Japanese gaming website ‘4gamer.net’ sat down with Kou Shibusawa, the CEO of Koei Tecmo, at the end of last year to talk to him about the progress the company has made and what we can expect in the future as well. Thanks to BlackKite I’ve been able to get a translation of the interview questions and have posted the majority of the answers below. It’s a very interesting interview and if you are a fan of Koei Tecmo Games then it is a must read.
Note: ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ will be shortened to ‘ROTK’ in all future references.
2015 was the 30th anniversary of Koei Tecmo’s ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ series and the anniversary title ‘ROTK13’ was due to release on the 10th of December 2015 but was delayed to January 28th shortly before the release date. Shibusawa explained that they delayed the game in order to complete some final adjustments on the game. They wanted to add improvements to AI in order for the game to be more balanced for the player. He says that the game is at a finished state at this point but balancing the AI is the final thing they are working on before the game goes gold. Shibusawa went on to say that they really wanted to distinguish ROTK’s 30th anniversary from the 30th of anniversary of Nobunaga’s Ambition (2014). In ROTK13 there is more human drama in the game with an enhanced focus on creating relationships and bonds between characters in order to strengthen your chances of performing better in the game.
ROTK13 is more focused on playing from an officers point of view but you can switch to play as a ruler, like you played as in ROTK11. Players can actually choose various starting ranks in the game which means that they can make the game as easy or as hard as they want, the hardest option obviously being to start as the lowest rank and raise their status all the way up to ruler. Shibusawa said that the development team had many new ideas for ROTK13 and each of them wanted to add as many of their ideas to the game as possible. The CEO also said that releasing a 30th anniversary game is to thank all the fans who have supported the games for so long and he hopes that there are more games to come. He also noted that other big game titles such as Super Mario and Dragon Quest have also celebrated their 30th anniversaries at a similar time.
4Gamer noted that the PC specs for ROTK13 are fairly low and even older systems from years ago can run the game. This has been a trend with the ROTK games and Shibusawa says that he wants as many people as possible to be able to play the games, there are still a number of people using Windows XP and so it is in the company’s best interest to reach as big an audience as possible. When asked if there would be Mac version of the game Shibusawa was unable to confirm but he did reminisce about porting ROTK3 through to 8 to Macintosh systems when they had a brilliant relationship with Apple’s marketing chief, Harada, who is now the president of Benesse.
Speaking of past games, Shibusawa looked back to 1978 when Koei was first established. Koei as a company are almost 40 years old and released their first game back in 1980 with one of the very first being ‘Battle of Kawanakajima’ in 1981. This was 4 years before the release of the first ROTK game. The CEO noted that back in the 80’s the cost of a home computer was in the 270k yen range, if you take inflation into account then the cost today would be around 1 million yen. Shibusawa said that the ‘Battle of Kawanakajima’ went on to sell 10,000 copies which was very impressive for the time as he didn’t think it would even reach 100 copies given how small the state of home computer gaming was at the time. He expressed an interest in bringing this IP back in the future because of how current technology has allowed for higher level graphics and more detailed managements which were impossible to carry out on older technology.
Shibusawa also talked about how Koei grew from just 10 staff members to over 20 by 1985, today the company has over 1,500 employees in many offices around the world. Shibusawa notes that his generation is compromised of himself, Falcom’s Kato, Yuji Horii (Dragon Quest) and Shigeru Miyamoto (Nintendo), they all started making games in the 80’s and are now into their 60’s. He said that the next generation of game producers are those in their 40’s such as Hisashi Koinuma of Koei Tecmo and Akihito Hino of Level-5 who are 44 and 47 respectively. He says that this new generation were bought up on the games that the first generation made before moving onto the SNES and exploring game development around the time the first PlayStation was becoming popular.
At this point the 4Gamer interviewer started to reminisce about the 16 years that he has been working for 4Gamer and how he loved it but there were plenty of times where he lost all motivation and almost quit the job. He asked Shibusawa if he had ever had a similar feeling and what his view was on his job.
