Bigger in Japan: Why Keywords bought developer Wizcorp

Earlier this year, Keywords Studios continued its recent swathe of acquisitions by picking up Japanese developer Wizcorp, which fits into the company’ strategy of gaining more development capability.

“We wanted to offer more services,” Christopher Kennedy (pictured above), Keywords’ regional MD in Asia, tells MCV from Japan. “Keywords outside of Asia had already taken such steps, taking on development teams such as Sperasoft, D3t and Electric Square among others.”

In fact Wizcorp is the eighth studio to join the co-development focused engineering segment of the company.

“Wizcorp is a fully end-to-end development studio. So they can do full game development, they can do co-dev with a client, they can do hit squad and come in and just fix the UI up for you. Say for two months you need ten people – they can do that whole spread of services.

“They have engineers, they also have artists, designers, it’s a full team,” he notes. “That’s the core concept. It’s an international development team located in Japan. I don’t think we would ever want to change that recipe. It’s a very good one and a unique one.”

“We take games into Asia, out of Asia and around Asia.”


The concept of an international team in Japan also fits in well with Keywords’ current operations, Kennedy explains: “To give you a little background, we actually opened the Keywords office here at the end of 2009. So Keywords Tokyo will be having its tenth anniversary this December. We started very small, a small offshoot of the Dublin headquarters at the time, wanting to sort of recreate what Dublin did in Europe for Asia.

“Our Dublin office was quite the pioneer – doing multiple languages and multiple services in one place. So we tried to build the same thing in Japan. Traditionally it was testing and translation, and then audio recording, customer support, player support.”

He then summarises: “We take games into Asia, out of Asia and around Asia.”

And to achieve that the larger Keywords team in Tokyo is more diverse than you might expect in one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries on earth: “We’ve got about 300 people now and about 60 per cent of those are not Japanese.

“And that’s where Wizcorp was a great fit because it too is a mixed, international team. It’s about about 35 people but only about half of them are Japanese local. The other half are a mixed crowd of people from around the world. So now we have two groups of people in Japan doing game services with very international atmospheres.”

Wizcorp’s existing client base, for which it primarily develops browser and mobile titles, is purely Japanese companies, continues Kennedy: “We can build that [existing] business, help them build that business, with our sales team, with our existing contacts from the rest of the services we provide.”

But the possibilities for the group are potentially far greater he tells us: “What we can also do is manage a project here in Japan, in Japanese, with the client. And then do some of the development in our Poland office, or do some of the art out of our China or India office.

“So we can have the producer or project manager here in Japan, working in the local language, and use the low-cost resources where it’s easier to increase the headcount, to grow at faster speeds.”

Growth in Japan itself is comparably difficult. Demand for skilled employees is very high and office space is also at a premium, Kennedy notes when asked about locations: “There are two offices and there’s no immediate plans to bring them together. Mostly just due to space restrictions. Tokyo is not the easiest place to grab real estate!”

It may not be in the same building then, but Wizcorp will be a huge enabler for Keywords’ broader business in the country.

“For western or Asian clients that want to come into Japan, we can now take those projects, do the engineering, get it ready for Japan, change the UI, change the graphics, test it here locally and then do the live ops and run the game.

“Our Japan sales team is super excited. They have a lot of interest in selling development services and now that they have that opportunity they’re super happy as well.”


Space allowing then, the Wizcorp team should grow along with Keywords’ plans.

“We see a lot of potential to grow that team over the next few years. The market here is good, with both console and mobile seeing good times,” Kennedy tells us, with that growth being shaped by the demand from clients: “Whether it’s by building more games in Japan, for Japan, or it’s helping bring games into Japan… But yes, we’ll grow. We’re always very flexible to grow in whatever way our clients need us to.”

Keywords is looking to expand the skillset of the team in order to capture more business, something the developer is already used to.

“Wizcorp started as a web application company, so they were building apps for the web and then they started dabbling in games and saw that that was a lot more fun and so moved their focus over there but kept some of the roots. So they kept HTML5 as their core area of expertise.

“HTML5 is interesting because it’s native to the browser. You don’t have to download the game. So it’s quite nice in countries where the internet infrastructure is not as good. And people don’t want to download a 400 or 500 megabyte game before they start playing.”

It’s also about to become more interesting still, with Snapchat recently integrating HTML5 games into its platform.

Some of the Wizcorp’s team in Tokyo, promoting title Striker Arena

“Wizcorp have gone on to get more knowledge of Unity and they’ve started working with Unreal Engine as well. So they have a lot of interest getting into console titles as well and so we’ll be able to leverage quite a lot of that because our existing development services are heavier on triple-A console titles.”

It’s another string to Keywords’ impressive bow, and the timing looks good.

“When we started here, there was definitely a lot more mobile and there wasn’t a lot [of games] coming out of Japan. Whereas now we see both console and mobile games in Japan are going out at a much faster rate and into more languages.

“Over the last couple of years we’ve also seen Japanese triple-A games being made available on Steam in addition to PlayStation 4, which is amazing.”

With more avenues both into and out of the country, Keywords obviously hopes that Wizcorp and its broader Japanese activities will continue to grow in an increasingly globalised market – as long as it can find the office space of course.

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