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Yahoo Japan's new game platform promises freedom from Apple, Google

Mobile titles playable in browsers, no apps required

Yahoo Japan shows off Game Plus at an event in Tokyo on July 18.

TOKYO -- Yahoo Japan rolled out Tuesday a platform for smartphone and other mobile gamers to play on the web rather than in apps, a move seen liberating developers from the constricts of app stores.

"We will overturn the status quo for games," Chief Operating Officer Kentaro Kawabe said at a launch event. Such boldfaced names as Square Enix Holdings President Yosuke Matsuda and producer Kou Shibusawa of Koei Tecmo Games, a group company of Koei Tecmo Holdings, were on hand to cheer the debut of the Game Plus platform.

Square Enix and 51 other companies have already stepped forward to take part.

Throwing off the yoke

Game Plus is expected to afford greater freedom to developers. Offering mobile games via the big app stores, developers must follow Apple's and Google's ground rules and surrender a 30% cut of revenues. They can make improvements only with permission, with screening taking a week or two. And if they put a button in the app that redirects users to a website selling related goods, for example, they can get in trouble for "bypassing" the app store operator.

"The creativity of games has been restricted," said Kouhei Waki, who oversees new services at Yahoo Japan.

Everything old is new again

In fact, mobile apps became popular only half a decade ago. Back in the heyday of personal computers and old-style cellphones, games and many other services were offered on websites.

But as smartphones gained steam, apps took center stage for their better graphics and speed. This has given much power to the likes of Apple.

Technological advances and today's greater bandwidth are leveling the playing field. Game Plus employs the HTML5 standard, suited for displaying videos, and offers a selection of titles. A Yahoo Japan payment service is used to collect in-game fees.

The platform offered 39 games on the first day, including a new release from Square Enix. They offer a seamless experience and responsiveness comparable to apps.

"Linking to the real world becomes easier, like buying a figure and playing the character in games," said Koji Tezuka of Bandai Namco Entertainment, a unit of Bandai Namco Holdings. Not having to download apps could broaden the user base.

Games demand advanced graphics technology and responsiveness. Changes in the gaming arena will not be difficult to pass on to other services, Yahoo Japan's Waki noted.

Yahoo Japan is looking further ahead toward launching a platform offering a variety of mobile software bypassing the need for apps. Whether the company can make a crack in the $62 billion app market remains to be seen.

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