During the mid to late 90s, NanaOn-Sha produced the genre-founding Parappa The Rapper and then developed the theme with such titles as Vib Ribbon. Now, though it is still headed by designer Masaya Matsuura, who has also led a successful career as a recording musician, NanaOn-Sha is now a very small company, focusing on creating ideas and concepts for games that it then produces with external production teams.
We met Matsuura during the Develop conference in July to discuss his experiences of working as a small developer with such large publishers as Majesco, with which NanaOn-Sha created Major Minor’s Majestic March, why PS3 is his ideal platform and why music needs to come before interaction in music games.
What kind of challenges does NanaOn-Sha’s small size present in talking to huge publishers?
Basically, every large company has ideas to have its own unique titles. But on the other hand, it’s almost impossible to make those kind of unique activities in-house because they’re so very big. I think that in many of them the employee is motivated by playing that company’s older titles, so maybe Square Enix has its Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy fans working in-house and their ideas are going to be similar, so it’s very hard to find the brand new ideas in-house. Ours is an important position – we are independent and free from any kind of company, so we can easily handle our own ideas by having the opportunity to present them to a big company.
You’ve told us before that you tend to find that such companies keep simply asking you to make another Parappa, though.
That’s a typical difficulty. I don’t agree with this kind of thing, but our focus is to appeal to the customer and for them to have a brand new experience with our games. The process between the customers and the game is the only part of the business that really matters. Any kind of a bumpy or winding road behind a game doesn’t matter. We just have to find a solution according to the situation.
There are now many options open to smaller makers to make games for themselves and distribute them, such as through Xbox Live Arcade, PSN, WiiWare and App Store. Could these help you avoid working with the larger companies?
It is one possibility. It’s dynamically changing the paradigm. But though they look very similar to each other, they’re actually not so. The old game companies, like the hardware manufacturers, have, for example, concept approval, while iPhone doesn’t have this. We have to be careful about these kinds of differences – it’s easy to say, “OK, could you do something for PSN and Xbox Live and iPhone and blah blah blah?” It does seem possible, but it doesn’t work. The kind of platform or style that is good for our idea is very important.
Are you finding that publishers have an expectation that you make a game and it goes on every platform?
Well, on the other hand, of course we are happy to have a more integrated situation. It’s not good to appeal to a segmented audience, and making games with mass appeal helps us to proceed. These are two very different needs we face. Overall it’s a very dynamic situation – it’s very difficult to understand what’s happening in the industry.
What is the attitude of other Japanese developers to the range of different platforms and opportunities they have today? Are they exploring those platforms much?
I think many developers and publishers are just focusing on DS but everybody understands [DS’ significance in the market] will not go for a long time from now, so everybody trying to find another solution. But it’s very hard to be successful on another platform.
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