INTERVIEW: Namco Bandai

Namco Bandai US, UK and Europe are now speaking one voice in a bid to be as successful across the West as it is in Japan. MCV speaks toUS VP Carlson Choi, UK VP John Galloway and UK marketing boss Lee Kirton…

What has changed for the overseas business?

Carlson Choi, VP, Namco Bandai Games America: Over the last year we have been beginning our transformation of the overseas business. We’re making sure that we are not only bringing East to West content – things like Tekken – but also sub-developing and bringing content from the West that can propagate to the East.

At the same time, our priorities over the last year have been making sure the US and European regions are sharing the same portfolio and launching games the same week. The goal is to be united and work in a way that Western gamers get their content at the same time.

This year, we decided to unite our overseas organisation under one leadership. Mark Tsuji is overseeing our European and US operation [as president]. That way we can have one united front as a Western organisation to better serve our consumers.

Are there any examples of the way you guys are working together?

Carlson Choi: Olivier Comte [European VP] is my evil counterpart. Part of what worked really well last year, particularly in marketing, was being able to spend a lot of time together making sure that every step we are doing is the same. So we no longer have the scenario where we ask: Hang on a minute, how did this get out?”

Last year we held two events, Ignite for the US in February and Level Up for Europe in April. That doesn’t make sense. That’s two events where we are briefing the media with the same person, the same content at different times. So we decided we are going to brief our media going forward with one single event, the Global Gamers Day. Now, when I say one thing, everybody hears the same thing.

You reported that Namco Bandai held a 24 per cent share of the software market in Japan…

Carlson Choi: That is amazing data to where we sit. It shows impressive leadership in Japan. We ask: How do we transfer that leadership position across Europe and the States?

How do you do that?

Carlson Choi: We have three pillars. The first, a really focused portfolio. That’s being able to deliver triple-A IP – like Tekken and Star Trek – and then making sure they are relevant to the consumer.

The next piece is looking at diversifying our IP and making sure there is ongoing DLC, so fans are not just finishing the game which then finds itself on the used market. That’s as well as platform extensions and making the game easily available, not only from the retailer but also from digital. And then there’s extension beyond just gaming. I think this is where Mark Tsuji can be a big help, he’s been in at Namco Bandai for almost 30 years and ran the toy business. And now that he is in video games, he is asking how we can make sure these IPs are going across the verticals and talking to each other.

The final and most critical pillar is community. If you look at Dark Souls on PC as a prime example, the fans set out a petition to get a PC version. Well, we heard them.

And then we have these community tournaments. We did the Soul Calibur V tournament in Las Vegas and over 100 fans turned up to watch. That’s the kind of excitement we want to provide fans.

I think those three core pillars are right for us. It is not going to happen overnight, let’s face it. It is going to take years. And we need to stay focused on delivering our products against these core pillars so we can reach that leadership position.

How will Tekken differ this year?

Lee Kirton, UK marketing and PR director: We are focusing on broadening the Tekken fanbase and turning the franchise into more of a stylish landmark. Tekken has its arms open wide and we will be showcasing a completely new strategy and implementation.

You talk about the growth of digital. How does retail fit into your plans?

Carlson Choi: Retail is changing. Retailers have started selling DLC based on these cards. But I think the question is: Where are retailers going themselves? And that’s more a question for the retailers. For us, it hasn’t changed our business.

Then there’s the next step. We announced that One Piece and Dark Souls are being released day and date with retail and digital, so the question then is, where are gamers going to acquire the content? I still think you are going to see a lot of heavy acquisition being done through retail. The broadband speed in every home is not at the state where you can download an entire game. The reality is that evolution is going to take a while. And I think retail through that time will figure out how it can still acquire that revenue, even if it is delivered digitally.

Are day and date digital and retail releases a turning point?

Carlson Choi: Steve Jobs changed the way people think in the music world. People were used to having physical discs, and he transformed that entire business to a digital goods business. And he started to do that with gaming. I think a lot of the first-party console folks are wondering how they can bridge the worlds of retail and downloads. And I think they decided: Yes, you can do physical and digital.” And that is a starting point. The question now is how do the first parties and retailers react?

The retail sector is challenged. How has that changed your overall approach?

John Galloway, VP, UK and Northern Europe: It definitely has been a challenge. We are investing more time pushing our titles direct to consumer, but the retail sector has had an impact on our business for sure. We will be thinking differently and working closer with retail to ensure our awareness is correct for the right titles. We will also be looking to make more of an event in-store for consumers to get excited around our games, and video gaming in general.

How important is it for you to find that next blockbuster?

Lee Kirton: We have successful franchises and we have many well-known franchises that may not be big sellers in the UK market. We are constantly looking for new opportunities, whilst developing new ways to expand audiences on Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, within the ‘Tales of’ universe and with kids and families. Everyone needs a Western mega hit. Hopefully, Star Trek and Tekken Tag Tournament 2 are that for us.

Do you approach your partner games differently to your own IP?

Carlson Choi: Not at all. I think if you look at our business, Namco has been about original IP, while Bandai is always licensed IP, so they get the same level of treatment.

Lee Kirton: The Witcher 2 and Sniper 2 are very important titles for Namco Bandai Partners UK. Both titles have great sales potential and are incredibly well developed. We don’t sign a lot of product but the ones we do in the UK are very important franchises for us that sit on top with triple-A priority.

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