It’s no secret that the mobile messaging space is growing at rapid pace in Asia, and now Japanese mobiles games firm GREE has jumped into the action. The company — market cap $3.8 billion — is gearing up to launch GREE Messenger for iOS and Android in 2013 after giving the app a quiet launch in three test markets today.

Tech In Asia got wind of the app after seeing it on Japanese blog TechWave. We reached out to GREE and a spokesperson confirmed that the test versions were made available today, but there will be no worldwide launch until next year:

We have released a chat app in India, Australia and New Zealand, but it’s only a test version, which is why we haven’t announced it at this time. We’ll be able to talk about it more in 2013.

GREE also confirmed that the app is built by Netherlands-based eBuddy, the messaging specialist that it bought a minority share of in October.

The app, which is free, looks and behaves much like any other in Asia. It includes cartoon-like stickers — near-standard on popular chat apps in Asia — text chat, group chatting, photo/video sharing, location and more. Contacts can be imported via a phone’s address book or Facebook.

gm1 horz 730x427 Mobile games firm GREE test launches messaging app ahead of global rollout in 2013

Introducing apps to smaller, Western-like markets, such as New Zealand, is a strategy that a number of app makers use when testing applications, so it isn’t a surprise to see the app tentatively emerge in this way. What is more unexpected, is that GREE is making a very late move to a market that is increasingly saturated and crowded.

Asia’s leading messaging apps Line (85 million users), WeChat (200 million users), Nimbuzz (100 million users) and Kakao Talk (70 million users) are pulling away from the pack, where Western services like Kik (30 million users), WhatsApp (userbase unknown) and Tango (80 million users) are also seeing strong growth globally. All of that leaves very little space for new entrants, and those trailing the leaders will likely fall well behind.

Interestingly, GREE’s move comes almost two months after arch-rival DeNA launched its ‘Comm’ messaging and voice app. Even though both services have strong userbases in their native Japan and other parts of the world, it is hard to see them challenging the dominant set at this stage.

Indeed, I spoke with Tango CEO Setton earlier this month and he explicitly told me that he believes it’s too late to launch a new messaging app, since the market is already saturated. However, there is real synergy with games and Tango — like KakaoTalk and Line — is pushing hard to bring gaming to its app. As a games platform itself GREE, like DeNA, has a massive advantage in that it has a ready-made catalogue of titles and publishers at its call, that could be decisive and a link between its games platform and the messaging app could bring it users, irrespective of the growth of its competitors.

We’ll have to wait for more from GREE to work that out, however.

For now, the app can be found in the AustraliaNew Zealand, and India App Stores. It is also on Google Play, where it is subject to similar geographical restrictions.

GREE has had a tough time of late. Increased regulation in Japan and the cost of international marketing saw a recent profit slump continue into its third quarter, despite the company posting net sales of $467 million, a 25 percent increase on a year previous. GREE just made 25 redundancies from its US business as it transitioned now-shuttered OpenFeint to its Japanese operations.

Headline image via revdancatt / Flickr, screenshots via App Store

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