Cygames Interview — Executive Producer Discusses the New Rising Star in Japanese Game Development
Cygames Executive Producer Yuito Kimura talks about the history, philosophy, and future of the developer behind Project Awakening, Granblue Fantasy, and more.
Cygames has been making the news more and more often lately, starting with its mobile games like Granblue Fantasy and Shadowverse, and culminating with its upcoming debut on consoles with titles like Granblue Fantasy Project Re: Link and the recently re-revealed Project Awakening.
With the developer set to aggressively expand worldwide, DualShockers talked to Executive Producer Yuito Kimura in order to shed more light on Cygames’ history and future.
Giuseppe: The rise of Cygames from its foundation to today can easily be defined meteoric. Was this kind of expansion all the way from mobile to high-profile console development something that was in the plans from the beginning?
Yuito Kimura: The company was originally created to make games, not specifically mobile games. It just happened that the first game that we had an opportunity to make when we started was a mobile game.
When Watanabe-san [President Koichi Watanabe] and I launched Cygames, our background was in console games. As a matter of fact, the whole board had backgrounds in console games. After our success on mobile, we expanded in a lot of different directions like anime, manga, merchandise, and all sorts of content. It’s not exactly surprising that we’re now working on console games, as it was always our intent.
The company’s goal is embodied by its mission statement: we want to “make the best in entertainment.”
G: What do you think is the secret behind Cygames’ success?
YK: We don’t want to ever compromise on quality. We’re proud of our work, characters, and stories, and we pay a lot of attention to detail. First and foremost we’re gamers too, and we make games that we want to play. Of course, we hope that other people want to play them too.
G: Sponsorships seem to be a very relevant part of Cygames’ corporate culture. Could you talk a bit about their importance for you?
YK: Since our company’s mission is to provide the best in entertainment, sponsorships are just another way in which we try to achieve that. This year, for example, we sponsored EVO, the fighting game event. We also sponsor Cygames Beast, which includes legendary eSports stars like Daigo Umehara and PR Balrog. We then have Team Cygames for card games including Yuuya Watanabe and Shota Yasooka, and an amazing martial artist named Tenshin Nasukawa.
More sponsorship includes the Japanese soccer team Sagan Tosu, and we actually signed Fernando Torres in the same day Juventus signed Ronaldo [Editor’s Note: Cygames also sponsors Juventus itself]. The one thing that all of these teams have in common is that people love watching these guys play, whether it’s card games, football, or fighting games. For us, it’s just another way to try and deliver great entertainment to people wherever they are.
G: Recently, Cygames’ name got on the radar of many that didn’t know much or anything about your company with the presentation of Project Awakening as the show opener of Sony’s PlayStation Lineup Tour. Do you consider this a milestone?
YK: That was definitely a milestone for us. We’re obviously very happy to have been featured, and we’re also hoping that the game will be a big success when it’s released.
G: Until three years ago Cygames seemed very comfortable making mobile games, which appeared to be the most profitable market in Japan. What made you decide to make the jump to console development?
YK: Since our background has always been in console development, it’s not unexpected for us to make console games. We always wanted to do that one day. That being said, we had to wait until the time was right in terms of finding the right people, the right opportunities, the right internal resources, and the right external partners. Now that all of these things are in place, we’re ready to go.
G: Many Japanese developers and publishers appear to be content to trail behind the west in terms of technology. On the other hand, Cygames is investing a lot of resources into tech research & development to compete at the top of the AAA category. Could you explain the reasons behind this philosophy?
YK: We always keep abreast of the latest developments in technology and game design, since we don’t want to compromise on quality. Even when it comes to mobile games we always need to be at the cutting edge of development if we’re going to make the best games. We’ve been in the game industry for a long time, and we need to be prepared for any sudden changes in the way games are made.
It’s always been our intention to keep ahead of the technology curve whether it’s for mobile games or console games.
G: While Granblue Fantasy is a mobile game, I can see in it pretty much the same philosophy featuring top-notch production values, the best artists, and composers available. Even full voice acting is something very rare in mobile games. I imagine that was quite a risk to take at the beginning. Why did you decide to go “all-in” like this?
YK: Going all-in with the quality was part of the original plan, partly because of our previous experience with Rage of Bahamut that already included had a fully voice acted main scenario. Trying to make the most eye-catching game possible also included other elements like top-notch music and art in order to create a fully-specced mobile game.
G: You seem to be looking more and more actively to the western market. Could you tell me what the plans are for the expansion in the west and for localizing your games going forward?
YK: We’re going to continue promoting Shadowverse in the west, where the game continues to do well. We are also planning to localize Granblue Fantasy Project Re: Link into English, French, Italian, German, and Spanish. We haven’t announced anything beyond that, but it’s always the company’s aim to make the games available wherever we think people will enjoy them.
