Marvelous Entertainment has grown enormously as a company from its inception in 1997, working on smaller licensed titles. By 2005, the company was publishing games like No More Heroes while internally developing its flagship Harvest Moon series.
But the Japanese-headquartered publisher and developer has had it rough in recent years, as its core-oriented games have struggled to find the market they need to sustain growth.
Marvelous-funded Muramasa: The Demon Blade is about to release, and its well-reviewed core/casual-straddling title Little King's Story has just released through Xseed. (See our interview with that game's producer, Yoshihiro Kimura).
As neither a casual nor hardcore-oriented company, Marvelous is continuing to find its place in the market. Gamasutra spoke with director of digital contents Yasuhiro Wada (also the company's defacto creative director) regarding the current and future state of Marvelous, the company's plans for the U.S. market, and the publishing relationship with Xseed.
What do you feel is the current state of Marvelous Entertainment today?
Yasuhiro Wada: I think we are concentrating heavily on Wii games. Starting from Autumn last year in Japan we came out with Harvest Moon, Rune Factory, Muramasa, Arc Rise Fantasia and Little King Story, and I think those are really solid titles for the Wii.
I'm wondering if the situation in Japan is at all affecting Marvelous's US initiatives? Because I know that Marvelous may be having a more difficult time this year than in some previous years?
YW: Thatís right. Titles are getting good reviews and the user feedback has been great but it's not really equaling out to the sales potential that we're expecting. It is a difficult time for us, but we just have to keep at it and keep doing what we're doing.
Speaking of which, how did Ignition wind up with Muramasa?
YW: It's a tough question. Ignition have been approaching Muramasa for a long time and we've been talking with them for a long time as well but at the end it was a political issue and they snatched it away. It is a touchy subject. [laughter]
I know. I have friends on both sides. Itís a very confusing situation.
YW: I've been working with Xseed for a long time, but at the end it became Ignition, so yeah, it's a really confusing issue for everyone.
The relationship between Marvelous and Xseed is still kind of confusing sometimes. How much does Marvelous have to do with the non-Marvelous games that Xseed puts out like Ragnarok DS or Fragile or games like that? Does Marvelous have any input in brokering those deals?
YW: I think that the most simple way to explain it is that Xseed is their own independent publisher and Marvelous USA is our own independent publisher, but we don't have the manpower or the knowledge to be a full-fledged U.S. publisher yet, so in those places Xseed is helping us out with the publishing side. But of course Xseed has its own titles, so that's completely different from what we have.
I remember two or three years ago you said that there would be a Marvelous office in the US within two years. Is that ... I mean, there isn't exactly one, yet. When's the new deadline?
YW: There isn't one! [laughs] Weíre flexible.
What is your impression of the state of third parties on the Nintendo platforms right now, market-wise? Because Marvelous is putting out some good games, but as you said, they don't always achieve the sales results.
YW: Difficult question. The Nintendo market is pretty humongous right now but I think that's primarily because of all the light users, the casual users. The core userbase for the Wii is really still small. One of the things that Nintendo is trying to do, like with the Motion Plus, is try to make it more advanced and more friendly to the gamer-gamer.
But it's still not enough because Sony and Microsoft are starting to do the same sorts of technology. In those cases they are still weak, but I think it's really important to have more core titles such as Zelda and other titles from Nintendo to grow that core market area, so the whole market can grow as well.
It seems like that is really not Nintendo's focus, growing the core market, generally leaving that task to third parties like Marvelous. To adapt to the actual market, do you feel that Marvelous may have to move away from traditional games and start doing things more like the yoga, fitness, or training kind stuff? Well, I think the training trend is over, but now it's motion and fitness and things.
YW: Itís not like we really are in love with Nintendo, weíre in love with making good games. Some of those just happened to appear on all those Nintendo platforms. We're in love with all the other platforms as well, so we orient any game to whichever platform.
A lot of different companies are going to HD-heavy platforms, meaning their technology isn't really so advanced that they can really utilize it. And because of that the idea part doesn't have to be that solid but the technology is enough for people to play.
I don't think that Marvelous is at that level of technology yet, so that's why we have to really fight with our ideas game planning and game design. At a certain point we will reach that place and we can advance to multiple platforms and different other venues.
When do you think, and through what methodology, will you get to that technological level? What path will you take to try to get there?
YW: I think two or three years ago we were concentrating on the DS and PSP platforms. The only way to advance is to gain experience, so just by creating more games and learning what to do on new platforms.
Right now as a company we are concentrating on the Wii but at a certain point we'll reach the point that we can say, ďOkay, I think we maxed out what we can do for WiiĒ, and at that point we can utilize that skill and knowledge for the PS3 and Xbox 360.
So you're not going to license technology, you're going to do it yourselves?
YW: It is a priority to come up with our own engine. At the same time we're not limiting at that. For example the Unreal Engine, if there's something else that we can use to utilize it more then we'll definitely go with that route too.
Do you foresee in Japan more third-party development partnerships, like how Marvelous published No More Heroes and Arc Rise Fantasia and things like that? Do you see that that will happen more in the future for you?
YW: Yeah, I think there will be multiple game titles where we'll have that kind of situation. We do have our own Marvelous development team thatís working on Harvest Moon and whatnot. I don't think we'll just start to put more effort into that straight away but I think it's really important to communicate with other really good developers and see what we can learn from each other.