Following it's Revitalizing The Legacy interview, Gamasutra catches up with Taito's senior producer for mobile products in the U.S. Keiji Fujita. We discuss with him the shifting sands of the current mobile games industry and Square Enix and Taito's evolving relationship.
Since we last spoke, Exit has been released on XBLA.
Keiji Fujita: I haven’t heard any news about the game in the United States. The Live Arcade version was done by Taito in Japan; I didn't get involved.
Are you trying to get involved with Taito Live Arcade stuff in the future?
KF: Maybe. I can't really get involved. I found out about the Live Arcade right after I came to the United States in September 2006. But my proposal was rejected by the management team, unfortunately. They say they prefer to do everything in Japan.
That's weird, because a lot of companies now are trying to get their U.S. operations to take care of things that are Western orientated. Why do you think that is?
KF: I think they'd prefer to go directly...
To Microsoft? I see. Looking at Taito's mobile market, is that going well?
KF: Yeah, there is a breath of change. AT&T and Sprint Nextel are trying to downsize the number of official content providers. For AT&T, I think less than 10 companies survived, and Sprint Nextel also downsized to 12, I think. On the Sprint Nextel side, I think they're trying to minimize the number of games as well. Under 250 games, in fact. So now Square Enix and Taito don't have direct communication anymore. We have to go through one of the three aggregators.
Why do you think they're cutting down so much?
KF: Maybe there are too many games on the deck, maybe they want to remove the non-profit making games. They're trying to enhance their product line at their storefront, I guess.
It's interesting that they think that's the problem, because a lot of people could say that since the deck is the main content delivery platform, that's more of a problem.
KF: Yes, exactly. But now the door is no longer wide open, so we have to be very careful of making a new game. If we launch a new game on U.S. mobile carriers, before we cover the initial costs the game could be removed from the deck, which would be very harmful to us. This kind of thing already happened with Verizon Wireless last year. They are very strict about the product lineup, and they have some internal standards. If the sales of a certain game are below their standards, then they will instantly remove it from their deck.
Even though it's a download market, it sounds like they're trying to turn it into a retail market.
It's very strange, because it's just conceptual space that they're trying to free up. It's not actual shelf space.
KF: I think not only Square Enix and Taito are having problems. I think the rest of the game publishers have had the same problem. I'm still seeking a breakthrough. I have to reconsider our business structure and business scheme and everything. I have to reevaluate. In fact, I'm already seeking a new business partner for the U.S. market. I can't disclose exactly who I'm talking with, but I'm talking with four companies. We will eventually select one of them, and this company will be our new business partner for the mobile game business in the United States.
Someone who will distribute Taito and Square Enix games?
KF: Yes. All I can do is prepare the summary report, so that management chain and eventually our president of Taito, Yoichi Wada, will make an executive decision who to work with. It's going to happen pretty soon.
It seems like there's a lot to do by yourself.
KF: Yes, exactly. Since I'm already personally running the business here. As I mentioned previously, I'm planning to launch Cooking Mama, and Space Invaders. The multiplayer version of Bust-A-Move was released by AT&T last month, and it has been well-received by the wireless subscribers.
But in spite of that, they still won't talk to you directly?
KF: We still have to go through the new business partner. That's a problem.
So do you wish that you hadn't been given this job?
KF: Ah! (laughs) Basically, I’ll have to take care of sales and marketing policies of Taito-branded content, even when we start working with the new business partner. They will take care of the distribution and the development of the games, but for the sales and marketing policies, I can't let them do everything. We must take care of our strategy. But I'm going to spend more time in maybe new business development, rather than mobile, or trying to establish a new kind of revenue source, rather than mobile carriers.
Is that for mobile content, or Taito content in general?
KF: Taito content. Especially mobile for the time being. I'm trying to establish a close relationship with handset manufacturers. I will also consider the Canadian market, which we've never done in the past. And the iPod. We don't have a direct deal with Apple, but our new business partner has a deal with Apple already, so we could expect new revenue from releasing iPod games.
What games will you bring to iPod?
KF: I would say that Bust-A-Move is the most suitable game to the iPod.
Do you still have the rights to Cooking Mama?
KF: For the iPod, I think we have to get a new license from Office Create, which is the original developer of the game, because the iPod is outside mobile, I guess.
Did the mobile version of Cooking Mama get released?
KF: Not yet, unfortunately.
Cooking Mama was a big thing for Taito. I know you’ve said that Taito is continuing to look at old properties, but are they looking at any new things, like Cooking Mama?
KF: Unfortunately, I haven’t heard any news about anything like that. Basically, my understanding is that they are focusing on the Nintendo DS, and most of the business is remaking Taito's arcade classics. Arkanoid was released last year in Japan, and Space Invaders Extreme [was released in February]. In fact, these two games will be published by Square Enix in the United States.
Are those going to be the first Taito games to be published by Square Enix?
KF: Yes, exactly. Exit is also part of the lineup, and The Legend of Kage Part 2 will be released in Japan, too. I think the new version of The Legend of Kage is pretty good! The graphics are totally different from the original version.
Are you also in charge of the Square Enix properties that come to the U.S.?
KF: Not really. There's another guy who comes from Square Enix's headquarters to the United States who's taking care of all the Square Enix-branded games. Nowadays, the Taito console chain is more under the Square Enix side, even although they are still in the Taito office. The decisions will be made by Square Enix, so I'm not really sure what's going on.
It seems like Taito games would not be their priority, in terms of expanding.
KF: As you know, Square Enix doesn't have casual games. It really depends on how Arkanoid and Space Invaders Extreme do. If those two games go well, then they'll continue to publish other kinds of Taito games, I guess. But if not, then they may stop publishing Taito games.
Would you be able to go through a third party then?
KF: I'm not sure, really. My understanding is that they wouldn’t license the games to a third-party anymore. They want to maintain the sales inside the Square Enix title group.
But I guess future Cooking Mama stuff will still be under Majesco?
KF: In the U.S., yes. From Cooking Mama 2, Majesco has got the license from Office Create directly. They actually bypassed Taito. But we are the licenser for the Japan market.