The Hudson brand has serious history in the game industry. Hudson Soft began operation in Sapporo, Japan in 1973, and was Nintendo’s first third-party publisher. As such, the company has enjoyed a longstanding history and collaborative spirit with Nintendo which continues to this day.
In Japan, the company was responsible, along with NEC Electronics, for the release of the PC Engine line of home consoles, called the Turbo Grafx 16 in the West. The console was a humongous success in Japan, though not so much in Western markets, launching too late to make a significant impact. The subsequent console, the PC-FX, did little to help the company, with some 64 games released, as other companies such as Sega with its Sega CD and Philips with its CD-i also foundered with FVM-based game models.
Since that time, Hudson has moved more operations into software, eschewing the hardware scene almost entirely. After many years not operating a U.S. office, Hudson opened Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Hudson Entertainment in 2003, headed by John Greiner, who has been with Hudson for over two decades. He spent the grand majority of those with the Japanese parent company.
Hudson in the U.S. is focused on mobile entertainment (games and ringtones, specifically), but has recently branched out into console publishing. As the gateway to the Turbo Grafx, Hudson’s titles are appearing on the Wii Virtual Console in droves, and Hudson is taking this opportunity to re-launch the brand in the U.S. with more force than has been seen from the company since the early 1990s.
In this exclusive, lengthy interview with Hudson Entertainment president John Greiner and director of marketing John Lee, a lot of ground is covered, from the difficulties of launching Japanese IP in the West, to the decline and subsequent reinvigoration of the parent company, to the company’s relationship with Konami, of which Hudson is now a subsidiary. With occasional divergences into obscure bits of Hudson knowledge and a discussion of executives riding tiny trains, this interview should tell you almost everything you need to know about Hudson for the near future.
GS: How do you feel about Bomberman: Act Zero’s reception in the U.S.?
John Greiner: The problem is, I think, when you look at the way the Japanese intended the game to be marketed, and how it was marketed, there is a disconnect. And I think it’s an unfortunate thing that happened, because Japanese Hudson and Konami U.S. don't speak to each other. So that needed to be properly explained, because the game is made as a multi‑player battle game, which is what the Japanese Hudson people thought American people really wanted.
Mind you, the game is really made for the Japanese market, but they do look to see what American tastes are. So I think, basically, without knowing those key selling points, then the message was lost, and if you play that game as a multi‑player game over the 'net, it's great. So in Japan, you can take a game like that and you can tell the market exactly what it is, and they will respond in kind. But you have to tell them. That's the problem. That kind of thing happens. But anyway...
GS: So how long have you been with Hudson? I know it's been a long time.
JG: Eighteen years.
GS: Eighteen years. What were you doing before that?
JG: I started my career at Hudson, actually. I graduated from college and went to Japan, and found Hudson, and never left.
GS: How did you wind up there?
I was actually traveling, and met the owner of the company. Those were
the early days of the Turbo Grafx, so Hudson had just released ‑‑ I
should say NEC had just released ‑‑ the PC Engine, and they were going
to bring it to America. And Hudson was, of course, a very important
factor in the technology, the software, everything, because the whole
machine is Hudson's that they then licensed to NEC, so Hudson was a
very important partner for NEC.
The NEC guys were Americans, and Hudson was a very Japanese company, and they needed somebody to help this transition. So Mr. Kudo, the chairman of Hudson, had to do business with the chairman of NEC Home Electronics, an American guy. And there was a big cultural gap, not just communication but cultural.
So he hired me for that, and we just built the business as it rolled along, because it really was a big deal at the time. There was so much success in Japan, and suddenly here was the idea to bring it to America, of course, and they had a lot of potential, so it was a big deal for Hudson and it was a big deal for NEC.
GS: So was NEC involved in the Japanese launch?
GS: Ok, I thought so.
JG: So Hudson never released any machine, we just licensed the technology; and we continued to support Nintendo while we did that.
GS: Yeah, I remember that.
JG: And of course Nintendo knew that with no problem.