This August, MCV revealed that publisher Bandai Namco had struck a new strategic partnership with Life is Strange studio, Dontnod Entertainment. Details about the game are still thin on the ground, but we do know it will be a brand-new IP focused on a new kind of narrative adventure set in a fictional US town.
Of course, given Bandai Namco's recent release schedule, the news shouldn't come as much of a surprise. In this year alone, the firm has published the likes of Tarsier Studios' Little Nightmares, The Farm 51's Get Even, Mojo Bones' Impact Winter and Slightly Mad Studios' Project CARS 2 to name just a few of its European-led titles.
Its partnership with Dontnod, however, represents the next stage of its diversification strategy, and Bandai Namco's European VP of marketing and digital Hervé Hoerdt (pictured above) has told MCV he hopes the company's western portfolio will help double the size of the company going forward.
"We're a Japanese-centric company and most of our content right now is coming from Japan," he said. "We know that, as great as this content is, we've been targeting the same audience for years, so we want to double the size of our business, and we're going to do it through more platforms, more localisation and more IPs.
Little Nightmares, developed by Tarsier Studios, recently received a three-part expansion pass, the second episode of which is due for release this November
"Japanese companies mostly develop on Nintendo and PlayStation [platforms], but more and more we have the Xbox, especially for the UK market, and PC. We also want our fans to enjoy localised games, so we're doing more games in languages like Polish, Russian and Arabic with more to come.
"Last but not least, it's about the IPs. Obviously, we think about the big anime IPs like One Piece, Naruto and Dragonball, but our Japanese content is only addressing a limited part of the market segment. We've also been working with studios in Europe and we've been going back to Japan saying, 'Okay, these are the hottest ones and we'll bring these new IPs to market over the next five years.' That's a pillar of our company, and we're going to use it to double our business."
"Our competitors are now doing fewer, bigger titles, which I understand from a PR perspective, but from a consumer perspective, video games have to be diverse, so we'll be somewhere in the middle. We won't go down the fewer, bigger road."
To achieve this, Bandai Namco has been busy developing long-term partnerships with a handful of key studios, creating "a broad ecosystem" with the potential for "several iterations," Hoerdt explains.
"This might be one or two games, or one title as a game-as-a-service, but also – and I think this is more important as an entertainment company – to put it beyond video games and look at it in 360-degrees," he says. "This means things like comics, toys, plush, board games, movies, series etc. We've already been talking to Hollywood studios at E3 for some IPs, so this is the kind of vision we have."
Bandai Namco is still being cautious about how it develops its European portfolio, though, as Hoerdt says it's very much looking for quality over quantity. Indeed, the publisher is aiming for just three to five narrative adventure IPs like Little Nightmares over the next five years.
"You can't market ten IPs," Hoerdt laughs. "Usually, when you run a new IP, you're not making any profit. Most barely break even, so you create a new universe and then it becomes understood and starts making a profit, allowing you to reinvest in that content. You also can't do one-shots if you want to take a 360-degree approach.
"Our competitors are now doing fewer, bigger titles, which I understand from a PR perspective, but from a consumer perspective, video games have to be diverse, so we'll be somewhere in the middle. We won't go down the fewer, bigger road.
Get Even saw developer The Farm 51 take on several genres at once, including stealth, horror and the FPS
"Ideally, we'd have two or three big titles in various ranges and genres appealing to various audiences in our top tier, and then in tier two, you can have three to five Little Nightmares-type games, for instance. In this portfolio content strategy, we want to bring a cluster of IPs that work well together, so Little Nightmares is there, Get Even is there, and the one we're working on with Dontnod sits in another direction."
Of course, this isn't the first time a Japanese publisher has branched out to court western developers, and Hoerdt points to the efforts of Square Enix as a source of inspiration.
"We've been a Japanese company, there's no doubt about that," he says. "But the shift we want to make is to move from a Japanese-centric company to a more global company with a Japanese DNA. I think Square Enix, for example, has actually done this quite well through its mergers and acquisitions, and as a competitor, I kind of admire the way they've balanced their portfolio. If we could achieve something in that direction, with our own DNA, I'd say we'd sit somewhere between Nintendo and Disney. We're really proud and excited to work on this as a company."