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Interview: Marvelous' Wada Talks Style Challenges Of Western Development

Why are Japanese studios challenged in adopting the West's development style? Marvelous (Harvest Moon) president and CEO Yasuhiro Wada explains -- and also discusses the publisher's multiplatform reluctance.

Brandon Sheffield, Contributor

February 25, 2009

5 Min Read

[Why are many Japanese studios challenged in adopting the West's development style? Marvelous (Harvest Moon) president and CEO Yasuhiro Wada discusses the issue with Gamasutra, and also explains the publisher's reluctance to go multiplatform.] Though not yet a household name in the U.S., Tokyo-based developer and publisher Marvelous Entertainment has accumulated a strong following in Japan, where it has published numerous titles for Sony and Nintendo's systems, like No More Heroes, Rune Factory, and the unceasing Harvest Moon series. Expanding its business beyond Japan's borders, the company set up a joint venture with Nintendo distributor Bergsala in 2004 to publish its titles in Europe as Rising Star Games; and last May, the studio revealed a co-publishing agreement with Los Angeles-based Xseed. As part of that partnership, Marvelous and Xseed will release Little King's Story, a Wii exclusive simulation RPG co-developed by Town Factory and Cing (Trace Memory, Hotel Dusk: Room 215), later this year. The two companies will also publish Muramasa: The Demon Blade, also a Wii-only title from the developer of Odin Sphere. Marvelous president and CEO Yasuhiro Wada, also the creator of the Harvest Moon series, recently spoke with Gamasutra about his company, particularly its plans on multiplatform development going forward: How do you see the difference in game development cultures between Japan and the West? Yasuhiro Wada: The development style in Japan and abroad is so different... especially in the U.S., where each division has a goal and a vision of what they're supposed to do, and there's a management person on top of that. In Japan, it's more like an analog style. People who used to make games with five people are now making them with 50 people, but they're using the same style of making games. And they do completely understand the U.S.'s logical way of making it, but battling for that is really difficult. Why do you think no one does it? It's documented, and the methodology exists. Why do you think it's so hard to actually get a company to really do it? YW: One of the biggest things is that the top director still has a lot of power, while in the U.S. style, each division or each section has a lot of responsibility within itself. So, when you try to incorporate that into the Japanese style, where the top director has a lot of power, it just doesn't mesh. And even though they went with the documentation on what the U.S. is doing, it goes to the top director, and he just vetoes it. Yeah. Quite often, as I've heard from people, the directors will fill out spreadsheets -- the planners will fill something out, and there will be a box on the spreadsheet for "approval by director." That box is usually completely blank because they don't have time to look at it, so they're not even getting approved. YW: With the Japanese style, like you mentioned, there are a lot of [disadvantages], but at the same time, there's a lot of good in it. Even though we develop with the documentation order, if the game's not fun at the end, it's just not fun. So, that depends on how good the director is, in how much skill and vision he has. That can totally determine what kind of game it becomes. I think one of the really good things about Japanese development is that there is a director who is an overseer of quality and direction of the game. In the U.S., it's a bit more collaborative, it's less easy to have someone who you can say is in control of the project. YW: Yeah, definitely. There's good and bad for both sides. Is it difficult for you, as a person who has much more of a creative background, to be dealing with so much of the business of this company? YW: The most difficult part was that as a creator, I wanted to put a lot of money into development, but at the same time, in the business aspect, if we put too much money in, then we can't make money. One of the most important things, I think, is not to have one big hit, but to keep having successful titles, one after the other. It will definitely change the course. For Marvelous, there's been a lot of emphasis on Nintendo platforms. There have been a couple of games that feel like they would have been more appropriate on the more hardcore platforms. How do you feel about that? Do you feel that it's still really good to mostly target Nintendo? YW: We do have a really good relationship with Nintendo, so we'll continue making games for Nintendo. But at the same time, I'm very interested in the more hardcore platforms. All of the development projects that are going on require a lot of technical skills and techniques, and we'd love to eventually improve to the point where we can go on to the PS3, 360 and PC. To be honest, we always wanted to make a game on the hardcore platforms, but at that time, there wasn't enough money or skill. But now, I think we're at the point where we can actually go into it and start thinking that we can actually do it. There have been some games that feel like they could be multiplatform and also on the more powerful hardware, but Marvelous hasn't done much multiplatform yet. For instance, No More Heroes could have gone on the Xbox 360 very easily and been quite successful. YW: Of course. We're always thinking about going multiplatform. But at the same time, we don't just want to give it to different people to make it. We want to make it ourselves. So, it may take a little longer than we want to, but we'll do it little by little, and then go multiplatform. Basically, we don't want to license out our games, especially No More Heroes, because both Suda-san and I are in love with it, and it's like our baby, so we don't want to give it up to other people. So in making it, we definitely want to do it, and to publish it, we might give it to someone like Ubisoft [to distribute and market]. But the creation part, we don't want to give it up.

About the Author(s)

Brandon Sheffield


Brandon Sheffield is creative director of Necrosoft Games, former editor of Game Developer magazine and gamasutra.com, and advisor for GDC, DICE, and other conferences. He frequently participates in game charity bundles and events.

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