Bandai Namco goes west

It’s easy to chalk up Bandai Namco’s big wins of late: 2015 was The Witcher 3’s year, while 2016 was Dark Souls III’s. 

For 2017, though, the Japanese publisher has a more diverse, strength-in-depth slate, with a particular emphasis on European-developed titles, both indie and triple-A, which could forecast a shift in strategy.

“If you’re talking about Little Nightmares, Get Even, Impact Winter and Project CARS 2, we are putting more focus on our European-led publishing strategy and working with new developers to release incredibly exciting games,” UK marketing and PR director Lee Kirton tells MCV.

“We work so hard on our third party titles such as The Witcher 3, and working with indie developers, European
studios and amazing innovative games is something we have been keen on for some time. We are very excited to be working with Mojo Bones, Tarsier Studios and The Farm 51 to bring three very different and unique titles to the market.”

"We are putting more focus on our European-led publishing strategy."

Lee Kirton, Bandai Namco

Tarsier’s Little Nightmares and Mojo Bones’ Impact Winter are both set to launch this April, with the Farm 51’s Get Even due later this year. Until now, Bandai Namco was not necessarily going big on European-developed indie titles but Kirton believes the publisher struck gold when it decided to buy these three IPs.

“Quality, stories and innovation exist in all types of game studio. It’s hard to see the titles as indie as the quality and gameplay is as high as studios with teams of one hundred plus – they are a labour of love for us, truly,”
he enthuses.

“We have recognised some amazing talent and some truly genius games and we like being different. Little Nightmares is a beautiful dark story with an amazing look and feel and everyone that’s seen it just loves it. I asked Edge to do a cover and they were like ‘Yeah, we like the look of that’ and they wrote a stunning cover feature. Influencers love it as well and we put it in consumers’ hands early and received nothing but great feedback. 

“Mojo Bones are developing an amazing survival experience called Impact Winter and it’s also getting great buzz as is the sleeper psychological thriller Get Even. Media love it, and we have heard some great things about this story-driven action adventure. Lots of twists and turns as well as gun fights. One to watch, trust me. Really, trust me. It’s the Inception of games.”

On top of this, Bandai Namco partnered with London-based Slightly Mad Studios again this year to deliver the follow-up to its other big success of 2015, Project CARS. And, as is the case with Bandai Namco’s indie titles, Kirton’s enthusiasm is quite contagious when it comes to Project CARS.

“You noticed how excited we were to officially announce Project CARS 2,” he smiles. “Our relationship with Slightly Mad Studios and this franchise runs deep and we are very passionate about working towards delivering the best racing franchise ever.”

But, of course, every games company is always convinced it’s delivering the best franchise ever, so what can we expect from Project CARS 2 compared to the previous entry?

“So much more,” Kirton answers. “The team has worked hard to improve visuals, add key manufacturers, more disciplines including loose surface, ice, integrated eSports functions, specifics on real-time weather, improved handling in every way and everything you wanted to see from the first release.

“Honest to god, I have never seen so much effort, passion, data feedback, recordings, physics work, and so on, go into a racing game. This game actually helps racing drivers win races yet sits nicely in the hands of someone that just wants the best-looking and most dramatically exciting racing game ever.”

Project CARS was initially crowdfunded (and crowdsourced) via Slightly Mad’s WMD Portal back in 2011. The racing sim suffered from multiple delays, dropped its PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii U versions along the way, but it finally hit shelves in 2015, and ended up being a huge success. 

Slighly Mad has chosen to crowdfund the sequel, too  – which could be seen as an odd move considering they had Bandai Namco backing the project as well.

“I think it’s an interesting way of involving the community from the start,” Kirton explains. “I think it’s great that a developer builds a racing game the way the fans want it. They know, don’t they? The racing pros know, don’t they? Building a game with over 17 years of history, data, knowledge and involving the community and professional drivers is exactly how a motorsport game should be built. We supported Project CARS heavily and made bold statements. We continue to for many reasons.”

Bandai Namco’s support of Slightly Mad is absolute and Kirton expects Project CARS 2 – which doesn’t have a release date yet – to be another big success.

 “We have high expectations considering the success of the first release and our plans for the sequel. It’ll be Bandai Namco UK’s largest investment and we have a huge level of activity planned throughout 2017. 4K, 12K, VR, the most realistic racing game, dramatic, beautiful in every way, all major disciplines, manufacturers, intense real-time weather and seasons and so much more to reveal over the coming months.”

Meanwhile back in Japan…

If Bandai Namco seems to be focusing on the western market right now, there’s no denying its Japanese roots, as it also has a number of home-grown titles in the pipeline.

“Tekken 7 is eagerly anticipated and getting the game perfect and content complete has been our focus,” Bandai Namco UK’s marketing and PR director Lee Kirton explains. “Ace Combat 7 is very exciting and it’s the leader in the flight-action-combat genre. Dark Souls III is important to the company and the new DLC and Game of the Year edition will offer something new to fans and deliver a welcome package to new players.”

He continues: “We have more announcements to make soon, but don’t go forgetting the super exciting Ni no Kuni 2. This title made people’s jaws hit the floor when we first announced it in 2015. It’s a beautiful game from Level-5 with some truly dazzling talent behind it.”

Kirton is confident about the appeal of Japanese games in the west and upbeat about demand in Japan, too, which has arguably suffered in recent years due to the popularity of mobile games in the region. 

“I think it’s as strong as it’s always been,” he says. “The market is different with many IPs dominating Japanese charts and trends are different, but we’ve always been supportive to our audience, hence working with them to bring key franchises to the west as close as possible to the Japanese release date. I believe Japanese studios offer some incredible styles of gameplay that the market has been missing for years. Some very interesting, innovative development comes from Japan.”

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