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Made in the USA: Gumi Brings Some New Game Development Stateside

"Made" can be a flexible word, of course.

Gumi / Brave Frontier

Asia accounts for more than half of the $21 billion mobile gaming market, which explains why Western companies ranging from EA to King to Kabam are trying to reach its players. But gaming companies in Asia are also looking to travel in the opposite direction, to reach high-spending gamers in North America and Europe.

To do that, one such company called Gumi is coming around to an idea already practiced by some of its peers, like DeNA and Gree: Staffing up in the West.

“There’s no game for everybody, and the market is always local,” said A.J. Redmer, the newly hired boss of North American studios for Gumi. “There isn’t [even] an Asian market, there are a bunch of markets.”

This is something Gumi — a Japanese developer that regularly charts in the top 20 in revenue worldwide, but which has little name recognition this side of the Pacific — learned well when it launched an English-language version of its game Brave Frontier in Singapore. Rather than porting the game over from Japan, Gumi’s Singapore office rebuilt the game from its source code, heavily modifying it to respond to the country’s audience preferences rather than just swapping out the languages.

“In Singapore, everyone thinks it was made in Singapore,” Redmer said. “It won an award for best locally made game.”

Similarly successful culturalization happened in China and Korea, and late last year the game came to the U.S. Redmer said Gumi’s Western studios, including the main one he leads in Austin, Texas, are working on both culturalized versions of the company’s past games and totally new titles made explicitly for gamers stateside.

“You won’t see us doing JRPGs [Japanese role-playing games] or card battle games or puzzle games,” he said. “One of the charters is to not replicate what we already know how to do.”

In other words, Gumi wants to experiment with genres it hasn’t tried in Asia but that it thinks will resonate with Western audiences. The first new and original game from the 12-person Austin headquarters is likely more than a year from launch, he added.

In addition to the Austin HQ, Gumi has started studios in Vancouver and Kiev — though Redmer declined to share details about their composition — and acquired an existing studio in Europe. All three will make “games built only for the market they’re in,” Redmer said.

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