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Why the Mobile Messaging War Will Be Even More Intense in 2013

Willis Wee

There are so many mobile messaging apps coming out of Asia - KakaoTalk, WeChat, Comm, GREE Messenger, Line, Cubie, and the list goes on. It’s getting pretty crowded. But I expect more local mobile chat apps to be launched this year because the space still offers a lot of opportunities, typically in gaming and in the vertical chat app space.

Newcomers will find it harder to stand out, and big players will begin to monetize their platforms. While many folks think chat apps as just for… well… chatting, I see them more like social networks — but without the noisy news feed or stream. It’s much more engaged and intimate because the people who you send messages to are the people who you really give a shit about, right?

Games work well on mobile messaging apps because people want to play with friends they actually know, not someone they met just once or twice. That is also why DeNA and GREE are scrambling to build their own mobile messaging apps, pouring on resources despite being relatively late entrants to this market.

And it might not be just games which will thrive within the mobile messaging app platform. Other verticals like mobile commerce could also work well with high user stickiness. Let me elaborate a little bit on this:

1. Market grab

WeChat dominates China. KakaoTalk dominates Korea. Line dominates Japan and is looking to snag a slice of China. It’s like a war out there now.

The rest of Asia is pretty much up for grabs. We are seeing a concentration of fighting going on in Indonesia where chat apps are working with local mobile carriers and partners and setting up bases across Southeast Asia. Tencent has been quiet about its movements but we know it is moving full steam ahead in Indonesia and Thailand. The market grab is for real but it isn’t quite in the media limelight just yet.

2. Mobile gaming platform

KakaoTalk and Line have proven that games make money on mobile messaging apps. So suddenly, everyone else wants to jump in. I have people asking me why Tencent hasn’t made a move into games for WeChat. Well, we asked the folks from Tencent but they declined to comment. My take is that Tencent is more focused on grabbing users than monetizing WeChat. Seriously, they don’t have to do anything else just yet. Tencent is rich. And if they decide to go into games, they certainly can. Tencent is strong in games anyway.

While the idea of a mobile messaging app as a game platform is fresh now, it may turn stale as more mobile messaging apps start hopping onto the bandwagon. Eventually, developers will become confused about who to build games for, and the one that offers the best revenue share ratio and an easy plug-and-play solution to host games would be the winner.

3. Vertical chat apps

Today, we have general social networks like Facebook and Twitter. If you want something more private with your family and friends, then go for Path. There are also general e-commerce sites like Amazon and Tmall and vertical commerce sites like Mbaobao and Lamiu. The point is, I believe the trend is the same for mobile messaging apps. In fact, it has already happened in a way. There are specialized chat apps for couples (Between, Lovebyte), ladies (Cubie), and for hook ups (Momo). There will probably be more specialized mobile chat apps in 2013. I also believe there will also be chat apps serving local markets in their own local languages too.

Admittedly that’s a lot of guesswork, but it’s just because I’m excited how this race will pan out. Whether you’re an investor or entrepreneur, watch this space closely as it may bring some very unexpected opportunities in 2013.

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