Ignition Entertainment On The State Of Selling Niche Japanese Games

By Spencer . March 28, 2011 . 2:43pm

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Continuing our interview with Shane Bettenhausen from Ignition Entertainment, we switched topics from El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron and other in-house projects to licensed games. Way before, Ignition picked up the cult hit Deadly Premonition, they licensed a slew of niche Nintendo DS games like Boing! Docomodake, Tornado, and Blue Dragon Plus. Bettenhausen talks about the trial of licensing Nintendo DS games and hints at the company’s 3DS plans.

 

Let’s talk about another game, one that’s close to your heart, Deadly Premonition.

 

Shane Bettenhausen, New Business Development Director: Deadly Premonition was a game that nobody wanted us to bring out. I asked about the game because we have a relationship with Marvelous, a year and a half ago. I’m like whatever happened to "X game," you know it’s old name, and they were like, "that game?" Rainy Woods is like you’re not supposed to talk about that, but it was Rainy Woods five years ago. I asked about it and they were like, "Oh, you’re interested in that? It’s in development hell," basically. And I was like "Of course, I’m interested in that!"

 

I played Spy Fiction and I’m a fan of things Deadly Premonition is inspired by. As soon as I got a copy, I was like this game has to come out for all of the reasons – the writing, the creativity, the fact that it’s like Shenmue, you know it’s so ambitious. It isn’t the best game ever made. It has a lot of technical problems. That’s why we felt the price point that we chose was right. For sixty bucks the game might have been killed at retail, but at a more palatable price it became a success. And it is one of the most successful games we ever published.

 

Because it was so successful, would Ignition publish a sequel to Deadly Premonition or a spiritual sequel without Marvelous?

 

I would say the IP rights and kind of like the content rights of Deadly Premonition in general make it difficult to imagine a full, real sequel ever happening. I would love for that to happen, but I don’t think that will happen. However, Swery and Access Games, I would love to work with them again.

 

You mentioned helping out the little guy and Access Games kind of fits that picture.

 

You know, they aren’t as little as everyone thinks.

 

I realize they did Lord of Arcana too.

 

And that did well in Japan for Square. Secretly they help out with almost every Ace Combat game. I think Swery, given a lot of freedom and time to experiment, he’s learning so much about Western games and improving his own game design – he’s the kind of guy I would love to have a long standing relationship with to make cool games.

 

The number of options is shrinking, but what other Japanese companies are you looking at working with?

 

There are guys I would love to work with like Q? Entertainment or iNiS.

 

iNiS is here [at GDC]. They are looking for someone to publish their stuff!

 

We’re meeting with them. There are even little guys, the guys who made Tatsunko vs. Capcom, Eighting. When I met with them the dude was sitting across from me made my favorite shooter of all time, M.U.S.H.A., literally my favorite shooter of all time. You made my shooter, would you make another shooter? And he’s like "who wants a shooter?" [Bellows, in a stern voice] I want a shooter!

 

If I can ever convince him to make a new M.U.S.H.A.... I got to meet with Treasure. They don’t have any availability right now, but just the fact I got to sit across from Maegawa-san and talk about what kind of games he would like to make, if he could make any game he wanted for us. Those are the guys, people who have been making games for years and years, but who are a little undervalued these days. Really, these are super talented people.

 

Deadly Premonition was a hit…

 

Well, it was a small hit.

 

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But, other games may not have had the same commercial success. From a business standpoint, how can you fund these games?

 

I think the games I worked closely on since I came here, King of Fighters XII, Muramasa, and Deadly Premonition, most of all. Those games have done well for us. I think I’ve proven that a decent game, a good game, if handled correctly, if brought to market in the right way, and you let people know what’s good about it these games can be successful and be profitable. A lot of the other games that we brought over haven’t been profitable and sometimes they haven’t been good. My belief is if we keep choosing good games and bring them over the right way they can make money.

 

The company that owns us, UTV, is a giant Indian megacorp. Despite all of the up and downs of the last eight years at Ignition, I’ve been here two, they are still fully committed to funding our ideas. For me, last year was a little up and down, but they’ve proven to me they still want to make it happen. There is still a lot of potential here. So, I’m going to do everything I can to make it work.

 

Do you have any plans for the 3DS?

 

Yeah, we actually have some things already in the works, but I want some really cool Japanese games. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get things from Japan before the end of the year. But, it’s going to be a big fight, as you mentioned. Whenever a good game gets announced from an untethered publisher or developer in Japan it’s going to be a mad pile on to try and steal it.

 

It sucks because on DS especially, there are so many really good games we could have tried to bring them out. I was thinking 7th Dragon or Solatorobo. These are great games. I played these games and I wish that they were feasible in today’s market. But, the DS market just went south.

