In 2009, Brian Reynolds, of Big Huge Games, shocked the traditional gaming space when he left that studio and joined Zynga. It later came out that he did so to work on FrontierVille. At the time, he seemed incredibly enthusiastic about this opportunity.
Another big-name strategy game developer has changed sides -- but this time, it's across the ocean. Toshiro Tsuchida, creator of the Front Mission series and longtime Square Enix developer, who contributed substantially to the Final Fantasy series, has joined GREE, one of the top two companies in the Japanese social game space.
Unlike in the West where Facebook reigns, the biggest area of compehatition for social games in Japan is in the mobile space, where GREE (which owns OpenFeint) and DeNA (which owns Ngmoco) are battling it out for supremacy.
Gamasutra spoke to Tsuchida to find out what attracted the console development veteran to the social space, and why specifically GREE. How does he see the market evolving as more and more traditional developers get attracted to the space -- or are forced into it by the declines in the fortune of console games in Japan?
"Social gaming really is about the direction the gamers want to take it, in a good way," Tsuchida told Gamasutra, about this new-to-him style of development. The following interview, which was conducted at the Tokyo Game Show last month and which represents Tsuchida's personal thoughts on the revolution, follows.
Why did you choose to go to GREE as your next step?
Toshiro Tsuchida: Well, one thing is that, as I got hands-on with social games as a player, I wanted to learn more about the design methodology behind them. I didn't want to be out of the loop on that knowledge as I continued to work on games, and I felt I might as well be where there's the most available on the subject. I didn't know what they'd think of me, but I figured I'd contact them, and it went from there with GREE.
What do you think about working at the company which has the biggest booth at TGS 2011?
TT: Well, I joined GREE on a personal basis, because I wanted to find out more about this business in general, but since then I've really felt like the rest of the industry has started to shift along those lines as well.
That's true, and in the U.S. there are a lot of developers from the traditional space doing the same thing. Why do you think that's happening?
TT: I think part of it is the income factor -- the way that it brings revenue to developers on a closer basis -- but in the background, I think we also have a user base that's grown larger because they're attracted to the structure of social gaming. As a game maker, I always have a desire to be someplace where my work reaches as many people as possible. That's how I got into it, at least.
You created a lot of very deep games at Square Enix, but social games tend to be lighter. Can you talk about that?
TT: It's true that they're lighter, and yet they're the titles that are attracting all these users. That's what I wanted to get to the bottom of. I've worked on "deeper" games that tried to attract users by really having them develop a love for the title, by having them be moved by it. That was my philosophy, and yet all these users -- including myself -- are getting addicted to this lighter stuff. I wondered how it was made, and that led to my curiosity. Since I had experience with deeper content, I thought that once I learned how these games work, I could see how I could then deepen that experience.
So in coming to GREE, you want to use the skills you already had to make new games.
TT: Right. Currently it's less a case of me outputting games, and more a scene where I'm getting all these games inputted into me.
And what role do you have at the company?
TT: I'm part of the department that works with developers to create titles under the GREE label. Currently I'm overseeing several of these projects.
Do you give feedback on the projects? What do you do when you receive one?
TT: I do give advice based on what I've learned, and depending on the situation, some of the developers are a lot more well-versed in social games than I am, and I get to learn from them. That kind of mutual thing.
Do you primarily provide feedback on game design in particular, or more generally on everything you see?
TT: On a case-by-case basis, yes. My attention is primarily devoted to two titles at the moment. On one of them, which is a smartphone title, I'm more directly involved with the development process -- managing production, determining what needs to be done next, and so on. The other project, which is on feature phones, is nearing release at the moment, so right now it's more of a two-sided discussion on how we can get this game popular -- more monetizable -- and make it into something gamers really like.