There are two major companies in this space in Japan -- DeNA and GREE. Why GREE and not DeNA?
TT: [laughs] When I decided I wanted to learn more about social gaming, I did a lot of research -- looking at all the companies, seeing how people from GREE and DeNA and so forth commented to questions in interviews.
I felt after all that that GREE was a better fit for me, because on the whole, they were more driven by the creators. It felt more like a group of developers that they then built a business around, instead of the other way around -- not that every company is the opposite, but GREE was the company is where I felt that atmosphere was the sharpest.
In the U.S., many developers that went into social titles have a background in strategy games, as do you. Is that a coincidence, or is there something about strategy that lends itself to a social setting?
TT: I think there's definitely something to that, because a lot of the process behind strategy games connects to what you see in social games. It's very compatible, so once I learn enough about the social game market, I think it'll be easy to make the most of the knowledge I've learned in the past. It's certainly not a coincidence.
You mentioned you were working on the monetization of a game. Have you learned a lot about that since you joined the company?
TT: That's true. I know a lot about what sort of things you can put in a game to make it more interesting or fun for the user, but with social games, you need to figure out how to work that into the framework; that's what I'm working on now. You have to take gamers who start playing for free want to purchase something, while still having it work as a game.
It's very different from what you've been doing before. In the past, you could assume gamers have paid up front. Has it been a shift for you?
TT: Certainly. Looking at the data generated by social games, a lot of people quit or drift away before very long. That's something you need to think about with console games as well, of course, but you couldn't get that kind of data before, so all you could do was predict and hope that they'd stick around to the end.
Being able to see that gives you a chance to respond to it, to say "This part must be hanging them up" and fix it on a realtime basis. That's really neat to me, being able to see how much my ideas are coming across to gamers through the logs.
Tsuchida served as battle director for Final Fantasy X (pictured) and Final Fantasy XIII.
Do you find that your tastes have matched so far?
TT: The parts related to the fun of the game have matched, I think. I've played social games enough that I think my own tastes and what I find fun has changed a bit, though.
There have been times when gamers quit the game in areas where I thought it was a lot more fun, however. Looking at the logs and seeing where people falter and where they really enjoy things has really been a lesson to me, more so than a lot of things I've done in my career. Social gaming really is about the direction the gamers want to take it, in a good way.
Some Western social game companies are very analytics-driven; some less so. How would you say GREE is?
TT: More along the analytics line. As a result, having someone like me without that sort of approach enter the company and interact with others has resulted in a lot of positive things for both sides. I think we can make use of both perspectives, since if we relied on nothing but analytics, we'd be so beholden to the data that we'd do the same thing over and over again.
There's no data to rely on when you're trying to do something new, after all. An analytics-driven company knows how to make customers happy, but it is harder for them to try new things, I think.
On the other hand, there are companies that do whatever they want and, oftentimes, it doesn't reach out to players well enough. I think that was somewhat the case with me on consoles; I'd do something really neat and other gamers wouldn't quite get it. Combining that experience with the analytics, I think, could result in a much better approach.
Do you think that free-to-play games with microtransactions are a better way, from a business perspective, rather than having one sale up front?
TT: From a creative perspective like mine, it's always a matter of getting as many people to enjoy your game as you can. Therefore, the lower the hurdles -- hardware or software -- to achieve that, the better.
Business-wise, though, it's difficult to say which is better in the end. There are a lot of ways to monetize social games, and on the other hand, a lot of console games get their budgets only because companies can predict how much they'll sell. There are a lot of approaches, but from a creative viewpoint, going free and seeing the amount of players expand as a result is a very welcome thing.