Shibusawa: “It’s a pleasant sense when you do what you like.. or rather that becomes the whole motivation. Now I don’t do that as much as before, but I like programming, I like making games, I really like playing games, and I also really like listening from people who also play games.”
4Gamer: “I feel ashamed now..”
Shibusawa: “No no, of course there’s also a ‘mountain’ and ‘valley’ [for myself] too (laughs). But I like all kinds of talk about games, all the various opinions from harsh criticisms to fun impressions, and I feel really glad being able to be there.
4Gamer: “So nothing can beat what you like”
Shibusawa: “Correct. Of course there were also hard times, but basically I feel ‘I’m doing what I like’, so perhaps that could be a way to keep motivation. Well as for myself, I consider games more like an atmosphere though (laughs)”
4Gamer: “I see, so you don’t even need to ‘preserve motivation'”
Shibusawa: “That’s right. It’s not a feel to preserve it.. but rather, be it an environment that surrounds games, or the games themselves.. I’m just glad & satisfied at all those things.”
Shibusawa went on to talk about how Koei developed the first MMORPG in Japan, it was a spin off of their ‘Nobunaga’s Ambition’ called ‘Nobunaga’s Ambition Online’. Koei spent a long time on the development of this game and wanted to make sure they got the online experience perfect before releasing the game. This commitment to quality meant that Square Enix were able to start developing and release Final Fantasy XI Online before Koei could release their title. Shibusawa said that he actually used to play NA:Online after he got back from the office between 10pm to 1am, he admitted he played at this time pretty much everyday between 2003 and 2005. He was quick to point out that DQ’s Horii also had the same habit with DQX.
4Gamer also asked about the state of the VR and whether it will be something that Koei will develop games for. Shibusawa said that PlayStation VR is the most interesting thing to him right now, the company started to experiment with PS VR very early on and the first thing they did was port their flagship title, Dynasty Warriors 8, to the hardware. He said that in early builds of the game they found that the devs would experience motion sickness when playing the game, especially when riding horses. They really had to tailor the experience to fit PS VR and so decided to make the character stationary and have enemies come to the player. The player was then able to hack and slash at the enemies and once they stopped coming they would move on to the next area, similar to an ‘on rails’ game. He said that coupling this with having characters like Zhao Yun or Wang Yuanji talk to you before each area and join you in battle really added to the sense of realism in the game.
The 4Gamer interviewer said that PS VR requires a PS4 and other VR is going to be fairly niche and that he thinks it’ll not be used in gaming much. He noted that smartphones were very popular in Japan and that the console market wasn’t very healthy. Shibusawa was quick to say that he thinks that the console market is healthy enough for them to achieve success, the PlayStation 4 has sold 2 million and Shibusawa said that Nintendo’s new ‘NX’ console is coming shortly so many Japanese companies will keep making console games for these machines to keep the console market healthy.
He does of course admit that Japan has seen a decline in console gamers and that the total amount of consoles shipped is relatively low compared to before and compared to worldwide but he believes that the strong performance worldwide will help drive adoption in Japan again and that it is now the West that is the most important market for games rather than Japan. A complete change from over a decade ago. Shibusawa said that he is already noticing that the console gen migration is already taking place smoothly in Japan with the PS4 version of multi-gen games selling the most units in 2015 where as in 2014 it was always the PS3 version that sold more. Even the PlayStation Vita versions are now selling better than the PS3 version he said, whilst referring to ‘Atelier Sophie’. Shibusawa believes that Dragon Quest Heroes was a big catalyst in starting the trend of PS4 games selling more than PS3 games as it helped a lot of people buy a PS4.
In regards to the smartphone market, Shibusawa said that it’s great that many developers are focusing on Mobile but that they consider Mobile as part of their Multi-Platform plan. He said that he wants to release games based on their IP on console but also on mobile as well. Koei are also embracing new game distribution models such as free to play. Dead or Alive 5 for example had a physical release but at the same time a free to play version has launched and has been downloaded more than 5 million time. Shibusawa noted that this absolutely smashed their expectations and that he now truly believes there is an environment where a full physical release and F2P version can co-exist together. This was most recently demonstrated with the release of Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires which had a paid and F2P version at launch.
