You may not be familiar with the name GREE but if Yoshikazu Tanaka - company founder, CEO, and Asia's youngest self-made billionaire - has his way you soon will be.
And that's because the world's largest mobile social gaming platform is coming to Europe. Yes, world's largest. That's not to say that it necessarily has a bigger user base than Zynga (200 million and growing) but the Japanese company is keen to emphasise the "mobile social gaming " aspect to its platform. It offers social network features such as status updates, that its Google-backed rival doesn't.
So why haven't you heard of them? Well, until now, GREE had no real presence outside of its native Japan where it dominates the App Store top games lists with its own titles, as well as being involved in third party games with most of the big Japanese gaming giants such as Konami, Capcom, Square Enix and Sega.
"Facebook doesn't have original games and Zynga has no social network," said the 35-year old Tanaka at a European launch event in Paris, at which Pocket-lint was in attendance. "This is our biggest advantage and characteristic compared to these other players." The European launch saw GREE team up with French gaming heavyweights Gameloft and Ubisoft as part of an all-out global assault.
Gameloft is, of course, already well-established in Europe and GREE's partnership with the French publisher will kick off with a card-based RPG with the working title Gang Domination. Ubisoft's first alliance will come courtesy of a social-gaming tie-in with the forthcoming Assassin's Creed 3 launch.
Launched by Tanaka in 2004, GREE's first social game landed in Japan in 2007. It now has more than 198 million users worldwide (partly due to it acquiring American social gaming company OpenFeint for $104 million in April last year) and is apparently growing at a rate of 3 million users per day. Its aim, "within three to five years", says Tanaka, is to exceed 1 billion users worldwide.
Whether a card-based mobile game and a spin-off from a popular console title is enough to achieve that remains to be seen but one thing is for sure, Tanaka means business. GREE was the fastest-growing tech company in two of the past four years in Japan, has a targeted revenue of £1.33 - £1.42 billion in 2012 and is already ranked in the top 15 global internet companies despite it not yet having a real global presence.
It's definitely a company worth keeping an eye on.
The GREE platform will launch in Europe in Q2 2012, and the new Assassin's Creed title will be available in December.