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EA Takes Japan: An Interview With Rex Ishibashi
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EA Takes Japan: An Interview With Rex Ishibashi

October 16, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

Speaking specifically of the Grasshopper game, and other projects that might be in the works. You were talking about bringing Western games into Japan. So are any of the projects that you're working on global projects? Is Tsumuji just primarily for the Japanese market?

RI: The launch in February is absolutely Japanese. We're still discussing internally the global reach that this game can have. I think we're taking the approach of strong launch in Japan; let's see how it launches; let's see what the interest is, with respect to buzz outside of Japan, and make a decision later on.

I think we'll make that decision by the end of the year. I'm already actively in conversations with the executives in EA about doing that; we just haven't made that commitment or that announcement yet.

And then, when it comes to other products that you're working with EA Japan, are those global targeted, or primarily Japan targeted?

RI: Right. Great question. Well, if you look at the Japanese games charts, maybe about 20 percent of the games that are published here in Japan -- you know, franchises that we all know: Final Fantasy, etc. etc. -- have global reach. There's a lot of games that get developed here that only stay here in Japan.

Clearly, with game budgets being what they are, on next gen especially -- PS3, Xbox, even on Wii -- and frankly, in terms of the ROI we expect on the development dollars? Our eye is certainly global. We're not looking to develop niche products that from the get-go we're saying "it only plays in Japan".

I've been left with the impression, at least with the Grasshopper game, that that's definitely a global reach title. Grasshopper's games definitely, I think, particularly resound with western audiences. Maybe in some cases more than they do with the Japanese audience.

RI: Yeah. I think they are quirky. I love them, and I'm not sure if that's the Japanese gamer in me, or the American gamer in me, that loves them. But, I mean, they resonate on both sides of the pond. I'm excited because I'm going to ship it in Japan, frankly. I love Suda-san, I love working with Mikami, and we're big believers and supporters. The game absolutely is intended for global. The game, with Suda at the helm, absolutely will appeal to the Japanese as well.

Obviously, EA has very strong marketing in the West, but I think maybe the people at EA's organizations -- without being too overgeneralizing -- may not have the familiarity with dealing with non-Western titles in Western markets. Do you think that could potentially present a challenge for some of your stuff?

RI: I used to be with EA from '97 until 2001; I'm the one who brought in the Square/EA partnership. We did a pretty good job of marketing the Square products where we moved millions of units, so... I think great product speaks for itself.

Obviously, with a franchise like Final Fantasy, there's a built-in market for it already. But I think great product will sell.

Great product targeted to the Japanese market is going to be incredibly important, especially from Japanese creators, and we have confidence that with the sensibilities that we have as a global organization -- and as well the market muscle that we have in Europe and North America -- that the right titles brought over from Japan to North America and to Europe will sell well.

Are you delivering feedback to your development teams about what you think will make the games appeal to the West?

RI: Absolutely.

Do you have a process for that?

RI: It's an organic process. It's a challenge in both directions; it's a challenge to have too much influence from the West on Taka's team, as they develop a game like Tsumuji.

And at the same time, I am incredibly respectful to all the teams, and the executive producers that we work with -- on Dante's Inferno, Army of Two, and some of the other key titles from the West that we expect to bring to Japan -- about at what point do the changes make the game not the game that they want to develop. And so I am incredibly respectful of that.

EA has been so strong in the Western territories, but if you can do it right, you could actually expand your market share a lot in Japan. Like you said, it's the second biggest country territory in the world, so it seems like it's an obvious target, but it seems like it's so culturally...

RI: Unique.

Yeah, exactly.

RI: Yeah. My perspective on that is, and the analogy I'll use, is: Fox Network, probably about five years ago, probably about seven years ago, did a bunch of programming for Saturday morning cartoons, of 'fake anime', if you will -- anime developed in the West. And they were trying to ride the Pokémon wave, and some other things. And ultimately, those shows ended up being pretty good vinyl, as opposed to real leather. In the anime circles.

And I think, in the past, EA, with such a Western-centric development engine, if you will, was always taking a very Western approach to Japanese games development. And I think -- I know -- the company is willing to -- case in point: Tsumuji -- make the break and say, "Hey, you know, rather than send a great American chef, or French chef to go cook great Japanese food in Japan, let's get the Japanese to do it."

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