If you follow Japanese videogame sales here on Siliconera, you’ve probably noticed that there have been a number of recent attempts on the part of Japanese publishers to create mixed-media franchises they can add to their portfolio of properties. If you follow videogame sales from Japan, you’ve also probably noticed that most of these attempts haven’t really been very successful at reaching out to a wide audience.
The three most notable examples that come to mind are Square Enix’s Gyrozetter (a game with cars transforming into robots), Capcom’s Gaist Crusher (a cooperative action game where you fight mechanical monsters) and Sega’s Hero Bank (a game where people participate in “Hero Battles” to earn money).
All three of those franchises were meant to appeal to a younger audience that encompasses games, anime and manga. Gyrozetter came first, and began as an arcade game, then transitioning to an anime series and Nintendo 3DS RPG, before being killed off. Gaist Crusher—which was talked up by Capcom as a major new IP—sold poorly, and the anime series didn’t really get people talking either. Finally, while Hero Bank appears to be doing a little better than the other two, it isn’t really anything to write home, with the first game selling 15,000 copies in its first week.
Recently, Siliconera caught up with Mighty No. 9 project lead Keiji Inafune, and aside from discussing that game, we also had a chance to ask for his thoughts on creating mixed-media franchises. Inafune, as his fans know, is big on games that can reach out to wide audiences and leave lasting impressions. Even Mighty No. 9 is being adapted into a CG-animated show, and this announcement was made while the game was being developed. So, we asked Inafune: why does he think so many mixed-media franchises have failed to take off, and what does it take to find success?
“It takes true conviction… guts, balls, moxie—whatever word you want to use—in order to do a proper media mix strategy,” Inafune replied, “because you’re not just leveraging one kind of content, you’re kind of taking content onto multiple platforms—anime, manga, action figures, what have you—and, assuming you’re doing it correctly, you’re doing it all in parallel.”
“Traditionally, what most companies are going to do is they’re going to release one thing along that media mix strategy to test the water, and if the game is popular, then they think, ‘okay, now we can do a figure line. Now we can do an anime,’ or vice versa. It takes companies that have a lot of conviction, and actually, companies that are a little reckless. The more formal standard publisher-type that you are, the more checks and balances you’re going to put in to decrease risk rather than take it.”
Former Square Enix president Yoichi Wada actually said the same thing about why Gyrozetter didn’t take off in Japan. Back in 2012, Wada explained to shareholders that the Gyrozetter anime came a little while after the release of the arcade game, so Square Enix couldn’t use the two to cross-promote each other. The timing is what’s important, and Inafune feels that this is what Level 5—who have found success with franchises such as Layton, Inazuma Eleven and Yo-kai Watch (above)—excels at. Level 5 have a proven track record of launching successful mixed-media franchises, and Inafune feels it’s because they commit themselves to the whole concept across every type of media.
“That’s why you have a company like Level-5 that is reckless in a good way,” he said. “Willing to take these crazy multimedia challenges and make something work out. These are really the only sort of publishers or developers that could do this sort of thing properly.”
In comparison, Inafune’s own company, Comcept, can’t quite do the same with Mighty No. 9, because they aren’t a large publisher with a whole lot of money.
“Obviously, we’re not a big publisher with a ton of money so we can’t, even if we wanted to, take on that sort of risk,” he said. “One of the things we can do, though, as a scrappy developer, is partnering with the companies that are willing to work with us and help us to create another piece of the key media mix. That’s how we’re doing the anime. One day, if we have that sort of money, we’ll be able to do it like a natural publisher but, for now, it’s sort of dependant on partnerships.”
That left us with just one question. A couple of years ago, Inafune revealed that he was working on a brand new IP for Marvelous, titled KAIO: King of Pirates. The game was an RPG being developed for the Nintendo 3DS, and was meant to be a major mixed-media property with manga and anime tie-ins. Late last year, KAIO was delayed to 2014, and we haven’t heard of it since. Unfortunately, when we asked him about the game, Inafune said he couldn’t provide a comment, as Marvelous control the PR and marketing for the game, since they’re the publisher.