It seems that Pac-Man is celebrating his birthday in style.
2015 marks the 35th anniversary of Bandai Namco's spherical superstar, and the publisher has kicked off the year by rocketing to the top of the UK charts.
Nearly a quarter of all boxed games sold in May were Bandai Namco titles, according to GfK Chart-Track, with the firm scooping a massive 36.6 per cent of software market revenue during the period.
This was thanks to two hit games in particular – The Witcher 3 and Project CARS – which were received feverishly by critics and consumers alike.
Launched on May 8th, Project CARS made records by becoming the first four-wheeled racing sim to top the charts since Codemasters' GRID 2 in 2013. It also showed the gold-paved road ahead for Bandai Namco after the game claimed a second weekly number one, becoming the publisher's first consecutive chart-topper since Ridge Racer 4 16 years earlier. Three weeks later, it's now sold more than one million units worldwide.
Project CARS' success was soon proved to be far from a fluke, as it was replaced at the top of the charts by Bandai Namco's next title, The Witcher 3, launched on May 19th. The epic RPG's sell-through rate smashed that of the other big 2015 hit Battlefield Hardline by 53 per cent, making it the biggest launch of the year so far.
These are indicators of the year ahead for Bandai Namco, says PR and marketing director Lee Kirton.
We have seen some incredible success with Project CARS, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Dragon Ball Xenoverse, and have F1 2015 just around the corner,” he observes. Alongside these, we have some very important franchises including One Piece, J-Stars, Project X Zone 2, Naruto, Godzilla, Saint Seiya and Tales of Zesteria, plus a great family range to be announced.”
Neither The Witcher 3 nor Project CARS were originally slated for release this year. Both were initially announced with 2014 launch dates, before experiencing multiple pushbacks to eventually land in May.
Kirton states determinedly that the delays were necessary in order to ensure the games' quality upon release – a tactic that certainly seems to have paid dividends.
The time taken in constructing something great needs to be taken into consideration and we obviously witnessed some slippage purely down to not wanting to deliver an unfinished title,” he explains.
Of course, games will always have updates and patches. However, this should be taken as a positive approach to supporting games after launch and continuing to make them better and add content.”
Being open with players has been a focus for both The Witcher 3 and Project CARS. CD Projekt Red responded to accusations of a graphical downgrade in The Witcher 3 shortly after launch, allaying fans' worries and outlining upcoming patches and fixes to the title. Project CARS, meanwhile, was originally crowdfunded by backers before being picked up by Bandai Namco, meaning players could follow the title's creation and offer input early on.
Rather than developing a game and just releasing it as a studio would, the involvement of fans from day one was incredibly important in development and communication,” recalls Kirton.
We've been saying in our communication that Project CARS was built for the future, a lot like Bungie's Destiny. Seeing the involvement of passionate fans interacting with the studio and us has been inspiring. It's been a major effort. It was a unique fit and something we could focus on as an important title for all of us.
All games should be developed with fans from the get-go. It shows in the delivery of what gamers want. We are very proud of the title and it's only just the start.”
"Project CARS was built for the future, a lot like Destiny."
Lee Kirton, Bandai Namco
Project CARS is a creation of British developer Slightly Mad Studios, while The Witcher harks from Polish outlet CD Projekt Red. But much of Bandai Namco's legacy still lies in its Japanese roots.
We have been developing and working on successful Japanese licences from the very beginning,” Kirton details. These are hugely successful in the Asian market and we have been bringing them to the West. We made a promise to fans years ago that we would deliver these titles in Europe.
We put the effort in with localisation and exclusive collector editions and collectible goods to offer something truly unique. We have structured teams that focus on our different titles and IP and offer something completely unique across a broad range of audiences, and this is something we excel in.”
Bandai Namco's latest Japanese title to succeed in the West is Dragon Ball Xenoverse. The game debuted in third place in GfK Chart-Track's weekly rankings, topped the global Steam charts and has now shipped over 1.5 million units.
Interest in Japanese titles has evolved over the years and is something that is stronger in some territories than others,” continues Kirton. Some regions grow up with anime and some do not – however, there is a substantial fan base across the whole of Europe.
We have an incredibly strong fan base in the UK and see fantastic sales on some IPs and good sales on others. We are aware of our popular franchises and manage titles effectively to deliver them all in a box on the shelf or through digital distribution. This is something that will continue to benefit us in a big way, as gamers have a continuous choice to buy a special collector edition or just download the game.
We wanted to make all of our IPs available for everyone and we have done this. This is only going to get stronger through our overall ‘entertainment focus' as a company, with different ways to provide anime content that fans want to see.”
2015 has already laid the foundations for a stellar year for Bandai Namco.
Kirton reveals how the company is preparing to keep up the pace going forwards.
We have strengthened our teams internally, which are made up of passionate people who treat every title as if it was developed internally,” he explains. We have strengthened our operations g