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Chunsoft Eyeing Overseas Markets

Developer of 428 and Shiren the Wanderer revives publishing business.

 
Sega gave the original 428 a big marketing push back in 2008.

For non-Japanese speakers, there hasn't been much reason to pay attention to Chunsoft. The studio originally made its mark as developer of the Famicom Dragon Quest games, then went on to produce a string of critically acclaimed visual novels, including Machi and 428 (the latter received a perfect score in Famitsu). Given the emphasis on story and text rather than button-mashing gameplay, the appeal of these titles may have been lost on many, especially those outside of Japan.

This could be changing shortly. In a new interview with Famitsu this week, Chunsoft CEO Koichi Nakamura outlined the studio's plans to return to publishing and also hinted at overseas initiatives.

428, Shiren the Wanderer and the more recent 999: 9 Hours, 9 People, 9 Doors were all developed by Chunsoft but published by other companies (either Sega or Spike). The last time Chunsoft published a game for itself with 2005's Homeland for GameCube. With Shiren the Wanderer 5, announced this week in Famitsu, the studio will be making the return to publishing.

Speaking with Enterbrain CEO Hirokazu Hamamura this week, Nakamura explained why the studio went the developer-only route in the first place. Around six years back, explained Nakamura, the game industry underwent somewhat of a shift as hardware and software increased. Chunsoft did not have the scale to keep up with national distributors and retailers, so they began talks with Sega. By handing off the sales efforts to Sega, Chunsoft would be able to focus on development quality.

Reflecting back on the six years as a pure developer, Nakamura feels that through games like the Sega-published visual novel Imabikisou and the Pokemon Co. published Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, they were able to truly focus on development. With Imabikisou, Chunsoft made some "selfish" requests to Sega, suddenly deciding to make the game fully voiced, for instance. This is the kind of thing they might not have done if they were the ones selling the game.

Scenes from 482. The game was released first on Wii, but came to PS3 and PSP later.
999: 9 Hours, 9 People, 9 Doors. Released in Japan through Spike, the game is being released overseas through Aksys.

Nakamura first began thinking about a return to publishing during the development of DS's Shiren the Wanderer 4, which was published in February by Spike. It was following that game's development that Nakamura felt that he wanted to try having Chunsoft do everything for itself once again.

Nakamura was personally proud of Shiren 4 and also noted that the game received favorable ratings on the net. However, it did not sell to expectations. The reason for this, he feels, is that they were not able to fully promote the game to players. For example, due to scheduling issues, they were unable to arrange a pre-order bonus.

For Shiren 5, Nakamura felt that in order to avoid any regrets when conveying the charms of the game, Chunsoft should handle everything related to the game, including promotions and sales. The game is being made based off Shiren 4, and Nakamura believes it will appeal to not just fans of the series, but players of the Square Enix published Mystery Dungeon: Toruneko's Adventure and even those who haven't played Shiren since the Super Famicom original.

Shiren 4, released earlier this year through Spike.

Chunsoft is planning on carrying of the promotional plans from Shiren 4 over, including posting gameplay videos to Nico Nico Video. Additionally, they'll be creating a Flash Shiren game, which they hope will get players interested in experiencing the full Shiren 5.

Being just a developer would make having a full set of such side promotions difficult, feels Nakamura. You need to have full control as a publisher.

These types of promotions are important now more than ever, Nakamura feels. People no longer play on just one game machine. They'll also spend time on mobile platforms or through social apps. Often, their time will be consumed by free-to-play games. Getting players to fork over money to play a game is more difficult now than it was in the past. You can't just show a commercial on TV and expect decent sales. You have to also do things like, as mentioned above, Nico Nico video promotions and releasing a Flash version of the game.

Chunsoft's publishing plans go beyond just Shiren. In the interview, Nakamura revealed plans for a completely original game. "At present, the platform is Nintendo DS. It's a game that is completely different from a sound novel." Asked for specifics, he said that he couldn't share the genre just yet, but did say that it's zombie-based.

Looking out further, Nakamura seems to have overseas markets in mind. "I've recently began to truly feel that looking just at Japan is no good. Most of the game makers who are currently having success are also good with overseas developments as well. Games are actually a form of content that suits worldwide markets, but we've largely ignored 'overseas' until now. However, in the future, I believe we should actively pursue development with overseas markets in our sights."

He added, "If we try to tackle the overseas markets, there are distribution issues. However, in the event of online distribution, these problems clear up."

Nakamura is also interested in download content and social game. Research in these areas is currently being conducted internally at Chunsoft, he revealed. As one idea, Nakamura mentioned (possibly as a joke) a game that finishes in three seconds.

We'll get our first look at Chunsoft's return to publishing when Shiren the Wanderer 5 hits in December. Famitsu.com has a first look.

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