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Koei's Kenji Matsuhara discusses Tecmo merger and more

Recap of the latest Nikkei interview


Continuing a series of interviews with game industry execs, Nikkei Trendy net posted this past Friday an interview with Koei CEO Kenji Matsuhara. While one might expect the big topic of conversation to have been the upcoming Koei/Tecmo merger, this was only briefly addressed towards the end of the interview.

There was quite a bit of interesting talk about general market trends, though. Here's a quick summary.

[end_p text="Click here to read the full interview summary" /]

Asked to first recap the year-end sales season, Matsuhara made note of strong performance for Gundam Musou 2 on the PS3, Xbox 360 and PS2. The game performed according to expectations despite what appeared to be a shrinking domestic game market.

Overseas, while he admitted that the company had no major releases for the year-end season, G1 Jockey Wii 2008 saw repeat orders following its September release. On the note of Europe, Matsuhara feels that this territory saw the biggest gains and that Nintendo and North American publishers were extremely strong there.

Giving a forecast for the current fiscal year as a whole, he said he expects the company to see its highest sales and profits. This isn't to mean that the company shipped the highest number of game units in its history, though. Online game fees both domestically and abroad increased considerably, pushing up the company's figures.

Looking to 2009, Matsuhara noted that a number of companies have plans for big releases for the year. Koei is no different. In addition to the previously announced Sengoku Musou 3 for Wii, the company has other unannounced big titles for the year.

Echoing comments from other publishers, Matsuhara noted that PS3 and Xbox 360 titles will see nine or ten times the shipment numbers overseas compared to Japan. Furthermore, he feels the difference is increasing.

As a result, Koei's titles in development for the PS3 and Xbox 360 have overseas markets in mind from the start. In its domestic studios, the company is making new action games that are not set in the Sangokushi or Sengoku periods (it's unclear if he's referring to just one game or to multiple titles). Additionally, the company's Toronto studio is working on new generation titles targeting the North American and European markets.

On the topic of download game sales, Matsuhara noted that online distribution is unquestionably expanding, but added that fans also enjoy going to shops and browsing the product. This isn't just true for game sales, but for sales of any type of content. Thus, he believes there may be a balance between online and retail distribution. He didn't seem too committal in giving actual figures, but suggested that perhaps games would end up falling into a 10% to 15% online sales ratio that's expected in the future from other products.

Responding to a question about changing trends in gamer buying habits, Matsuhara made note of a recent extension of sales periods for games. Musou Orochi Maou Sairin (PSP) was receiving repeat orders straight through the time of the interview (February), and total shipments for the game have reached three times the initial shipment. Gundam Musou 2 bucked the trend of games being sold back to used markets, which tends to kill off new sales, via online content distribution. Zill O'll 〜infinite plus〜 (PSP) saw higher-than-expected repeat orders, to the point that Koei wasn't able to meet shipment demands for a period.

Moving on to the upcoming merger with Tecmo, Matsuhara said that specifics on the goals and games for the merged Koei Tecmo Group identity will be shared this Fall.

He reiterated plans to keep Koei and Tecmo brands in place for current franchises. As an example, he cited Dead or Alive as being known as a game from Tecmo's Team Ninja, and that game players would probably think it best to not change that.

(Matsuhara's statements seem to indirectly suggest that Dead or Alive will continue even without Itagaki.)

Closing off, Matsuhara said that, looking at the market as a whole, he believes 2009 will be a year of growth both in Japan and overseas. Even if the North American and European markets were to slow, he believes they won't drop to minus from the previous year. For Japan, although the market slowed in 2008, 2009 is a year for major releases, so he expects a big expansion.

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