How Asia’s messaging apps will blossom as mobile platforms

Joshua Kevin
1:30 pm on Sep 17, 2013
line kakaotalk wechat blossom

Original image credit: SpaceElephant

Joshua Kevin is a former blogger at Tech in Asia and former community manager at KakaoTalk Indonesia. Now, he’s working on his own startup which he hopes to have fully launched early next year. You can follow him on Twitter, @jshkvn. The views expressed are his own and are not related to KakaoTalk in any way.

There has been a lot of debate about how messaging apps, especially those from Asia. Line, KakaoTalk, and WeChat are going to rule the world, starting from their own region or country, then expanding. While it’s still early days for these apps, I want to talk about something that’s often mis-interpreted: stickers.

Yes, those huge, animated stickers/emoticons were started by KakaoTalk and Line, then WeChat followed, and then even western companies such as Path and Facebook followed the trend. This has made tech blogs and the media, in general, go crazy about how stickers are going to set the social media world on fire and make tons of money for these companies. Yes, they’ll bring in some cash, but they won’t be the main source of income.

The importance of social gaming

Talking from my experience, stickers are just a tiny bit of income generation. The cutesy stickers are useful for people to communicate easily, and of course they add a fun factor into the chatting experience. Some users do buy sticker packs (Line got $17 million on stickers alone) plus brands can also use this channel as a way to reach out to users. But there is a bigger plan going on here.

We all know about SaaS or PaaS – software or platforms as a service. But what about ‘Messenger as a Platform’? Yes, this is gonna be the grand plan of each company with a chat app. When you have users, you can practically do anything on top of your platform. First checkbox: games. That is the most logical extension to be built on top of a messenger platform. Games + social effect + in-app purchases = $$$. Proof? KakaoTalk is the main distributor/publisher in Korea with a number of games in the top 10, with a collective $311 million in revenue

Line is doing exactly the same with its revenue from in-app game purchases already topping 53 percent and we are likely to see that increase a lot more with Line selling prepaid cards in Japan and Taiwan. Even WeChat, who at first seemed to be reluctant to bring games to its 300 million users, brought social gaming into its recent v5.0 update. WeChat maker Tencent is rumoured to have an office in Seoul to outsource or build games for its users. Reasons? People love playing games on their smartphone, and when you add leaderboards and social features, these games will go viral, hence making a lot more money than just selling sticker packs.

Shopping via chat apps?

Another future source of primary income is m-commerce. How? KakaoTalk has been experimenting with this option in a few ways. It has already sold products through the Kakao Gift feature, wherein you can buy a coffee for your friend in Starbucks, for example, without actually have to go to the shop. You can buy through the KakaoTalk app, plain and simple. Though it’s only available in Korea for now, it will expand soon to other countries, perhaps to Malaysia first. Rivals Line and WeChat look set to do the same thing.

We can look forward to some interesting years ahead for these messaging apps. I’m looking forward especially to the competition in emerging markets like Indonesia. So far, I think WhatsApp is still leading the way across much of Asia (excluding China) since it’s a simpler messaging app which is a natural replacement for SMS. For those in Blackberry-loving countries, there’s BBM, which appears to be used more by professionals and a more mature audience for whom stickers are not an attraction. In various other nations, it’s a battle between Line, WeChat, and KakaoTalk for dominance in individual countries. Yet, the same question remains: Will it be one winner that takes all the market, or can Asia’s diverse nations allow more than one messaging app to survive and actually make a profit out of their users?

(Editing by Steven Millward and Anh-Minh Do)

(And yes, we're serious about ethics and transparency. More information here.)

  • Joshua Kevin

    Almost a year since my last post! “: How Asia’s messaging apps will blossom as mobile platforms”

  • Eka Wirya

    I personally root for the giant dark horse: Google Hangouts.

    It is owned by Google, where a lot of people already use many of its products (search, calendar, gmail, youtube, android, etc)

    Another huge leverage: it’s preloaded on many Android smartphones. Google just need to market it better to let people know about its presence. Maybe include it on account activation the first time people set-up their phones.

    Google already has the ecosystem, mobile gaming included. With Google Play Games ( ), they have social, leaderboards and achievements covered.

  • justin

    “For those in Blackberry-loving countries, there’s BBM, which appears to be used more by professionals and a more mature audience for whom stickers are not an attraction” wow how could someone who lives in Jakarta make such a bad statement. btw BBM had emoticons 7 years ago before the first iphone was even released.

  • Joshua Kevin

    Hello Eka,

    Thanks for the comment. Personally I think that your argument might be right, but I chose to think differently. If you think about it, same can be said for Google+, an effort by Google to beat Facebook and Twitter in Social Networking, but apparently it’s not going mainstream at all. While these messaging apps are being used by more and more users everyday.

    Hi Justin,

    You know what kind of “emoticons” that I’m talking about :)

  • Mark Watts-Jones

    You’re absolutely right Joshua – considering messaging apps as “platforms” allows us to focus less on the individual ways that they monetize (for example stickers or games) and more on the opportunity for them to create new ways to monetize. At the moment I think most apps are copying each other (with the possible exception of LINE and WeChat) and that’s why there’s so much talk of stickers.

    The basic point is that it’s the size of the user base and the core messaging features that provide the foundation for the messaging apps and they must be innovative and creative on top of this in order to engage their users in new ways and earn some revenue from them. At the moment stickers and games are the flavour of the month, soon it will be official accounts but I think we can expect to see music, commerce, payments and anything else where the apps think can make a return.

    The key thing here of course is that the messaging apps need to continue to grow and retain their user base and add in all these extra features without undermining the core messaging experience which is why most of the uses started using in the first place. Too many poorly executed features will lead to users leaving.

    I posted recently on 10 ways that free messaging apps monetize at

  • Vincent

    Hi Joshua,

    Nice article! Love the way how you analyze the whole thing! Keep it coming! =)

  • Justin

    Yes stickers, I use them on we chat. Still was more shocked by saying that bbm was for professionals which is untrue especially in Indonesia, actually most fortune 500 companies block bbm and other apps on their corporate phones.

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