Japan's Gree quietly launches new mobile chat app

The Japanese mobile game firm is developing the app with Netherlands-based eBuddy

Japan's Gree, which runs a large mobile gaming platform, is quietly rolling out a test version of a new chat app called Gree Messenger.

The app was released to India, New Zealand and Australia over the past two days without an official announcement. It is currently available in an iOS version on iTunes and an Android app in the Google Play Store.

"This is just a beta launch. We don't know yet when we will release the final version," said Gree spokeswoman Amiko Tomita.

Gree's app seems similar to LINE, a wildly popular group chat and voice app that has had major success in Japan. Developer Naver, a South Korean firm, says LINE has over 88 million users in over 230 countries worldwide.

LINE is popular because it provides private chat rooms that are invitation only, allowing groups of friends to keep running conversations. It has expanded by using uploads of users' address books from their phones, creating virtual networks that mimic those in the real world, and generates income by selling avatars and ad-sponsored icons.

Gree's rollout follows the launch of a similar chat app by chief Japanese rival DeNA in October. DeNA's "comm" service also includes a chat feature as well as an online telephone service similar to LINE.

Similar to its rivals, the new Gree Messenger app allows users to easily share photos, videos and locations in group chat sessions. It also provides "stickers," icons that can be inserted into conversations.

Gree is developing the app together with eBuddy, a Netherlands-based firm that runs a chat app popular mainly in Europe. Gree took a minority stake in eBuddy earlier this year.

The aggressive Japanese game operator has a stated goal of 1 billion users. It launched its global app platform in May, incorporating the assets of U.S. platform operator OpenFeint, which it acquired last year.

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