Earlier this year, Japan-based publisher Marvelous, best known for its work on the Harvest Moon series, began a partnership with LA-based XSeed to establish a co-publishing presence in the U.S., starting with PSP RPG Valhalla Knights 2.
But when the company was established by CEO Haruki Nakayama in 1997, it started out by publishing soundtracks to Sega games, releasing CDs of the background music to games like Sakura Taisen and Panzer Dragoon. In 1999, the company added Japanese anime production to its slate, and began releasing Game Boy Advance titles in 2000.
Marvelous was small at first -- two or three people small -- but in 2003, it bought Victor Interactive, and merged all of its businesses in 2007 to create Marvelous Entertainment.
Gamasutra spoke to Marvelous' managing director, Yasuhiro Wada, who created the Harvest Moon series, about where the company aims to go next, now that its U.S. expansion is well underway. Wada discusses Marvelous' possible future partnerships, platforms and plans, and his hopes for the company's creative future.
Can you talk a little more about Mr. Nakayama's business model? It went very quickly from anime-licensed titles to a company for original IP. Harvest Moon was not within Marvelous previously, but elsewhere.
YW: The video game business at Marvelous may look quick, but actually Victor was doing something like that for many years, so we actually went and bought Victor Interactive, and they already had that cut all out. That's how we managed to grow really quickly in the video game industry.
Victor Interactive was a hardware maker in the first place. They were not a software maker. Because Nakayama-san bought Victor Interactive, and because of his background at Sega, he knew a lot about the software industry and how to make it grow very quickly. Nakayama-san contributed a lot to how Victor Interactive is now Marvelous Interactive, to develop for the business in the video game world.
As a hardware manufacturer, they only did the V-Saturn, and things like that. Is that correct? What other hardware did they actually release?
YW: Mega CD, the Wondermega, and the V-Saturn were in cooperation with Sega, but in the first place, they were making audio and video stuff.
Was there ever an intention to make Marvelous into a hardware manufacturer as well?
YW: No. Just software, and no hardware.
When we last spoke, you mentioned that eventually, Marvelous would be managing its own business in the U.S. What is your timeframe for that?
YW: We're starting... Soon Marvelous will have the office, and we'll have someone there, too. To an extent, we're already starting to do that sort of thing, from the very beginning. The thing is, if our cooperation with XSeed is going well, we may be considering working with them forever.
Does that mean that you have a relationship with [XSeed Parent] AQI as well?
YW: We're thinking about the investment. There's no connection between AQ Interactive and Marvelous. They're two separate companies. But in terms of video game creativity, we're working with them sometimes too, and we have some common points. AQ Interactive is a different studio, and sometimes we'll ask them to do some stuff for us, or Artoon or Cavia or FeelPlus.
Will you be working with FeelPlus (Lost Odyssey) in the future, then?
YW: Yes. For FeelPlus, it's a pretty big team. It's more than 30 people. The graphic team inside there gets to do some work for us. We start with the graphics, but maybe in the future we're going to work together and make a game together.
It's somewhat unusual for a Japanese company that is a publisher to have multiple relationships with multiple other Japanese companies, but you have one with Natsume and one with AQI through XSeed. It's kind of a different mentality than many other companies have taken. Was that difficult to do, or was it quite simple?
YW: It wasn't difficult at all, actually, because we had similar qualities with XSeed and Natsume. Since we had the same goals, it was really easy to collaborate between each of us.
We're thinking in long term relationships, so it was easy for our partner to have the same goals, likes to work with us, and has the same long-term objectives, and we don't mind working with them on a long-term basis. In the case of No More Heroes, in the first place, it was a collaboration with Spike in the middle of the project. We think maybe later this kind of relationship will happen with other publishers.
That's interesting that it was with Spike. It sort of makes sense, since Grasshopper was an ex-Human company. Is that why they were working together?
What do you feel is the ultimate goal in the West for Marvelous? Is it to create new content for the West, or is it to bring Japanese games here?
YW: Our final objective as Marvelous is to make worldwide content, not just for Japan or the U.S. Ideally, we'd like to have content that's going to fit for the three markets: Japan, U.S., and Europe.
The video game business is getting harder and harder, and the development costs are getting higher, too. So if you just focus on one market, it's going to be harder to release a new IP and a new title. So now we need to think worldwide.
Yeah. Especially since Japan is so Nintendo-focused, and the other consoles almost don't exist.
YW: It's very bad now, yeah.
Is that part of why you're trying to focus more on the Western market, so you don't only have to rely on Nintendo hardware?
YW: I was definitely considering making some titles for PS3 and Xbox 360.
In your opinion, do those consoles really matter now, or will they matter more in the future, in terms of being able to make money from games?
YW: More in the long run.
As a creator, you mentioned last time that the ultimate game that you wanted to make is something a bit like Spore. But this was some months ago, and now more information has come out about Spore. Do you still feel the same way?
YW: As a concept, I would still like to create something like Spore. As for the game itself, though, if I were to make a game like Spore, the gameplay would be different.
What is your current vision of the game that would be your personal life's work, and is it possible to implement that vision?
YW: Some part of my vision I put in Harvest Moon DS, for example. One of the parts of my vision was put into Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility for Wii. Now, it's in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 project I'm working on too. One part of my vision is in each game.
Do you find it difficult to balance your time as a creator and your time as a business manager?
YW: I haven't found a good balance so far. (laughter) When I'm working on a creative part of my games, I'm doing management at the same time. But when I have to focus on management, the creativity of my games is... I haven't found the right balance yet.
Do you think you'll be able to find that balance in the future, or will you have to focus on just one?
YW: Even if I haven't found the right balance between management and creativity, I think that you have to find it eventually. Personally, I'd like to work more on the creativity part of my games, but now as a president, I have to find the balance for the other management part. I definitely have to work on this and try to find the right balance.
Do you think you will be able to fully manage a smaller title by yourself in the future, perhaps?
YW: Yeah, I think I will definitely be able to do that.
Marvelous has had very much of a console focus. Do you think that is where Marvelous will be for the foreseeable future, or will you expand into the PC market, which is really growing a lot in the casual space, which Marvelous is actually very good at?
YW: I'm not just thinking in terms of consoles. I had in mind other platforms, and I would love to make games for iPhone or the PC, or for other platforms besides just consoles.
For the consoles, we have to focus on the gameplay and the playability in the game itself, but we'd like to reach to the casual audience too. When you think about that audience, you think of other platforms like iPhone or mobile, so we'd like to be able to create content for those users.
It seems like there's a lot of potential with a game like Harvest Moon specifically to have a wider appeal or even a multiplayer online aspect, potentially.
YW: Yeah, as you said.