Rising Star Games is a publisher with a very clear mission. It is, as its slogan proudly declares, the home of Japanese games: a haven for properties that might have otherwise struggled to secure a publisher.
The latest immigrant to take up lodgings with Rising Star is Pucca, a Korean franchise not visually dissimilar to one of the firm’s biggest successes, Hello Kitty. Like its feline forebearer, Pucca has made a name for itself in almost every medium imaginable: TV, fashion, merchandise and, of course, video games.
The series will make its UK gaming debut early this year with DS title Pucca Powers Up. It will depict the many adventures of the titular character Pucca, the young daughter of a noodle house owner, and her love interest Garu, a 12-year-old ninja.
It sounds kooky enough, but why Pucca? How does Rising Star choose from the hordes of cutesy Asian characters and decide which will appeal to the West?
“We have always taken the individual merits of a game into account,” says product manager Yen Hau. “Rather than just providing titles from a specific genre, we like to find high quality games and bring them to the UK market.
“We also pride ourselves on talking with our community as much as we can, and listening to what they want to see released in Europe. We try our best to secure these products and we manage to get some pretty big bites. Our dialogue with gamers has got us where we are today.
“Interestingly, Pucca’s target audience is slightly older than that of Hello Kitty. The game itself is a comedic action platformer. Whilst the imagery may appear to cater specifically for the young girl’s age group, the game has a slightly broader appeal and is more suitable for a wider audience. The Pucca merchandise may be favoured by girls, but the animated series was a hit among boys.”
Crucially, this latest partnership with Rising Star will be just as much a boon to the publisher as it will to the franchise’s global reach.
“Adding Pucca to our portfolio not only gives us a genuinely lovable game to release, but also brings with it that strong brand awareness that we can use
to further promote Rising Star Games,” says Hau. “It provides us with business opportunities that normal gaming brands cannot offer and opens up enormous markets outside of our usual gaming channels.”
EAST TO WEST
Rising Star has introduced countless Eastern properties to UK consumers, such as Hello Kitty, Rune Factory and No More Heroes, and often to great success. By now the firm is well versed in this process but that doesn’t make the release of a whole new brand any less challenging.
“The biggest task will be to educate consumers in the UK about the product and why it has been successful overseas,” Hau says. “Luckily for us there is already an installed consumer base of Japanese products and I believe we have been successful in creating a good relationship with these groups.
“With Hello Kitty and Pucca, little work is required as these groups – and the wider public – have seen these brands in one form or another.”
It’s a taller order than it sounds. While some western consumers may have already heard of many franchises from Japan and other foreign territories, the majority will be unfamiliar with any of Rising Star’s new signings – and therefore likely to dismiss what Hau describes as some genuinely promising products.
He explains: “The key difference really comes down to culture. Western gamers generally tend to favour the blockbuster titles, the cinematic and bravado that is clearly evident in games like Call of Duty, Uncharted, Splinter Cell and so on. These games are high-octane Hollywood-esque affairs, which gives players a real sense of action and immersion.
“Japanese gamers, on the other hand, tend to be more open in their acceptance of gaming genres, leading to success stories of dating games and such. However, it must be remembered that some of the best-selling games in the West are still developed in Japan: Bayonetta, Final Fantasy and Super Mario Bros. to name a few.”
HITTING THE HIGH STREET
Overcoming the obstacles in delivering Far Eastern properties to the UK High Street has become Rising Star’s speciality. The publisher has repeatedly tapped that distant land for unique brands and helped make them household names in the UK.
Some titles will be more challenging than others to bring to market, such as the acclaimed but niche Deathsmiles. In the latest Hello Kitty and Pucca Powers Up, the publisher has a comparatively easy ride given the established popularity of both franchises around the world.
“To start the year off with two games of such high brand awareness really makes a statement of intent on our part and will lead the way to a successful 2011,” concludes Hau.