Japan Kinects to the U.S. - Land Ho's unusual story
The Kinect has sold well in the U.S., but like the Xbox 360 it's attached to, has not fared so well in Japan. And yet for Japanese developer Land Ho!, Kinect has been a breadwinner, as it developed Just Dance Kids 2 and Body and Brain Connection for Ubisoft and Namco Bandai respectively.
Now, the company is finishing up work on Kinect title Crimson Dragon, the spiritual successor to Panzer Dragoon, in association with Grounding, Inc.
How did a smaller Japanese developer become successful in the Kinect scene?
"I would say most of our games that are Kinect games are targeted towards the Western audience," begins Land Ho! general manager Takahiro Fukada. In fact, company is facing fully Westward with its Kinect titles.
"The thing with Kinect titles is," says Fukada, "well, even with the Xbox itself, is that the scene is not that big in Japan. So the Kinect market is even smaller in Japan -- not that many people have Kinect consoles. There are some small things that we try and be careful about, you know, small things like trying not to jump, because that can cause loud noises and things like that. But basically, we don't really worry about the Japanese market when making Kinect games," he admits.
If you've got a completely Western-oriented product, it's not really worth considering the Japanese market at all, he says.
"The Xbox system, when it first started I think it was targeting more toward the core gamer," says Fukada. "And when the Wii came out it was targeted more toward the casual gamer, and I think there are a lot more casual gamers in Japan than hardcore gamers. So yeah, the system itself is kind of labeled as a hardcore gaming device, and although there are a lot of casual games, like on Kinect, a lot of lighter game people still tend to think that the Xbox is more core-oriented. So yeah, I also think that also hurts," he says.
Market issues aside, developing for Kinect in space-conscious Japan is no picnic either. Large office locations are a premium luxury in any major city, but in Tokyo, the costs are exponentially higher at times. But if you're developing for Kinect or other motion-based consoles, you need that extra space.
"In our last game, Just Dance Kids 2, this was a Kinect, PS Move, and Wii game," he says. "So all the people that were doing the actual scripting or actual dancing had about maybe 50 percent more room than all the other people, like the programmers or designers." This is a significant financial tradeoff, says Fukada.
But ultimately he's bullish on the motion control market, as games like Crimson Dragon linger on the horizon. "I think it's always been an upswing," he says. "You know, it all started out in arcades. There were a lot of action-based games in the arcades ever since the first ones opened up. And it's still true now, but with the Wii, with the Kinect and with the PS Move. A lot of that old arcade feeling is coming in to the living room," he says.
For the time being, Land Ho! will still be making motion games, even as the market evolves.
"It's still fun, and it's still entertaining," says Fukada. "And as long as it's entertaining, and as long as it's fun, I think there will always be a market for it."