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Yahoo Japan launches gaming platform that bypasses app stores

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Yahoo Japan, operator of the nation's second-most popular website, announced a new web-based gaming platform called Game Plus.

[TOKYO] Yahoo Japan, operator of the nation's second-most popular website, announced a new web-based gaming platform called Game Plus.

The new service offers titles through cloud streaming and those built on HTML5, and starts Tuesday in Japan with 39 titles. Yahoo Japan is partnering with 52 game publishers including Square Enix Holdings and Koei Tecmo Holdings to offer new titles and re-releases of console games like Final Fantasy X.

Yahoo Japan joins Facebook, Tencent Holdings, and Rakuten in embracing web-based games, which allow smartphone and desktop users to play without downloading apps or software.

The technology is growing in popularity as it circumvents app stores run by Apple and Alphabet and lets publishers capture a bigger share of the mobile gaming market, which globally generated about US$50 billion in sales last year, according to App Annie.

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"Until now games were held back by hardware, but now through the web you can play freely anytime and anywhere you want," Yahoo Japan chief operating officer Kentaro Kawabe said at a press briefing.

Game Plus will offer a mix of free-to-play games with in-game purchases, and others that require a one time up-front payment. Many titles featured during a press briefing were aimed at female players, while streaming-based titles like Final Fantasy XIII are likely to appeal to more core gamers.

"Cloud streaming means you no longer need a console," said Gaku Sudo, head of Yahoo Japan's new service.

"As long as you have a smartphone or even a PC with low specs, you can use our service through multiple devices."

Games streaming has gained some appeal in recent years, mostly notably through Sony Corp.'s PlayStation Now service that allows gamers to stream and play PS3 and PS4 titles through their consoles or even PCs.

HTML5, the latest version of the language that powers websites, has in recent years been beefed up with graphical capabilities, allowing developers to create more sophisticated games.

Prior to HTML5, Adobe Systems' Flash was a popular way for people to get multimedia content via browsers and was used to power popular games like FarmVille. The two standards clashed for a while, but Flash wasn't supported on Apple's iPhones and eventually lost out.

For Yahoo Japan, games present a new potential growth engine. The company, which operates Japan's most popular website after Google, counts almost a third of the nation's population as users, accessing its news and shopping through online auctions.

Allowing its 39 million users to more seamlessly play games could boost revenue, which in the latest fiscal year rose 31 per cent to a record 854 billion yen (S$10.415 billion), driven by advertising and online shopping. Japanese gamers are expected to spend about 960 billion yen on mobile games this year, according to Yano Research Institute.

Unlike its former parent company Yahoo!, which was splintered into various entities, Yahoo Japan has thrived as a successful internet portal in Japan. It counts SoftBank Group as its largest shareholder, which holds 43 per cent of outstanding shares. Altaba, the investment company spun out of Yahoo!, is the second-largest with 35.6 per cent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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