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.
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.
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.