Tokyo Sandbox Interview: Organizer Talks Creating an Event for Game Developers in Tokyo and More
Kulabo CEO Kevin Lim gives the gist of what it takes to organize a prominent developer-facing gaming event in Tokyo.
From May 10th to May 14th, Tokyo Sandbox is going to open its doors between Shibuya and Akihabara, presenting a gaming event mostly aimed at connecting developers and publishers, but also including several features that gamers can enjoy.
Including the Tokyo Indie Game Festival, A VR Lounge, a developer summit and several panels that will be livestreamed on Twitch, the event promises a different experience compared to Tokyo Game Show and Bitsummit, which are normally the most well known Japanese gaming events.
In order to learn what this year’s event is all about, we talked with Kulabo CEO Kevin Lim, who is at the forefront or organizing Tokyo Sandbox, getting an interesting glimpse on what it takes to organize an event of this magnitude in the capital city of all geekdom.
Giuseppe: Speaking about gaming events in Japan, those that have the most visibility in the west are Tokyo Game Show and in part Bitsummit. Can you explain what Tokyo Sandbox is, and how it’s different from TGS and Bitsummit?
Kevin Lim: We love BitSummit and Tokyo Game Show; they’re great consumer game shows. Our team attends the shows without fail every year. However, we thought the gaming community in Japan was missing the very important business support structure. We like to help build a consolidated community, with all the tools needed to properly get Japanese games out into the market, as well as non Japanese games find their fans in Japan.
G: In which ways does Tokyo Sandbox aim to support developers?
KL: There is a big gap between the creative process and getting the product out the door. We hope to help developers bridge this gap, through introducing them to investors, publishers, regionalization experts, overseas collaborators and so forth. Most importantly, developers can share experiences and best practices at our developer summit.
For most developers, understanding a foreign market can be a huge challenge. The game show portion of our event also helps the developers win some fans and publicity. It also helps a lot that our show is in central Tokyo, so you can expect a lot of visitors who are hungry for non-mainstream games.
G: The PUSH Keynote will be held by Kadokawa Games’ Yoshimi Yasuda, who is at the helm of a local publisher that pushed considerably in its opening to the western market. Do you think this is going to be a relevant theme in this year’s event?
KL: Very much so. Yasuda-san is a very unique person in the industry. Before he joined the game industry, he worked at a prestigious Japanese financial institution. At Kadokawa Games, he is both a game designer and manager of a large successful game company. For any game developer to be successful, they need to address their global audience, and not just their Japanese audience.
Finland and Sweden are excellent examples. Similar in temperament to the Japanese, with an eye for detail, they have managed to become world leaders in gaming, producing some of the most valuable companies like Coffee Stain, King and Supercell. Japan could take page, or two, out from their playbook by developing an empathy with the global audience.
G: While Tokyo Sandbox is mostly a B2B event, the panels are going to be livestreamed. What do you think is the value of opening this kind of events to a wider audience beyond developers and publishers?
KL: I believe Twitch agrees with me when I say that value often transcends volume. We do not expect massive number of viewers. However, we do believe that knowledge should be shared freely. For viewers who can’t watch the live stream, we archive these talks and they are freely accessible in the public domain.
G: It’s been two years since Tokyo Indie Fest in 2015. Is there a specific reason why you skipped 2016?
KL: We made a mistake not having TIF in 2016. Our team was too small and we picked the wrong project to focus on in 2016.
G: Are there any specific takeaways you learned from the 2015 event, that will be applied this year?
KL: We learned heaps – we made many mistakes. In fact, our planning team is always making references to 2015. It ranged from how we needed to treat our sponsors and exhibitors, to managing of volunteers, to marketing and PR. For starters, we are making our summit venue a lot more accessible to developers, venue, topic and price wise.
Tokyo Indie Fest in 2015 was really the first, small step to help participants understand the value of the event. We were concerned that we may put off many developers if we introduced a B2B game event from the get go.
As much as possible, we try to survey our participants to try to learn how we can plan this better. While we are very shorthanded, we will try our best to be as responsive as possible to the awesome guys who are supporting our event.
G: Tokyo Sandbox includes a VR Event, the VR Lounge. Japanese developers, on both sides of the border between independent and publishers, seem to have embraced the medium quite actively. How do you see the outlook for this field of development in Japan, and how can VR Lounge help its progress?
KL: My personal opinion is that VR and AR is a very long play, before it can be as convenient to use as the smartphone. In order to get there, there will be several iterations to both the business models, hardware and software. To help encourage creators on the AR and VR platform along, we like to showcase some of the more “here and now” tools, such as virtual work environments, i/o interfaces, and of course, financing.
G: Did Tokyo Sandbox receive any support from the relevant hardware manufacturers? They all seem very keen to help indies get on their platforms.
KL: Tokyo Sandbox values the relationship with hardware manufacturers, as well as great companies like Epic and Unity that makes the lives of developers easier. Nintendo and Sony Interactive Entertainment are both going out of their way to help make the event work. It is also very important to us that our first priority be the relevance and usefulness of the event to developers, and not overwhelm our audience with sponsor messages. Thankfully, we do not have that issue as of yet.
G: The Nintendo Switch just launched, and indie developers are starting to get their feet wet with it. Will the new console be featured prominently at Tokyo Sandbox?
KL: There are many developers who will be featuring games on Nintendo Switch, although this is not by design. There is also a lot of curiosity about the platform, that we hope to help satisfy at our summit. Tokyo Sandbox is platform-agnostic and we would like to let the developers drive the content.
G: What is the most relevant message you want to convey with Tokyo Sandbox?
KL: We like to make doing business in Japan as accessible as possible. No one particularly likes dealing with business side issues. However, this is critical to survival and we hope to make it simple, and easier to understand for all developers. At Tokyo Sandbox, you will find partners who are empathetic to creators.
We will be announcing our speakers in the next few days. You will see a common theme in most of the talks, mainly around the theme of creativity and the need to get the product out the door.
Tokyo Sandbox will start on May 10th with the PUSH game Developer Summit in Shibuya, Tokyo, and then will move to the UDX Akiba Square in Akihabara for its business da on May 13th and public day on May 14th, which will also include Tokyo Indie Game Festival and the VR lounge. You can find the full schedule and information on tickets here.