When you mentioned that AQI is struggling, what are they struggling with?
RN: Well we are still a start-up publisher, and I think it takes time to publish a great game. That's one thing. And also, at the same time, we have to establish an infrastructure that's as good as others, worldwide. And that also takes time and money.
I see. So it's mostly growing pains?
RN: But we are good, because AQI used to be [just] studios, and we began publishing. So we have a great crew of people, creators, that are making games, that have good experience in making games.
So, you know, 80 or 90% of our employees are on development side, so we have a good credibility in making games for other publishers. So as we grow AQI, we still have a lot of projects that are for other people.
Is it still mainly feelplus, Artoon, and Cavia?
RN: Yeah. Feelplus, Artoon, Cavia, and there's one marketing company called XSEED, that's a U.S. company, that's a member of us now.
So will XSEED, going forward, be AQI's U.S. publishing branch?
RN: Yeah, I think that's one option. XSEED is still a small group of people; they're very good at marketing and research, so we consult a lot with XSEED people for ideas on our designs. And that's working out well.
Do you think that the casual market is possible to predict in Japan right now? Because I know that everyone's aiming for the more casual platforms. Do you think that it's something that people can really figure out, or are people's tastes too different, and dispersed? I know AQI has released one or two DS titles.
RN: Yeah. And two big DS titles are coming up. That's Away and Blue Dragon Plus. They are both produced by Sakaguchi.
Artoon's doing Blue Dragon, right?
RN: No. We're doing Blue Dragon. Actually -- it's interesting -- it's a joint development. Blue Dragon Plus on DS is a joint development between feelplus and a studio called Brownie Brown.
Oh, of course. Brownie Brown did all the Mana stuff for Square.
RN: Mana stuff. And Mother 3.
I didn't know Brownie Brown actually developed Mother 3.
RN: Yeah, they did. So it's a joint development; it's coming out this spring, and Away is, as well. So those are not casual -- as a DS title, they're very big projects.
Yeah. It seems that most of the stuff coming out of AQI -- and certainly coming out of feelplus -- is pretty hardcore-oriented.
RN: Story-oriented. Story games.
Where did the majority of the people from feelplus come from? I had a friend who had heard that people came from Sacnoth and Nautilus.
RN: Yes. That's true. Originally, Lost Odyssey was a Microsoft internal project. So we had about 40 people, I guess -- somewhere around there -- that were working on Lost Odyssey as Microsoft, and Microsoft decided to make it an independent studio, so AQI Group created a studio called feelplus.
And Microsoft sent those employees to feelplus. And also, the entire team of people who used to be Sacnoth and Nautilus -- they did Koudelka, and Shadow Hearts 1, 2, and 3 -- most of them joined feelplus. And usual recruiting, in addition to that. And during the course of the project, most of those people who are Microsoft employees either joined feelplus or went back to Microsoft.
I see. Yeah, I've always been curious to know where ex-SNK groups go.
RN: Currently a lot of key guys at feelplus are from Nautilus.
Will you guys be doing more with Sakaguchi in the future, after this?
RN: I'd like to, yeah. We are doing Blue Dragon Plus, now, so we are still doing a project with Sakaguchi-san. I'd like to continue on. Of course we are in discussion with a few ideas. Yeah.
Yeah, well, I guess, maybe -- Since feelplus doesn't have to go in that market, you may not have to have researched this, but it just seems like when people are releasing these casual games, they have no idea if it's really going to make a splash or not, because...
RN: What kind of casual game are you talking about?
I'm talking about Brain Age type games, or Cooking Mama... There are all these training games, there are the games for women, and those games for older people.
RN: Ah, those kind of games.
It seems like there's so many, it's so hard for something to really rise to the top. Maybe you haven't studied that market; I don't know.
RN: Not really. Well, Cavia is doing a few. I personally haven't studied that much for that market, but it seems like there's a lot of titles that don't sell at all, and there are a few titles that sell like a million, or two million units. Although the development cost is very small, I personally think it's a high-risk market.
It is. It's interesting, because at the beginning of that whole trend, that particular market wound up saving some smaller developers, who were on the verge of going under, and then they made an early DS game, so then they were back in business.
But now, some companies are coming to it a bit late, and it seems tough. Like, ASK is back, as a publisher. They were really, really underground for a while, and now they're kind of back. It's just strange to see these companies return. It's nice though. I guess.
RN: So I guess those small or casual games, they can either do DS, or mobile phones. Maybe PC.
The mobile market is a lot better in Japan than it is here.
RN: Well maybe WiiWare and stuff, they can move on to those kinds of [platforms].