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Namco Bandai Games talks to Highway about the current Japanese market

Razing Storm - New from Namco in 2009
Razing Storm - New from Namco in 2009
Namco Bandai Games Inc. International Sales division staff Casey Utsunomiya and Yuta Fujishige recently dropped by our Australia office. Natalia Kerr talks to them about the current state of the Japanese market, arcade exclusive content, and development of new titles.

What is the current state of the Japanese market? Have you seen an income drop in the past 12 months?

Casey: Arcades in Japan have reached a plateau and are slowly slowly going down. Currently I think because games have come to a certain level, and the players rather, the casual players especially are a little backwards. It happens once in a while in Japan.. like when they had the sticker machine trend, and all the machines had sticker printers. But now basically because the operators already do that, we decided to make a real balance of games which are video games and sticker games, and made all the arcades generally casual, and its done very well. Currently I think also the lack of games which are coming out that excite players as well.

With Tekken 6, operators have enjoyed a long period of arcade exclusivity for the title, with the game not expected to be released into the home market until the end of this year. Is this a trend that Namco plans to continue in the future?

Casey: Yes, Namco will most likely be continuing that sort of thing in the future. We are concentrating generally on the arcade/amusement market first. Some of the video games that players will follow we have strong players on, so we would probably release it first on the arcade. And then on the consumer version of course we would add to it and make it a much more complete game.

There has been a fair amount of movement to port home console games into coin-op. Is this something Namco has considered for the future? Will popular releases such as Soul Calibur IV ever be released in arcades?

Casey: That's a very sensitive questions (laughs). There have been changes in our development department. Some people in previous games such as Tekken are also watching over the Soul Calibur project as well. I would say there is a very .. strong possibility that not actually converting a home game to the arcade market, but probably for example making a new version of Soul Calibur for the arcade business. Putting it as the same engine and style that we did Tekken 6, releasing it first in the arcade and then going on to the console versions.

Do you think that offering exclusive content in the arcades is a way to draw more people back into the arcades rather than the home console market?

Casey: Yes. I think there are still gamers in the arcade. That's what Namco thinks. We as a company started as an arcade business, a lot of the series that people follow now started in the arcade, so I think it is very important that we make games to keep our players happy.

What do you think of the growth of systems which use home market hardware in a licensed pay-to-play environment?

Casey: I'm not sure if that would work. It used to be done like that, like with the Nintendo family computer which was inside a game machine on a big monitor, and people could play for time. It would really depend on what type of game was in there, especially in markets like Japan, I don't think players would pay much attention to that sort of thing.

Do you think that would be because there wouldn't be enough differentiation between the home version and the one you have to pay for?

Casey: Yes, and also it depends if you are speaking for the overseas market or generally in the world market or the Japanese market. In the Japanese market they already have good quality cafes which they rent out the Playstation's or XBOX's, and also PC's. And they are all on the internet. So there is already a difference there. And also I understand that in places like Korea they have what they call a Playstation Band, which is only a room, but people can bring their Playstation's there. So it seems there is already a market there, and I think that would be difficult to inside of in Japan.

Do you think if a product was uniquely different and released for a coin op environment do you think this model may work?

Casey: Yes. But in that sort of sense it is purely coin-op. Nothing more than coin-op. And if players can use the knowledge from the home version then they can use the same knowledge in the coin-op. So yes, good in that sense.

Tekken 6 and Razing Storm both run on the Playstation 3 based system 357 hardware. Can you tell us more about the hardware and your plans for its use in the future?

Casey: Basically it uses the Playstation 3 processor. I think most likely we will be concentrating on this for our future products. We started in Tekken 6, that was the first game, and we also used it in the next game Razing Storm. And our ongoing games of the high technology market will also use that platform. But we are also looking at different hardware engines as well, depending on what sort of game.

Could you give us a quick rundown of what products you currently have in development or plan to develop in the future?

Casey: Yes.. that's a difficult one.. Well currently in Japan the trend of games, especially video games, is going online. So games we are developing for the domestic market now is on online basis, meaning that content gets downloaded every once in a while and operators get updates, and players feel like they are not just playing alone. Apart from that sequels of our successful gun games and driving games should be on their way, I'm not mentioning when. But as there are strong demands from users and players, we still need to develop them to meet their satisfaction.

With games you are going to develop in the future, are you going to focus on mainly developing games for the Japanese market, or games which will have a broader appeal worldwide?

Casey: Basically we are a Japanese located company and our staff and development people are Japanese. I think most of the games will still be developed concentrating on the domestic market, but at the same time there is a movement I would say inside the company looking at the global market as well, and seeking the possibilities of not only localizing the game machine and language wise, but also the games themselves. So not truly concentrating on the United States market or the European market, but we think going into the next step is to make a global version of the game. Like Razing Storm actually was not made particularly for the US market, it was made for the domestic market, but the people who were making it had the mindset of making it a global game, like Time Crisis. It doesn't actually choose borders, so that kind of product is something we will concentrate on.

Does Namco have any products in development suitable for street site operators, which are usually pretty different to arcade operators. For example something like the kits Atari/Midway specialized in or with Big Buck Hunter, ideally where the customer purchases one motherboard system and then uses upgrades to refresh their machines?

Casey: You know we have tried but we failed. That would be my honest response. In Japan we have no intent to do so, because we don't have that kind of market. What we call the overseas street market like bars, supermarkets and so on. Basically as you know most of the games that we develop in Japan, including the cranes, must have attendants. Whereas street machines you just leave them there to collect income. We are looking at making something for the street market - some of our sister companies like America and Europe on their own are following the possibilities of localizing some of our game engines for the street market to see if it's suitable.

Is Namco working on any cross promotion of platforms, from consumer games and phones into arcade games directly? So for example the storyline will follow from the arcade game to the home release?

Casey: We already have that, for example Time Crisis 4. For Time Crisis 4 when you play it on the consumer release, it is focused more on the characters for the consumer version, whereas the arcade version the story isn't as important. But in the end they make it so everything links up.

How successful has the player card been outside of Japan?

Casey: Well anything without player cards and IC cards does not actually earn in Japan. So I mean if its not there, players are not going to play it.

In the foreign market, like in the States and Europe, has it been successful?

Casey: In the foreign market, it is.. a challenge. Most of the foreign markets do not understand why the card system must be there. I would say for foreign markets it would totally depend on the type of game, and whether they are suitable for cards or not. If it is a good match to the gameplay system like Tekken 6 or Maximum Tune, it must have a card or it will not make sense.

But the majority of the arcades that do buy these cards, they don't normally promote them to the customer...

Casey: We sell more machines to customers who understand the system than to ones that don't. There may be some people who just don't understand it. But for the Asian market, including China and everywhere, everybody understands it.

We have noticed a big growth in distributors in Asia expanding their game centre operations. Is this something Namco is also doing in Asia and will it consider opening new game centres in developing markets such as China, India and Eastern Europe?

Casey: So far we have not heard any news of that happening. We have only one operation in Hong Kong, and also in Shanghai. And there is no information about actually expanding that in the Asian market. And of course the United States and Europe they have their own operations. Because we are now a separate company, the operations, we are not 100% sure that there is no movement. And I don't think they will go forward and do such a thing.

We would like thank Casey Utsunomiya and Yuta Fujishige for their time during their visit to Australia


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