 

[Spencer’s note: In a Siliconera interview with Makoto Iwai, Bandai label President, he said there were no plans to release Solatorobo in North America.]

 

You don’t think those kinds of games could sell?

 

Not for the price that they cost. The problem is the developers and publishers in Japan they think "OK, this is a great game, you should give us this much money to bring the game to America. Because we think its going to sell this many copies." If you go back to them and say as good as your game is, the DS market being what it is, you can’t sell that many copies. But, they don’t believe you. So, it comes down to, well, sorry this can’t work out. Unless you want to take a loss and spend millions of dollars on a cool DS game you think is cool. But, when you put it out it only sells 5,000 copies you didn’t really help anyone out. So, it sucks.

 

I wish Nintendo in the future will have some download thing for the 3DS where you can bring out these old titles. Maybe or something, but there are so many good DS games that are not going to make it out here. That bums me out.

 

mura

 

What do you think about your own funding. I mean you’re funding Western developers now. Aside from Ignition Japan, are you considering to fund Japanese developers?

 

We already are. There are things I can’t say yet, but hopefully by E3… we can show you some more things being done in Japan. I still totally believe in Japan and I believe investing in Japan.

 

Are you funding Vanillaware?

 

I’m a huge fan of George Kamitani’s work. I love Muramasa, Odin Sphere, and I love Princess Crown. I was playing it on my PSP recently. He takes a really long time to do anything. Whatever it is that he is working on, when it is finally ready, I’m sure it will be awesome.


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  • Ladius

    It’s strange, as much as I loathe Ignition’s localizations Shane is always able to make a good impression. I don’t know if the faults stay with the rest of the company or if he’s simply very apt at pr, though XD

    • playmystation

      I vote for the latter. Something about this guys just makes me think he’s just good at BSing.

      • puchinri

        I started think the exact same thing the more I read his responses here and on the last article.

        • playmystation

          Thank you! I’m amazed people don’t see through this guy. He’s such a douche and contradicts his comments all the time. But the “madgod” fanboys are all over his teabag.

          • http://www.twitter.com/christaran Chris Taran

            It’s “mangod” and Shane was an awesome personality in his games journalism days. His quality of work since switching sides however is certainly questionable.

        • Joanna

          Yeah I’m starting to feel the same way, especially after he said 5,000 for good DS games. As bad as the market has been and even is right now, I don’t think it’s THAT bad. If anything, 999 and the second print run of Radiant Historia are showing that the market isn’t as bad as everyone has been thinking. Yeah it crashed in 09-10 because of the sheer amount of software coming out, but it’s recovering. Which is why I’m sad that no more publishers want to bring something out before the DS market moves elsewhere.

          • puchinri

            Exactly. I mean, as it is, some people don’t have the money to move on to another DS, and some of us still are enjoying our DS phat/lite/i/XL just fine. There’s plenty of demand and room out there for more DS titles to be released as ips and plenty to be localized. Same here.

    • superdry

      He sounds really good with the PR, but at the same time sounds really passionate about what he does. I can totally see him being pained at work when things go wrong on projects he brought over, but he still soldiers on.

      That’s the impression I get. Sounds like a good guy to grab a beer at a bar to bs.

    • http://www.carpefulgur.com SpaceDrake

      Part of the problem is that they just don’t *have* consistent localization staff. I’d debated trying to get in touch with Shane at GDC, possibly discuss some things, but for a while after Arc Rise I’d gotten the impression that they had written off Japanese importing (especially after their CEO bolted) so I filled the schedule with other stuff. I’m beginning to think that might’ve been a mistake. Hm… wonder if Shane likes Thai?

  • Yusaku_Matsuda70s

    “For sixty bucks the game might have been killed at retail, but at a more palatable price it became a success. And it is one of the most successful games we ever published.”

    More companies need to realize this.

    • PurpleDoom

      Agreed, although it’s saddening how some people tend to react to a lowered MSRP by claiming it needed to be even lower than it already was… I’m thinking of BlazBlue: Continuum Shift here. When it was announced for localization, some people said they wouldn’t pay more than $39.99 for it. It ended up with that price, but people came out and said that it needed to be lower still. These companies need to make a profit, guys!

      Sorry for using your post to complain, it’s just something I feel strongly about.

    • Hraesvelgr

      Well, unfortunately, any games tied to large companies are going to be $60 based on their name alone, unless they’re some sort of casual shovelware title.

      • Yusaku_Matsuda70s

        I’m really referring to the smaller companies when I say that. The bigger publishers, as in the top three, have no problem, of course. If a game is new IP, doesn’t have brand recognition, doesn’t follow the established checklist of popular mainstream conventions, and has little to no advertising budget, it’s really for the company’s own benefit to launch it at a lower price. They’re not losing any potential profit at 2/3 price when at full price more conservative customers won’t even give a second glance.

