Eric Johnson

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PlayPhone Adds SingTel to Its Roster, Betting on “Not Yet Mature” Emerging Markets

WePlay by SingTel 3Game discovery and billing platform PlayPhone has signed another big carrier to its growing list of partnerships: SingTel, the Singaporean telecom that claims 477 million subscribers across Asia, Australia and Africa.

The important thing to note up-front: The vast majority of those 477 million users are still using feature phones, according to SingTel exec Cheong Hai Thoo. But PlayPhone, which offers a carrier-supported alternative to the main Android app store, Google Play, is betting that those users are the next big market.

“The market is not yet mature in the emerging markets where SingTel has a foothold,” PlayPhone CEO Ron Czerny said in an interview. But the “explosive” growth of mobile gaming in Asia, as he put it, means that it’s a necessary consideration for a company aiming to be a “universal” gaming platform.

PlayPhone’s alternative-games-only app store promises developers better distribution and discovery, and a means of reaching potential customers who don’t have credit cards, through direct carrier billing. The store combines what PlayPhone knows about its users and what data the carriers have on file to surface participating games in a way that it claims is both more organic and more accurate than Google Play.

While determining the truth of that statement is best left up to the users themselves, PlayPhone’s expansion into “not yet mature” markets in Asia makes sense, so long as it’s a long-term play. According to the Q3 market index made by mobile analytics tracker App Annie, Taiwan is now the fifth-biggest revenue generator for the Google Play store, behind Japan, South Korea, the U.S. and Germany, with 80 percent of that revenue coming from games.

“APAC (Asian-Pacific countries) is dominating Google Play from a revenue perspective,” App Annie VP Marcos Sanchez said in a recent interview. However, he added, the “industrialized countries are driving things.” Meaning, don’t expect immature markets to all start monetizing as well as Japan and the U.S. overnight. Smartphone adoption and revenue generation are an effect, not a cause, of a country’s industrial/economic maturity.

SingTel already offers carrier billing on Android independent of the new partnership, but only in its home base of Singapore. The SingTel-PlayPhone store, officially branded WePlay, will launch in Singapore and then roll out to Indonesia by the end of the year, and to the other countries in which SingTel has a footprint within the next six to 12 months, Hai Thoo said.

Previously, PlayPhone has partnered with Verizon, AT&T, Claro Brazil and Sprint. Some of the better-known developer partners listed on its website include ZeptoLab, IGT/DoubleDown and Glu Mobile.

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