How does a smaller publisher stay afloat amidst the competition without a flagship franchise? Does the absence of a core franchise people can identify with them hurt their position in the niche games market? This week, we discuss game development with Xseed.
Director of Publishing, Xseed – Ken Berry
Siliconera – Spencer Yip
Spencer: We’ve been talking a lot about how Japanese games can be better received in the West. What about the other way around? How do you think games like Modern Warfare 2 and Bioshock can be successful in Japan?
Ken: I really don’t know what it would take to make Western games more successful in Japan. I guess FPS and third-person shooters over there appeal to a small core fanbase similar to RPGs over here. I would think that a title like Fallout 3, a shooter that incorporates a lot of RPG elements as well as a post-apocalyptic theme that comes up so often in Japanese anime, could appeal to a wide audience but I’m not sure if it broke 100,000 units over there. Considering how the Japanese gaming market is shrinking, maybe 50,000 to 100,000 units for a Western FPS can be classified a big success in this day and age.
Spencer: I think fans, especially the most passionate ones, want to be more in touch with developers and publishers more. One thing that may be difficult for Xseed is you don’t have an in-house flagship series like Atlus or Square. Has Xseed thought about moving into development? Perhaps, with AQ Interactive as a partner?
Ken: That’s true that we don’t have one bankable flagship series to stabilize our financials each year, so it does make things more difficult for us than perhaps some other publishers. On the other hand, having no in-house development keeps our costs low as we stay a small and nimble company, so it allows us flexibility in the number and types of titles we decide to publish. We do get pitched game ideas regularly and some of them have shown some real promise, but we’ve avoided funding development so far in order to minimize our risk.
Spencer: You can’t tell us about any of the ideas you passed on, right? Hahaha.
You’re right that Xseed has flexibility. Xseed has everything from RPGs to Nintendo DS synthesizers in development, but you also have a parent company that could, theoretically, create a flagship franchise. What’s going on with AQ Interactive? Is Xseed planning to publish more AQI games in the future?
Ken: Well, most titles we passed on we’re glad we did, but there was one DS title in particular that ended up becoming a huge new hit this year. On the one hand it makes you regret passing on it, but on the other hand I’m sure it wouldn’t have become nearly as big of a success if we had published it since we don’t have the retail and marketing clout that a large publisher has.
Being a part of the AQ Interactive group is a huge benefit for us since it provides financial backing as well as additional insight into the Japanese gaming market, but we operate fairly independently from each other. Their development teams of FeelPlus, Artoon, and cavia, inc. are free to work with other publishers to develop titles, and they’ve been so busy that they rarely have time to create AQI-specific content. Even when something is created under the AQI label, it doesn’t guarantee that we will be the US publisher. We’ve published KORG DS-10, Victorious Boxers: Revolution, and JU-ON: The Grudge of theirs, but Blue Dragon Plus and Away: Shuffle Dungeon were released by other publishers in the States. We’d love to publish a flagship title of theirs if we ever got the chance, but in the meantime we are responsible for finding our own titles to publish and to generate our own profits.