GS: Do you find that outsourcing with U.S. publishers has been different from Japanese publishers? Has it been a different experience?
KS: I don't know. We're not involved in the Japanese side of things.
MA: Personally I don't think that it's a big difference between them, but the teams always said that working with U.S. publishers was a bit more difficult, because they already have established connections with Japanese publishers. They don't have to have any contact with the Japanese publishers; they just do the game. Working with the U.S. publishers is a lot more work, since they have to tell the publisher what they are doing a lot of the time.
GS: So you have to go through a lot more checks at different stages and things?
SC: As a contrary from the Chinese side, sometimes working for American companies is easier than working for Japanese companies. That’s because sometimes we do art only, or very specific jobs, details, so the details and specifications of the work that are much more clearly defined and well-prepared before they give instructions to us. We just have to take the instructions and references, and execute them right away.
On the other hand, Japanese customers in a lot of cases leave slightly more space for us to be creative. Being creative is fun and is very exciting, but at the same time, the directional differences within that margin of creativity is difficult. Sometimes you hit that target on the first try, and sometimes you don't.
The cultural differences are a factor as well. Chinese people tend to think more similarly to American people than Japanese people, so the way people think may be a little more linear like Western thinking. The Japanese way of thinking is more non-linear, and more organic, so to speak. Depending on the kind of work we're doing, working for American companies is sometimes easier.
GS: Yeah, a lot of smaller American companies seem like they're getting interested in outsourcing partial work, like Wideload Games and Junction Point. They're seeing about how to outsource just bits of things, and more companies seem to be building internal structures that can support that. Like they’ll build the first instance of an asset, and then ask an outsourcing company to create more assets like that one. Have you seen that expanding?
KS: Yeah. Some companies only have a core internal team of producers, directors, artists to come up with designs, and engineers. Lots of companies keep engineers internal. They don't outsource a lot of engineers, though some companies do. Lots of small companies outsource to companies like us for assets. I think that's a very wise way of doing things.
It looks very simple, but it's not that simple. They have to have thorough planning, very specific directions, and stuff like that. That's the toughest part of developing a game, I think. But I've seen more and more companies like that nowadays.
GS: Yeah, you have to have really strong project management and directorial structure.
KS: That's right.
GS: Are you at all worried that places like India or Thailand will end up taking more and more of the outsourcing business from you?
SC: Yes! (laughs) Well, China and India are always compared, and always competing. India has very strong experience in high-end CG movies and television series, but not so much so on the games side. They're used to using millions and trillions of polygons, and spend several hours per frame as part of their production style. We are constantly limited by polygon budgets. The tools are similar, and they are computer generated images, but the thought behind it is very different in terms of approach.
Eventually though, they are going to cross. I think it's already starting to happen. The advantage that they have is that they speak English in India. We have a certain advantage in the time difference, however. The China/Japan timeframe is something where you can still talk in real time, while the end of the business day in the U.S. is the beginning for the business day in Tokyo or China. The time difference between India and the west coast of the U.S. is totally opposite, so it's kind of disconnected.
I think we have certain advantages, and with the use of certain tools, we can take advantage of as much as six days a week. I think we do have some advantage in terms of experience in game development as well. I think eastern Asia is much more experienced in game development by itself, but they can learn too, so in the next few years we have to be really good to keep it up.
GS: Have you considered opening an office there?
SC: Actually our CEO did go to India to do a search, but we haven't announced anything yet.
GS: Last year I asked if you knew what the first game Tose made was. Can you say what it is yet?
KS: Well, we weren't born then! (laughs)
MA: I checked our website, and it seems to be Sasuke vs. Commander. It might have been a little bit later than 1979. SNK was the publisher. (in fact it was released in 1980)
KS: Before Tose, I was working for Sega/Sammy, and then before that I joined SNK right after they released Samurai Shodown.
GS: So you were part of the group that left SNK to go to Sega/Sammy?
KS: Yes. SNK was bought by Aruze, and the employees split off between the two companies. Most stayed with the Aruze group though.
GS: How long were you with SNK?
KS: Almost six, maybe seven years. Good old days. Super Sidekicks, and King of Fighters.
GS: Tose is still independent?
GS: Is there a majority shareholder, or is it all just Tose?
SC: It's a public company, so... the Saito family owns a lot.
GS: Are you allowed to say any more of the games you've released since we've last talked?
KS: So at the end, you’re asking this question! (laughs)
MA: Well, there's the PSP and Nintendo DS version of Avatar: The Last Airbender, published by THQ.