Genius Sonority are perhaps best known as the developer of Pokémon Colosseum on the GameCube and Dragon Quest Swords on the Wii. While those are fairly straightforward games, Genius are actually also interested in the idea of developing unconventional and surprising games that appeal to a broader audience of gamers. Their company slogan is: “’Wow’ for you.”
The studio has recently taken to self-publishing downloadable Nintendo 3DS games on the Nintendo eShop as part of this goal. Their first game was a downloadable RPG titled The Denpa Men: They Came By Wave, followed by a sequel to that game. Both titles involve the player searching their surroundings with the 3DS camera for “Denpa Men” (Radio wave men) who they can capture and recruit to form a party that explores dungeons and fights evil.
We recently got in touch with Genius Sonority’s founder and president, Manabu Yamana, who was heavily involved with Square Enix’s Dragon Quest series as one of the chief programmers up until Dragon Quest VII, to talk about his company. The brief but insightful interview follows below.
I’ve heard that your company was established by the so-called “Q Fund,” the developer support fund created by Nintendo advisor, Hiroshi Yamauchi, during his presidency. Also, Nintendo and The Pokémon Company have entered the stockholder ranks, but what relationship do you have with Nintendo and Pokémon Co. in terms of day-to-day operations?
Manabu Yamana, Genius Sonority President: Our company has no relationship with the Q Fund. And while neither shareholder is minutely related to daily operations, we are dedicated to valuing matters with both of them. Both in the past and now, we have conducted development for Nintendo platforms, items from other companies, and our own. We intend to do so into the future as well.
I saw the names of 21 employees on your company website. About how many projects do you have in progress simultaneously?
We currently have 16 employees. There are seven programmers, one art director, five planners and three administrators, and I do product planning, producing, development direction, and game design.
When development is finished and there are those of you with time on their hands, how do you spend that time?
We often have several projects in development at once, and for each main project with a large, long-term structure, there are many other short, small-scale projects running in parallel, such as localizations of existing projects.
When our main project finishes, we have a team switching over to localization for this project, a team of system programmers creating the base for our next work, and we do PR work for our software on sale.
Also, once the product has been safely released, we take breaks to compensate for the overtime from the previous development.
You were part of the Dragon Quest series for entries I-VII, but now that you’ve established Genius Sonority, has that been a major influence on you?
Yes, I have been heavily influenced by my past experiences. If it weren’t for my past experiences, I wouldn’t be able to assume numerical settings or calculation formulae through short-term trial and error.
The Denpa Men was released this year on the eShop. Could you tell us a bit more about the concept of the game, your goals, and where you got your ideas from?
The Denpa Men was conceived based on the concept of a game inciting a sense of novelty, that you can easily pick up and play, and that offers deep, immersive gameplay.
The first thing I consider when making a new product is the combination of a structure to arouse customer interest, and a fun game system. Novelty and surprise are necessary to create a structure that arouses customer interest.
For this, we focused on peculiarity and diversity in the real world. For example, things like barcodes, e-mail addresses, FeliCa data, latitude and longitude, music CD data, and Wi-Fi MAC addresses. This time, we adopted Wi-Fi MAC addresses, because they are recognizable on the 3DS and there is an abundance of them in existence, making it fun to walk around with a 3DS.
Ordinary wireless bases are often established at fixed positions, so for all the players enjoying this game, we made a structure that potentially allows lots of sharing in terms of the distinctiveness of locations. We felt this has a sense of mystery and fun, which is one of our main motives.
Our fun game system was optimized and polished, using existing RPG battles as reference, letting characters interact within the game based on MAC addresses, and an appropriately thought out RPG battle system with a large capacity for variety.
Establishing the characters obtained from radio waves (denpa) as creatures demarcated by and living in peculiar waves, they were named “the Denpa Men,” definitively stating both the structure and the game system in a single phrase. While aiming to arouse interest in our target customers, we conceived and put together visuals that wouldn’t turn off most consumers.
Are there plans from to continue releasing more games on the eShop as Genius Sonority?
Yes, we are releasing Denpa Men 2 on the Japanese eShop, and next we intend to do localization aimed at overseas markets. (Note: This interview was conducted prior to the release of The Denpa Men 2.)
Download game markets are generally considered to be bigger in the West than in Japan. Would this fact influence games developed in the future somewhat?
As you say, I think that downloads are growing in the West (particularly North America). However, this fact has no effect on products developed in the future.
Can you tell us anything about the other games you’re currently working on?
Outside of the localization of The Denpa Men, we don’t have any concrete projects at present. We will decide the next work after looking at the sales of Denpa Men 2.
Last year, I saw you voice your concerns [over Twitter] about the state of the consumer (console/portable/PC) games market. What do you think about Japan’s consumer games market today, and how do you think Genius Sonority should handle the changing market?
Japanese consumer games have many sequels, and there’s a reality of very few new works making an appearance. The source of the disappearance of rare games like before lies in the fact that game consoles have become high powered, increasing development time and cost.
If conditions continue where novel products are difficult to debut, I have perceived an extremely dangerous situation where customers gradually disappear. Our company has focused on a download-only consumer games market as a countermeasure to this dangerous situation.
The Japanese consumer download market is different from that of package goods, featuring much cheaper games priced between 300 and 1000 yen. It’s a market with many high-level customers that can purchase games, having clearly grasped their contents, due to the large amount of works with strong design sense and products that don’t need a lot of time investment to enjoy.
By creating products that can satisfy these high-level gamers gathered in this [consumer games] download market, our company believes we can proliferate new games and be acknowledged by many people.
In addition, we believe that, by reducing development time and costs by careful creation based on new, solidly planned products, cutting away the excess fat and wringing out the essence of enjoyment, without relying on cheap price points, it would be possible to sell something with seasonal impact and deep, long gameplay, at a download software price point under 1000 yen.
Also, if you can use the common development methods that allow short-term development of a product with substantial contents by developing a second work on the foundation of the first, there is merit against investment risks as well, allowing you to develop the second work while recovering the funds invested in the first.
Do you have any goals you wish to achieve in the consumer games market?
The goal our company wants to achieve in the consumer games market is to become an existence leading the development of deep, immersive games with high originality in the download-only market.
To do this, we believe that our in-market sales numbers must always be top class.