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Q&A: Republique dev Camouflaj inks global publishing deal with GungHo

Gamasutra speaks to GungHo president Kazuki Morishita and Camouflaj lead Ryan Payton about why the two companies have tied up -- as the Japanese titan (Puzzle & Dragons) inks its second deal with a U.S. indie.

Today, GungHo Online Entertainment -- developer and publisher of the vastly popular Puzzle & Dragons -- has announced a partnership with a mobile developer of a very different stripe: The company is taking over publishing duties for Camouflaj's République.

Puzzle & Dragons is Japan's biggest mobile success story, and features match-3 gameplay; République is being developed in the Seattle area, with a vision of bringing console-style games to the mobile masses.

It's the brainchild of former Kojima Productions developer Ryan Payton, and still has two further chapters, out of five, in production. Under the new relationship with GungHo, it will be ported to more platforms and distributed in more territories; the company has signed a worldwide license to distribute the game.

Gamasutra had a chance to talk to Payton and GungHo president Kazuki Morishita about the new relationship at last week's E3 conference in Los Angeles.

"We've been looking for a partner for quite a long time, basically looking to find a partner that can help us bring République to a much broader audience, work together on some designs, bring the game to more platforms," Payton told Gamasutra.

Payton called the business relationship between the companies "muiltifaceted," but neither party was willing to go into specifics.

République is currently available for PC, iOS, and Android. Though envisioned originally as a mobile exclusive, during its Kickstarter campaign, Payton added PC and Mac versions to entice backers. It seems set to gain platforms thanks to this deal.

GungHo plans to market the mobile version of the game to Puzzle & Dragons players directly through the mega-popular app. "The biggest challenge," said Morishita, will be to get Japanese players informed about and thus interested in the game, since "they probably just know immediately what they want and just download that."

Unlike many publishers with world-beating mobile game franchises, Morishita is keen to support developers who make games for consoles -- or in a console-style mold. The company does deals for "titles I'm interested in," Morishita told Gamasutra. The company last year inked an agreement with Jake Kazdal's 17-Bit Studios (Galak-Z, Skulls of the Shogun) for future projects, too. 

Morishita, who personally oversees the development of GungHo's internal titles, described a "friendly rivalry" with Payton. "I'll make my games, Ryan will make his, and we'll show them to our internal teams -- and whichever they like more, they can go out and sell more," he said.

For his part, Payton agrees -- and also sees GungHo as a partner, thanks to Morishita's appreciation for games.

"When you enter a publishing deal, it's pretty intimidating to talk to companies. But it's also a choice for both parties. We talked to dozens of publishers," Payton told Gamasutra. "In a very good way, it was very different talking to Morishita-san and his team. Because the conversation was, from the first minute, about the content of the game, what we're trying to do with it, what's the thinking behind these design choices -- as opposed to, 'Let's look at the spreadsheets on it.'"

"I get the sense that we're in this together," Payton said.

It's the second U.S. indie deal for GungHo, which runs the publishing services for indie games out of its Los Angeles office. What the two have in common is that their creative leads, though American, cut their teeth in the Japanese industry; Payton worked on the Metal Gear franchise at Konami, while at Sega, Kazdal contributed to games like Space Channel 5 and Rez. Both are fluent in Japanese.

Morishita called that a coincidence -- but Payton sees a deeper significance.

"Jake and I grew up loving Japanese games. We moved to Japan because we loved Japanese games," he said. He points out that République is influenced by the original Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid games, while Kazdal's Skulls of the Shogun has a 32-bit era Sega flavor: "I have to wonder if that Japanese Sega Saturn, PlayStation 1 design DNA is in there, so when Morishita-san and his team play the games, that's coming through."

He said that the two companies have the same goals, and that makes them a good fit: Describing a lunch with Morishita in Tokyo, Payton said that "... as we talked about strategies and how we want to position the game, it always comes back to the core three things Camouflaj is about: It's high-quality, it's meaningful, and it's a broad audience. That's really the main reason we're working together, because GungHo has the same kind of three principles."

For more on République, check out Payton's postmortem of the first episode, and his comprehensive look back at the game's successful Kickstarter campaign.

Gamasutra will have more from Morishita later this week, but if you can't wait, you can read our interview from last year -- or our joint Q&A with Morishita and Goichi "SUDA51" Suda, which took place soon after GungHo's 2013 acquisition of Suda's studio, Grasshopper Manufacture.

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