Puzzle & Dragons has been a huge hit for GungHo Online Entertainment. The game generates millions of dollars in revenue every day in Japan alone. It’s a phenomenal success and GungHo Online have rapidly expanded in recent years, acquiring developers like Akiba’s Trip maker Acquire and Lollipop Chainsaw maker Grasshopper Manufacture.
Curious to see what made Puzzle & Dragons’ a massive success in Japan, Siliconera spoke to Kazuki Morishita, CEO of GungHo Online Entertainment.
GungHo Online Entertainment is a very successful studio and quite profitable according to previous financial reports. Why were more shares of the company sold to Softbank?
Kazuki Morishita, CEO: In terms of how the news is reported, it makes it sound like we’re all of the sudden officially a subsidiary, but they [Softbank] have always had 30-something percent of our stock. That just increased to 40%. In terms of operation and business of how it’s run, on the GungHo side it hasn’t changed at all. It’s just about how much stock they have. Softbank was an investor with 30% when we started.
Between two stock holders, one person just has more now. One stock holder gave their stock to another person. It’s not like we got a big investment. In terms of management, nothing is really going to change.
It seemed to affect Softbank’s stock. [Note: Softbank stock rose after the news.]
That’s the stock market. We’re a game developer, so that’s not our concern.
We read the reports that Puzzle & Dragons might be making two million dollars a day. Would you like to clarify this?
[Laughs] Those are just rumors.
Does that mean the amount could be even higher?
Maybe, yes. [Laughs]
Princess Punt (left), Freak Tower (right)
Puzzle & Dragons reached a new milestone and you keep adding collaborations like with Square Enix’s Crystal Defenders series. How do you think you can replicate that success with your other mobile games like Princes Punt or Freak Tower? What’s the “secret” to making a breakout hit like Puzzle & Dragons?
In terms of quality, we’re confident in all of our games, including Puzzle & Dragons and Princess Punt. However, there are multiple factors to consider to why Puzzle & Dragons became a big hit. After we gathered that all together we pretty much assume it’s luck.
We didn’t really do anything special with Puzzle & Dragons during development. We took the same exact steps we took with our other titles. It’s not like Puzzle & Dragons was any different from our usual games. It’s just that it hit a very high success rate.
Do you think the success has anything to do with mechanics of the game? At the beginning it’s very easy to play and you level up enough to recover your stamina. However, later on you need to purchase items to continue on in the game or wait a long time. Could it be this mechanic or perhaps how players pull the dragon’s paw to get monsters, the variable reward or “slot machine” style of reinforcement? Or did the magic stones, which allow players to instantly come back for a price?
The ideas that you mentioned were all random ideas that popped into my head while I was making the game, especially the monetization with how players use magic stones to continue if they die. There was a PSP game I really got into playing and then I died which sparked the idea.
I figured if people like the game enough they will want to continue after they die to keep playing the game. These ideas were random ideas that came by chance. These could have something to do how successful the game was, but it’s not like Puzzle & Dragons was given special treatment. These concepts were random ideas as well.
I see. I don’t think Puzzle & Dragons received special treatment, but there must be some “secret sauce” to Puzzle & Dragons. For example, while I was browsing the App Store there were many clones of Puzzle & Dragons and some had many ratings. I guess some of these even though they are derivations of GungHo’s game are profitable too, so there must be something that clicked with the core of Puzzle & Dragons.
We really focused on “chance” as a gameplay mechanic when you’re playing Puzzle & Dragons.
You mean the way pieces drop down?
Right. You are able to practice and become better at the puzzle element. However, some people are good at it and some people are not. For players that don’t get past that level, they can progress with the help of chance. Chance affects the game because you might erase one line or orbs and by pure chance you might get a combo.
The gameplay is a mixture of RPG, hack ‘n slash, and puzzle. That engulfs a lot of different genres and gameplay. The RPG element is very Japan centric and for hardcore gamers. The hack ‘n slash part is more Westernized gameplay. In addition to that you have pure puzzle, casual gameplay, all mixed into one title. That mixture could be one of the secret ingredients.
I remember in another interview you mentioned that the dragons were originally Western style artwork and there is a console version in development.
Yes! When we were originally creating the smartphone version, we always had it in mind to develop a console version as well. The console version will be different from the smartphone version. We had to optimize the smartphone version for those devices. It can’t be the exact type of gameplay with the same type of systems for the console version.
[After the interview, the console game was revealed to be Puzzle & Dragons Z for Nintendo 3DS.]
I agree. Puzzle & Dragons is a great title to play in short bursts, but I expect the console version to be deeper.
Please look forward to more news. [Laughs.]
Will GungHo Online Entertainment America handle publishing the console version in the U.S.?