NYCC 2014 Interview: Bandai Namco Talks Taking On the Mobile Market
For years now, Bandai Namco has been a household name - doubly so if you happen to be living in a household of gamers or simply nerds in general.
Born of a successful merger in late 2005 between Bandai (a toy and video games maker) and Namco (video game developer and publisher), the company has been pushing out big-name games like the Tales series, Soul Calibur, PAC-MAN, Gundam, TEKKEN...
The list feels never-ending, and the company only continues to add to it: the Dark Souls and Diablo crossbreed Lords of the Fallen just released a few days ago, and Project CARS is making next-gen waves.
The mobile front has been quieter - although generous when it comes to acknowledging all the different mobile platforms (Android, iOS, Windows phone), the occasional PAC-MAN release and Galaga re-release has not exactly set the mobile scene afire with ingenuity.
But that's not going to stop them from gunning for it now.
I caught up with Bandai Namco's Mobile Games Producer Joe Riego during New York Comic Con off-site at the Doubletree Hotel (a great and impressive feat for a directionally-challenged suburban Canadian plumped in the middle of Big Apple without GPS) to talk about some of the games they've got going in their big mobile push, and what those games are all about.
"In terms of Bandai Namco Mobile, we're looking to become the number one mobile game publisher ... especially in the free-to-play market."
The first in the line-up was PAC-MAN Championship Edition DX but that was probably an error on the side of the presskit since Championship is only available on Xbox 360 and PS3 and came out in 2010. Instead, we talked about...
Currently available on iOS and Android, PAC-MAN Friends is a re-imaging of one of the most beloved games in history and includes 95 levels in 6 worlds with 8 unlockable friends, each with their own unique powers. This colorful little title throws a number of familiar faces you'll recognize (and a few you may not) into "a mad maze where you collect all the pellets - sounds familiar, right?"
Oddly engaging and intended to introduce new gamers to the premise of the original, Friends takes advantage of mobile game strengths and allows for tilt- and gyro-controlled motions as well the tried-and-true finger flicks over the screen to play.
Free-to-play, it is supported mainly by ad revenue with only a few micro-transactions available - and those to "access extra plans or boosts or bonuses... but for the most part it's intended to be a free title."
"Outcast Odyssey will be Bandai Namco's first free-to-play offering especially in the United States. ... We were looking at the market right now and there are a lot of card games that are out there, and they're very... kinda dry, click-win kind of propositions.
So what we wanted to do was we wanted to make something more interesting, more engaging, provide more for the player, provide more cards for the player."
What this entailed was creating parallaxing cards so that the visuals actually give you a 3D feel - very much as if you were collecting the cards from Chocolate Frogs in Harry Potter. The folks over at developer Magic Pixel Games also added visual effects "so eyes glow, lightning bolts are lightning bolts, fireballs actually spin and whirl."
These cards also have special abilities - special abilities which actually have a very significant impact on play and how you attack or defend against your enemies whether you have built your deck specifically to fight against that enemy or not.
One feature of Outcast Odyssey allows players to collect and evolve hundreds of cards in order to create the ultimate deck. Comic book artists Chuck Pires and Warren Louw head the gorgeously rendered visuals which look like a mix of Torchlight and softer versions of Zenimax covers - lovingly painted and much less embarrassing to be caught looking at on your phone.
(If you're interested, this game can be found for free on iOS and Android - and a review will be posted up soon!)
While CineMagic remains a working title, this game is slated to come out "relatively soon."
Born out of the experience of going to see a movie and thinking "what would happen if we changed this actor for that actor, pulled in a different director, did something like this instead?" CineMagic allows you to answer these burning film-critic questions by letting you do exactly that.
Loosely similar to indie developer Greenheart's Game Dev Tycoon, CineMagic allows you to select the pieces of a movie you want to make, pick a budget, bake 'em till they're ready, and dish it out to your audience to see if it garners the rave reviews you expect.
(see Game Dev Tycoon - The Microcosm of the DRM Debate for more about this game)
Packed with silly references, ("we have a Samuel L. Jackwin who's very much like Samuel L. Jackson") this is a game where a Silence of the Lambs parody could beat out "Star Trek 25" at the box office.
"It feels like a simulator game but it's definitely not a simulator game."
The approach to mobile all companies should have.
And how about as a whole? Rather than simply focusing on the individual titles, we expanded a little into how Bandai Namco intends to approach this market - and the answer is quite refreshing.
"My approach to the whole micro-transaction thing is ... it's always about the value proposition. The game should be fun enough to play without having to pay, but also offering players and customers the opportunity to enhance the game if they so choose. It shouldn't be game-breaking so doing the best to balance both worlds is really challenging. ...
For example on Outcast, we really do value the time put in by the free-to-player. In many ways they're more hardcore and willing to invest time rather than money to get good at the game. To that point, you can definitely play the game - it takes a lot longer time and a bigger commitment but you can outplay a lot of the guys who have big cards. And typically speaking, the guys who play big are looking for a different experience ... I enjoy being able to outplay bigger decks, that's my real challenge. [There are] larger decks with more money cards and yet I'm still able to figure out a way around them."
Asked to rate the time commitment between 1 and Dungeon Keeper Mobile:
"Oh that's -- we're way nicer than that. With Dungeon Keeper Mobile everyone should be looking at that as a 'what not to do.' There's levels of evil. I like to consider myself pretty evil but that's like '9th level of hell' evil. You don't get to play, like within a day you were pretty much locked out of the game.
Outcast Odyssey offers you play almost every time of the day, even when you die the option to get a potion or be able to earn a potion? Ridiculously easy. Which you do have to play. We want you in the game, playing, and having a good time and exploring, and if you do die, the longest wait time is like 5 minutes for the most part? And by then... it is a casual game, we'd like you to back away for a little while - you don't have to grind your way into the ground."
(see Four Hour Mobile Gaming Session Ruptures Breast Implants for an example of overdoing the WoW effect)
As for what else Bandai Namco has in the cards for next year? They've got a few ideas... but they'd like to keep that secret for now. Rest assured that if fantasy's not your thing, maybe alien invasions are.