I've heard many people say that the way you monetize is fundamental to the game design -- there's no separating them. Do you agree with that?
TT: I do think so, yes. However -- and this is just the ideal in my mind -- but the core thing that any game needs to have is the ability to entertain players and give them a sense of accomplishment. How monetization fits into that is part of finding the answer to that question. You figure out what gamers would really enjoy paying for -- that's something you think about from the start of the design process. Not all social games are like that, though.
Facebook games in the U.S. started very simple and became more and more complex over several generations. Now they're getting close to par with traditional games. Do you think a similar evolution will take place in Japan?
TT: I think we'll see more complex games enter the social marketplace, which I think will make our jobs quite a bit more difficult. If graphics get better and games become a lot larger and more complex, I worry that it'll be harder to monetize that via the traditional item-microtransation sort of methods going into the future. It's a little hard to put into words, but I'm not sure we'll see this great march forward simply because it's become possible.
At Square you had the luxury of being able to develop games over a long period. Has that been a big shift?
TT: It has been a shift to a higher speed, and it hasn't necessarily been a bad thing for me. I'm 47 years old, but if I kept going at the speed of Square Enix -- let's say I thought about how many games I could make before turning 50. I'd guess it'd probably be just one title. [laugh] That's if I stayed there -- but at GREE, it'll certainly be multiple titles. That's fun for me, and it's been a great experience overall, one I'm glad I've had so far.
So you've been seeing an evolution in the games you've been making in the time you've been at GREE?
TT: Certainly. Just that rate of speed I've been talking about -- for a creator, you can see some of the merits in that, especially given that I've come from a company where things go at a slower pace.
On long projects, the viewpoints of the people involved invariably change over time. You have the same team working on the same thing for all this time. In a way, you start worrying more about your boss and your co-workers more than the customers you're making this thing for.
Working in a shorter span, the needs of the customers grow a lot more vital. You have to think about them, whereas in longer projects, it's like you're making the game and it's someone else's job to sell it. GREE is different from that thought line.
Another thing I hear a lot from people who enter this space in the U.S. is they get a chance to work on smaller teams; that it kind of reminds them of the old days when you had more direct contact with your coworkers. Do you find the same thing happening here?
TT: I think there's something to be said about that, the smaller size. If you become a big company, you can't really go back from there, so this change in environment has been a good thing for me. The fact that you can have this sort of environment and still attract a large audience and make money from it makes it a good thing for both player and developer, I think.
Do you think that, as social games mature, people that'd normally be more traditional gamers will flock to them? Or is it going to stay separate audience-wise?
TT: On that topic, I think the two cultures -- playing on the go, going home to play console games -- might remain separate. At the same time, though, I wouldn't separate those audiences in my mind. I think it's fun to sit down and really get into a console game in-depth, not that I've really had the time lately [laughs].
You may have people who only play console games, and you may have people that run out of time and only play social games. This can shift very fluidly depending on what you want to do; maybe you get older or busier at work and move over toward social games more. As a result, it's hard to separate the users that much.