        Perhaps it’s better to swallow some pride or pretensions about how well it *might* sell and just face your bottom line. Harsh, I know, and I don’t like it at all, but that’s just how the market operates right now. I’m sure it’s not always so easy though, and many factors I’m not aware of contributes to how things are the way they are.

  • HarryHodd

    Wouldn’t Deadly Premonition be a bigger success if it was also on the PS3 in the west?

    • Guest

      Why this wasn’t asked in the interview we’ll never know….

    • Hraesvelgr

      Well, I suppose it would’ve sold better in a “it’s multiplatform” sense. That’s what you were talking about, right?

      • HarryHodd

        Yeah I mean it’s a multiplatform game and they just brought the 360 version over. It couldn’t have cost much more to bring the PS3 version and get this game into more hands. Something else seems to be in play.

    • http://www.facebook.com/vileta Dave Vileta

      Listen to this interview. He’s been asked this question on podcasts, and UTVI people have responded to it on their forums.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdcbUoON7CM

      Their answer ALWAYS goes something like that. “Without stepping on anyone’s toes”. “We really wanted to”. Etc.

      So at this point I am 98% sure this is a SCEA issue: they don’t want the game published on their console for lack of “quality”. They’ve done that a lot before. They barely allowed Record of Agarest War, and finally they only settled for a PSN release.

      Makes me wish I had a high position over at SCEA… I’d see to it that this stuff finally changed.

      • HarryHodd

        Thanks I haven’t heard that before. Seems like SCEA is inconsistent on this issue or maybe they have relaxed a bit in recent times.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1472407455 Charles Lupula

        I really don’t see why they didn’t try to push for a PSN release if that was the case.

  • neo_firenze

    All I know is that it’s a damn shame 7th Dragon couldn’t get an English localization. One of the most heartbreaking non-localizations in the past couple generations in my book.

    Not blaming Ignition, and I think Shane’s answer makes a lot of sense… but still a damn shame.

  • http://twitter.com/matthewn4444 Matthew Ng

    Thats too bad, I would have bought 7th dragon at any cost :( (I would pay $60 for it).

  • Phoenix_Apollo

    Was really hoping to hear about why there was no PS3 Deadly Premonition. But I enjoyed this interview nonetheless. I wish Ignition the best of luck.

  • Zero_Destiny

    Well I pretty much said all I could about Ignition on the last post so now it’s time for something random.
    “…I was like this game has to come out for all of the reasons – the writing, the creativity, the fact that it’s like Shenmue, you know it’s so ambitious.”
    Woah woah woah. You’re telling me there is a game out there like Shenmue and I haven’t played it yet? Darn I need to rectify this. I remember some people telling me how great it is but Shenmue great? Come on guys if there’s a game that’s Shenmue great than just go out and say it. Make me waste all this time not realizing there’s a game that’s Shenmue great out there. Okay I’m buying it now. I don’t care if I have to beat my bro half to death in order to separate him from Halo I’m getting and playing this game.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1472407455 Charles Lupula

    Whenever I see Muramasa, I can’t help but imagine how much better it would look in HD. If ever there was a rumor I want to be true, it’s that one.

    • Shadow_Raskolnik

      Whenever I see Muramasa I can’t help but imagine how much better it would have been had Xseed done the localization.

  • http://twitter.com/gabriel_may_uk Gabriel May

    “I love Princess Crown.”

    PLEASE LET US HAVE A LOCALISED VERSION OF THIS. It’s pretty much top of my 5 games I want a translation for. Hell just make a translation patch and I’ll import the damn game.

    • http://honorless.net honorless

      The source code for Princess Crown has been lost, which means an official translation is never happening. The PSP version of the game is just the Saturn version running on an emulator. So if you want it that much, import it and play with the translation guide.

      Devil Summoner PSP is the same way.

      • http://twitter.com/gabriel_may_uk Gabriel May

        If I wanted to do it that way I would have done it already. No I’m still gonna hold out for a Princess Crown Remake. Even if it means waiting several lifetimes.

  • PrinceHeir

    “I think Swery, given a lot of freedom and time to experiment, he’s learning so much about Western games and improving his own game design – he’s the kind of guy I would love to have a long standing relationship with to make cool games.”

    awesome :D we need more developers like this :P

    “I got to meet with Treasure. They don’t have any availability right now, but just the fact I got to sit across from Maegawa-san and talk about what kind of games he would like to make, if he could make any game he wanted for us. Those are the guys, people who have been making games for years and years, but who are a little undervalued these days. Really, these are super talented people.”

    yes there are alot of unrecognized talent out there. like Soraya Saga, Kouichi Yotsui, Monolith Soft, Vanilla Ware, Treasure, Moto Kikaku, Access Games and many more.

    we definitely need more companies like Grasshopper Manufacturer and Platinum games that recruits tons of unique and talented people

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