directly generate revenue via the online sale of branded virtual goods. However, we’ve observed significant differences in purchasing behavior among international users.

  • Americans typically are willing to spend more money on virtual goods (ARPU – average revenue per user – is around $20), however they still spend less than the average Japanese user. Japanese users spend the most amount of money on virtual goods on the Japanese TinierMe, with an ARPU of around $100.
  • Some of the differences between ARPU in Japan and the US can be explained by different pricing scales. For example one “gacha” item typically costs US$0.50 cents on our English site, compared to about US$3.50 on the Japanese site. We set lower prices overseas in order to allow a wider international audience to enjoy the site. This shows that it is possible and sometimes wise to consider the region you are marketing in and set different prices accordingly.
  • Southeast Asian users are avid collectors of online items, but tend to purchase less overall on TinierMe. They are active in collecting and trading items within virtual communities, and are enthusiastic participants in online events.
  • Japanese users often like to purchase single-item complete outfits for their avatars, whereas American users prefer to buy each item of an outfit separately and like mixing and matching. At this time all our content is localized and all items were originally created in Japan for the Japanese market, often as full sets. Due to the user feedback we have received, however, we are looking into creating more outfits with items separated by clothing category in the future just for the US market.

In terms of demographics, findings illustrate that the global majority of our members are between the ages of 13 and 21, but this rings most true in the U.S. and Canada, where nearly 90 percent of users are in this age range, compared to around 80 percent in the Philippines and Indonesia. The average American user is 18 years old, whereas the average user in the Philippines and Indonesia is 20 years old.

There are also differences in style and purchasing patterns online. For example, our Hatsune Miku Collaboration line was significantly more popular in the U.S., and Dark Fallen Angel, a gothic angel themed line designed in-house, was more popular in the Philippines.

It is important to be aware of international cultural differences when constructing events, marketing projects and clothing lines within virtual worlds, and to be aware of the varying characteristics of a virtual world’s user base. With a little knowledge and a clear objective, online marketing and communication via virtual worlds can be a highly effective way of reaching an enthusiastic international audience. International Avatar site developers should carefully consider different marketing and pricing strategies for different regions, and collaborating with real-world brands and pop stars etc. can improve both market presence and sales for both parties.

masaru.ohnogi@hypergridbusiness.com'

Masaru Ohnogi

Masaru Ohnogi is founder and CEO of Gcrest America, Inc. and vice president of global operations at Gcrest, Inc., an online game development and publication company. The company makes TinierMe, a Flash-based virtual world inspired by Japanese anime.

  • Mal

    Yeah, but now they raised the prices on the English site too, so now everyone on there is angry at TinierMe.

  • Angry TinierMe User

    American TinierMe is going down thanks to the recent change in prices. The people of TinierMe are sick of this, are fed up, and are upset at the way your people chose to handle this. By making things less affordable you didn’t help anything. Shot yourself in the foot. The site is going down thanks to corporate greed. Thanks for wasting 3 years of my life and over $300.00 of my money.