Shibusawa also noted that publishers are realising that this console gen is still very profitable and lots of big companies are in a good condition this gen, not only themselves but companies such as Square Enix, Activision, EA and Ubisoft are in a prime position to sell in their new and current IP’s to a large gen 8 audience.
A big part of Koei Tecmo in recent years has been their collaborations with other publishers. Shibusawa said that Attack on Titan is their big new collaboration at the beginning of 2016 and they have reworked the game a number of times to make the title successful and truthful to the actual series. He noted that a number of recent collaborations such as Attack on Titan, Aslan and Dragon Quest are mainly focused for the Japan market in terms of how popular it is there but he promises that Koei are working on projects with overseas companies. He would not give any hints but said that a big new Western IP is in development and could be based on any sort of media from well known characters to movie characters etc… Shibusawa also confirmed that he is working on collaborations with Chinese companies, my recent article actually confirms that they are working with FUZE Entertainment on their new console due to launch in China this year.
Shibusawa said that if they keep making the same game over and over then customers will get bored so whilst they have no plans to discontinue their popular in house developed IP they do want to continue working on new fresh projects and then use this experience to rework and update their in house IP. Koei Tecmo’s motto this year is ‘Creation and Contribution’ and he believes that by creating new content you can contribute to society, hence why ROTK has a new system with each iteration. Shibusawa says he wants to explore new technology’s and concepts such as new ways to interact with seniors to get them gaming, cloud gaming and more. This is all covered in my last report linked here.
Shibusawa then went on to talk about Ni-Oh first announced at E3 2005 more than 10 years ago. Since then they have remade the game from scratch 2 times with this being the third iteration and he hopes that third time is the charm! They’ve also finalised the concept theme to be “Sengoku Dark Fantasy”. The game is being developed exclusively for Sony’s PlayStation 4 from the ground up and is being optimised for 1080p, 60fps.
When they first announced the game in 2005 it was still very much in a concept phase where they were still deciding whether it should be an RPG game or Action game. After the merger with Tecmo they asked Team Ninja’s Hayashi to take over development of the game and to try and make it different from Dynasty Warriors as Koei were having difficulty in differentiating the gameplay. The second iteration of the game developed by Team Ninja felt too similar to Ninja Gaiden so they ended up scratching it again and working on the third iteration which is what was shown at PlayStation Experience in 2015. The game concept has always been that it will take place in Sengoku Jidai but with Yokai beasts appearing and so it was easily going to be a dark fantasy style game. Shibusawa also said that the game is a ‘dying game’ and compared it to Demon Soul’s on the PS3.
Right now Koei Tecmo are working on about 30 different projects at various levels. Some games are complete and ready to ship whilst others are in Alpha, Beta or even pre production. Of course Shibusawa doesn’t have time to monitor them all which was why he made Koinuma the COO. However he strongly believes that games originally developed by him and that include the ‘A Kou Shibusawa Production’ in the credits need to be approved by him before going on sale as he has to have full responsibility over it.
Finally the Interviewer asked Shibusawa to talk about games he has played or liked. Right now Shibusawa is playing ‘Nobunaga’s Ambition 201X’ for Mobile and ‘Bloodborne’ for PS4, even at age 65. He played ‘Pokemon ORAS’ for 3DS before this as well as ‘Persona 4 Golden’. He played through the game 5 times so he could get endings with all the girls in the game. He also played ‘Zelda:LttP’ and got so immersed in all of these game worlds. Before completing the games or facing the final boss he will always save the game and then do everything he had missed before going on to 100% the game. He is definitely a true gamer and he says he enjoys playing because ‘games are fun’.
Koei Tecmo have had a strong 2015 and there is plenty more to look forward to in 2016. Recently the company updated their message on the Dynasty Warriors website portal to confirm that a big announcement would happen this year which is clearly hinting at a new game in the series. Also Koei Tecmo have plenty of unannounced projects including the big Western IP that Koei keep mentioning. I’ll continue to post Koei Tecmo news here.