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GungHo details Puzzle & Dragons rescue plan following further decline

Japanese games firm investing in esports, manga, anime, toys and more as mobile hit struggles

GungHo Online Entertainment has unveiled Puzzle & Dragons Project 2018, a strategy that aims to restore the popularity and growth of the Japanese mobile hit.

Released six years ago, match-three RPG title Puzzle & Dragons was one of the nation's standout successes on smart devices, but waning downloads and user activity has prompted its publisher to renew its efforts behind the title.

Project 2018 revolves around the five key pillars of games, esports, manga, anime and toys, with a presentation to investors declaring the goal is to "position Puzzle & Dragons as a national game brand with enduring popularity."

Plans for esports tournaments and events seem to be central to these efforts, with GungHo announced the game has been certified as an esports title in Japan. Tournaments will actually revolve around spin-off Puzzle & Dragons Radar, released in 2016, and are planned to take place across all regions of Japan through April and May 2018.

The proposed anime TV series and manga books will promote these efforts, with storylines revolved around similar tournaments. The manga will be primarily aimed at children in order to increase the younger elements of the game's audience. The first manga issue will be published in March, with the anime to debut in April.

Both the anime and manga, as well as the core game and its Radar spin-off, will receive new toy lines throughout the year.

All of these efforts are planned with the GungHo's home market of Japan in mind. Despite efforts to grow Puzzle & Dragons abroad, the game has yet to see the same popularity in other markets. As of November 2017, Puzzle & Dragons has been downloaded more than 47m times in Japan - by contrast, it has only managed 12m downloads in North America as of September 2017.

The plans were revealed alongside GungHo's latest financial results. For the year ended December 31st 2017, the firm reported net sales of 92.3bn ($840m) - a 17.9 per cent decrease from the 112.4bn ($1.02bn) achieved last year. Profits fell by 19.8 per cent year-on-year from 27.9bn ($254.2m) in 2016 to 22.4bn ($204m) last year.

The decline was attributed largely to a decrease in net sales from Puzzle & Dragons, as well as increased advertising expenses as part of efforts to maintain the title's popularity. Spending on TV ads rose by 49.6 per cent in the fourth quarter to 2.56bn ($23.3m).

GungHo isn't solely relying on Puzzle & Dragons for future growth. The firm is gearing up for the release of Calcio Fantasista, a free-to-play football management game, with more new titles in development.

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