CyberConnect2 CEO On Naruto Fandom And How To Run A Game Studio In Fukuoka

By Spencer . October 21, 2011 . 6:32pm

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While many Japanese video game studios are located around Tokyo and Osaka, Fukuoka is an emerging hot spot. Level-5, Ganbarion, and anime video game developer CyberConnect2 are headquartered there. CyberConnect2 made the .hack series and the dozens of Naruto: Ultimate Ninja titles. In this interview, CEO Hiroshi Matsuyama discusses Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations, the latest game in the series, and how passion pushes his company forward.

 

Matsuyama-san, I think you’re the only CEO in the video game industry that cosplays at conventions! You have a lot of passion for the Naruto series.  What makes Naruto so fascinating for you?

 

Hiroshi Matsuyama, CEO: I have loved Naruto since the first episode appeared in Weekly Jump. One panel shows Naruto screaming out his frustration with the residents of the Hidden Leaf Village, who have kept the full story of the Nine Tails from him. Just the pure strength of the hand written characters showing his words of frustration fascinated me. I wanted to make a Naruto game from the first time I saw the manga.

 

Also, the director of the anime series from Studio Pierrot (Pierrot Co.,Ltd.), Hayato Date, is an important figure for me. When we are developing games at CyberConnect2, we consult with him about direction for various audiovisual elements. I’ve known him for more than 10 years. It wouldn’t be going overboard to say that he taught me how to perform audiovisual direction. He always gives me good pointers, and it’s a lot of fun to work with him.

 

As a CEO, how do you channel this passion to lead a video game development studio? What do you think are the most important qualities are for a CEO and which Naruto character best represents this?

 

Most games CyberConnect2 develops come about as they are out of respect for a particular anime. It all starts with the many anime which I’ve grown up watching. I’ve enjoyed the anime so much, and I want to return that favor by creating games which live up to the original series.

 

What makes a good CEO? I think the answer to that question varies widely. My belief is that a CEO has to have passion for his product. I don’t believe it’s a job which can be performed from a business perspective alone. As a user myself, I wouldn’t want the games I play to be created by that kind of person.

 

If I had to choose a Naruto character suited to be a CEO, it would have to be Naruto Uzumaki himself. It’s important to have the guts to never give up.

 

What do you think gamers today want in the West and how is this different from Japan? How can CyberConnect2, which makes games with anime aesthetic succeed in both markets?

 

Although there may be cultural and personality differences between Japan, the US, and Europe, I don’t think there’s a difference between us in terms of what we are looking for. Everyone is just looking for something “amazing.”

 

It’s been said that anime based video games do not sell well in the US and Europe. However, if a game is truly as “amazing” as the original anime series, like the games made at CyberConnect2 are, western gamers will accept the piece. I don’t think there are any borders between us when it comes to our excitement for things which amaze us.

 

When most people think of Japanese game development they think of Tokyo and maybe Osaka. Fukuoka is growing with CyberConnect2, Level-5, and Ganbarion. I noticed your company is part of the GFF [Game Factory Friendship] what can you tell us about this and what do you hope to achieve?

 

GFF is an alliance between a group of game companies based in Fukuoka. It was created in 2003. From 2004, we have been working toward a common goal with governmental, industrial, and academic institutions. That goal is to make Fukuoka the Hollywood of the video game industry.

 

GFF currently consists of 12 game companies. We hold meetings to share technology, as well as seminars for college grads and other hopeful workers who want to enter the gaming industry and other events. We have monthly conferences as well. Recently, we’ve been coordinating with UK, Canada, and other country’s consulates to increase communication between game companies internationally.

 

What about the new hardware coming out 3DS, Vita, and Wii U interests you and what concerns do you have for those platforms?

 

I’m excited about all the next generation hardware. Creators like myself are always interested in the next generation of gaming hardware. I can’t reveal the details right now, but we are already researching several of the next generation hardware.

 

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We’ve seen young and Shippuden Naruto crossover before in the PlayStation 2 games. Why did you want to revisit this concept for Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations and what do you plan to do new in this title?

 

The previous title in the series, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 was focused on covering the Shippuden story in detail, so the younger version characters were not featured. On the other hand, Storm Generations is more focused on pitting players against one another. By including the younger version Naruto characters, Storm Generations will be able to offer a wider variety of battles than the previous title.

 

We are also researching the series’ users’ opinions, and adjusting the next game for greater reply value. For details on new aspects in Storm Generations, be sure to stay tuned!

 

What kind of new online features and gameplay modes will we see in Storm Generations? And for all of the Naruto fans can you please give us, at least a hint, about the new characters?

 

It’s still too early to reveal details on the online functionality and game modes in the next title. Storm Generations will have online functionality not featured in Storm 2. Players will also be able to experience the Shippuden story in a whole new way.

 

In terms of fresh characters being included, there are Raikage, Tsuchikage, & Mizukage from the anime’s ‘Meeting of the Five Kage’ arc. Zabuza & Haku appear, as well as Minato Namikaze (Yellow Flash of the Leaf), Young Kakashi, Obito, etc. As you are aware, the younger version Naruto characters appearance in the game has been announced. Like I said, for the rest of the details, just stay tuned!

 

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Being a beat-em-up action game Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Impact went in a different direction from your other Naruto games. Why did you want to try this genre and are there any other genres you would like to try with the Naruto series?

 

To begin, as Storm 2 was released for PS3 & Xbox 360 only, I wanted to release Ultimate Ninja Impact on a handheld system so that the younger Naruto fans could afford to enjoy the game. I’m not sure if Impact will become a series of it’s own, but it does represent an opportunity to try something entirely new.

 

Other Naruto games we have made are mainly fighting games at their core. For Impact, we wanted to present players with a fully 3D environment to battle through and see impressive anime action along the way. I really want everyone to give Impact a try. I think the game presents truly refreshing action game fun!

 

As for other genre of games I might want to look into developing, I’m currently undecided.

 

I have to ask because we have a lot of .hack fans on Siliconera… is the series really over? If not how would you reboot it?

 

I don’t currently have any plans to participate in anime game development outside of the Naruto series.

 

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Solatorobo took over ten years to arrive in stores. As an independent developer, are publishers more risk adverse when it comes to investing in new IP nowadays? If so, what do you think helps to get a project greenlit?

 

I don’t think that publishers are unwilling to put money into new IP. I think that it’s developers who lack the ideas or the passion to bring publishers on board!

 

CyberConnect2 showed Namco Bandai Games 10 years worth of passion & enthusiasm. NBGI recognized our enthusiasm as genuine. That’s why we were able to complete development and release the title. Setting the production at 1000 copies was just one means to show our feelings were genuine. CyberConnect2 will continue to present ideas for new IP in the future as well.



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