Hit horse racing game Umamusume: Pretty Derby reached 21 million downloads in June 2024 and is ‘now racing towards its English debut’ according to the Umamusume.com website and posts issued by its official social media channels.

But in Hong Kong a rival game developer stands accused of ripping off the Japanese sensation’s concept and look, and could lose an awarded subsidy from a Hong Kong Government development fund.

Fans of Umamusume outside Japan have been waiting for the game’s global release almost since it first launched in February 2021. It has since become Tokyo-based Cygames’ biggest seller, accounting for about 72 percent of the company’s mobile game revenue, grossing about US$2.4 billion, and has often been the Japanese App store’s number one game download.

Cygames is a subsidiary of CyberAgent Inc. which is headed by Susumu Fujita, the owner of G1 Kentucky Derby third Forever Young. The company has already set a worldwide launch date of 30 August this year for an Umamusume spin-off game in English titled Umamusume: Pretty Derby – Party Dash for Nintendo Switch, Steam, and PlayStation. The long-awaited full-blown original in English could be close on its heels for Android and iOS.

Forever Young Kentucky Derby
FOREVER YOUNG (centre) / G1 Kentucky Derby // Churchill Downs /// 2024 //// Photo by Michael Reaves

Cygames has announced that an English language demo of Umamusume: Pretty Derby will be live for fans to play during the upcoming Anime Expo in Los Angeles, which runs July 4 through July 8.

The Umamusume (which translates to Horse Daughters in English) multimedia franchise came to life in 2018 with season one of an Anime series. Famous racehorses – male or female – were ‘reborn’ as late-teen girls complete with horse ears and tails, and possessing the athletic ability and character traits of the real-life Thoroughbreds they are named for.

The franchise has manga books, live stage shows, songs, and an anime movie which grossed US$2.2 million to rank number one at the Japanese box office on its opening weekend in May, and remained in the top 10 for the next five weeks, raking in more than US$7 million so far. Umamusume now has a cult following not only in the rest of East Asia but also far beyond.

Umamusume Pretty Derby
Umamusume Pretty Derby / Cygames

Its growing popularity in Hong Kong saw the Hong Kong Jockey Club team with Ani-One to host live events at Sha Tin Racecourse earlier this year, as well as at its off-track betting outlets, where the Club also showed Season 3 of the Umamusume anime series.

Chinese versions of the iconic game have already been released, while a Korean version was issued in June 2022 through South Korea’s Kakao Games Corp. and was an immediate hit. The game made about US$2.3 million dollars on day one and topped South Korea’s Google Play and Apple App store lists.

The Traditional Chinese language version reached the Hong Kong market four days after the Korean launch, and in August 2023 Cygames released the Simplified Chinese version in Mainland China through the gaming platform Bilibili, only for it to be removed from the App store less than two weeks later and it is still barred. The Japanese version of the game has a dedicated following in China.

But Hong Kong game developer ML Interactive Limited has released its own horse racing game based on champion racehorses being ‘reborn’ as softly sexualised late-teen girls, complete with horse ears and tails. They have called it ‘Winning Derby’ and it is listed in the Hong Kong App Store as ‘coming soon.’

Winning Derby
Winning Derby / Hong Kong App Store

Like Umamusume, players are trainers who collect and prepare their horse girls for races through a training programme, to a backdrop of story progressions.

The ML Interactive version of the concept features high-profile international star horses: as well as Japan’s great champion Deep Impact, it uses the names of Hong Kong’s own superstar Golden Sixty, Australian legend Winx, and American hero Arrogate. It has been the subject of online accusations of plagiarism by Hong Kong fans of Umamusume and has suffered negative critique on platforms such as Reddit.

ML Interactive was chosen to receive a Hong Kong government subsidy of HK$450,000 to HK$550,000, to be paid out ‘on a reimbursement basis,’ from the Hong Kong Game Enhancement and Promotion Scheme, which operates under the Cultural and Creative Industries Agency, a branch of the Hong Kong government’s Culture, Sport and Tourism Bureau.

The government award also provides a spot at the Tokyo Game Show in late September, and provides two interns to help with the development, as well as free expert business guidance and marketing training.

David Morgan is Chief Journalist at Idol Horse. As a sports mad young lad in County Durham, England, horse racing hooked him at age 10. He has a keen knowledge of Hong Kong and Japanese racing after nine years as senior racing writer and racing editor at the Hong Kong Jockey Club. David has also worked in Dubai and spent several years at the Racenews agency in London. His credits include among others Racing Post, ANZ Bloodstock News, International Thoroughbred, TDN, and Asian Racing Report.

View all articles by David Morgan.

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