G: Your console development appears to be quite PlayStation-centric for the moment. Are you interested in working on other consoles at all?
YK: We’ve not announced anything at the moment, but it’s not like we’re not interested in working on other consoles.
G: Could you quantify the percentage of development Project Awakening is at?
YK: It’s still really early in development.
G: Speaking of Granblue Fantasy Project Re: Link, why did you decide to work with PlatinumGames, and how is development split between them and Cygames?
YK: PlatinumGames is one of the world’s best developers, and it was kind of a no-brainer to work with them. In particular, we hope that their action games expertise paired with our characters, settings, and stories, will produce a game that people will really enjoy.
G: Back when you revealed the gameplay of Project Re: Link at Granblue Fest last year, we posted a recording from Nico Nico. Despite the low quality of the video itself, it sparked reactions so enthusiastic that it’s a rare sight on YouTube. Did you expect western gamers to be this impressed by the game?
YK: We were very unsure about how people were going to react to the video in the west, but we were very happy to see that people have enjoyed it. Obviously, we hope that gamers are going to continue to be excited about the game.
G: Talking about Shadowverse, how is the Steam version going? Are there any plans to port it to other platforms?
YK: We don’t have any concrete plans to bring the game to other platforms, but the Steam version is doing very well. We just had the two-year anniversary. The latest two card expansions went very well with our existing playerbase, and we just organized some great tournaments in the west. Dreamhack in Montréal featured players like Justin Wong who you might know for fighting games like Street Fighter and Gerry Thompson. There is a nice buzz about the game in the west, and we’re looking forward to the World Grand Prix at the end of the year where the best players will be competing for a prize pool of a million dollars. It’s an exciting time.
G: How far ahead are you planning for Shadowverse‘s expansions?
YK: We normally think two card expansions ahead, while at the same time we’re also thinking for the overall concept for a third.
G: There have been many voices about the coming of a new generation of consoles within a couple of years. Considering that Cygames appears to want to stay ahead of the technology curve, are you already preparing for that, and how?
YK: We have a dedicated research team that we set up with the explicit goal to make sure that we are at the cutting edge of technology, but we can’t say more than that, obviously.
G: Why did you decide to create Cydesignation, a top-notch art team which also works a lot with other companies.
YK: The Company was set up by Watanabe-san and Minaba-san (Cydesignation President Hideo Minaba) to work on joint projects with the intent of producing games with very high production quality and art. Since it’s a separate company, it makes sense for them to work on appropriate titles from other publishers. Their mission statement is simply to make great art.
G: Cygames itself works both on its own games and on titles for other publishers like Konami with Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner M?RS, and Nintendo with Dragalia Lost. Is this a comfortable niche for you, having some games created on your own, and then other projects for other companies that maybe involve fewer risks?
YK: It’s not really a low-risk investment strategy. It’s more about the opportunity to work with good partners to create good games. This way we’re able to create good games and content that we might not be able to make otherwise. It’s really not about investment strategies, but it’s really about making the best games.
I tend not to be involved in many of those projects, though, as it’s mostly Watanabe-san who takes care of them.
G: Granblue Fantasy, the original mobile game, is very peculiar as it comes with a full-fledged English localization, but it hasn’t been officially released in the west. Are you aware that many western gamers enjoy the game?
YK: I’m aware of the fanbase because when I go to western events I tend to bump into people who play the game. I’m very happy about that. For instance, at EVO I was approached by many Granblue fans.
G: Why did you release an English localization for a game that isn’t released on western markets?
YK: We originally conceived the idea for English speakers based in Japan, and partly to develop our own internal localization resources. Rage of Bahamut was localized, but that was done by our external publishing partner. Granblue Fantasy was our first game localized internally even before Shadowverse. On top of that, we were also testing the market to see how many people would play the game from abroad.
G: Why did you decide to finally re-reveal Project Awakening after such a long silence?
YK: It was simply the right timing for the project.
G: What do you think of the reaction?
YK: I’m aware that people have reacted positively. I’m really happy to see that. The company isn’t especially famous overseas so it’s nice to see a positive reaction from gamers.
G: So now you’re planning to take over the world?
G: Do you have any message for your western fans that have been playing Shadowverse and Granblue Fantasy, and those who are waiting for your future games?
YK: I’ve been mostly working on Shadowverse, Granblue Fantasy, and Dragalia Lost, but I’d like people in the west to play all of our games wherever they’re available, and I hope that they will enjoy them.
If you want to try out Cygames’ titles, you can already play Shadowverse and Dragalia Lost. You can also play Granblue Fantasy in English, even if it’s not officially available in the west. You can read how to install it and play in hour handy guide.