As part of a special covering Nippon Ichi Software’s 25th anniversary, Famitsu published an interview with NIS president Niikawa Souhei in the latest issue of their magazine, regarding the future of the company.
— ファミ通.com (@famitsu) July 10, 2018
The interview starts with Niikawa stating his surprise at the company having been able to survive for 25 years, and says that this is thanks to the support of the staff, fans, and clients, and that it may have also been because they did not try to compete with other companies but instead did their own thing.
The first decade was especially precarious, where a game not being completed on time or sales not meeting expectations would have meant the end, and this only changed around the time the company got listed in 2007, which is when they also got multiple development lines running to work on games in parallel.
The interviewer inquires about the company’s name of Nippon Ichi, meaning “Best in Japan”, and Niikawa says that while they do have multiple explanations, for example them hoping that each and every employee would have a strength that could be considered best in Japan, or the company headquarters being located in the place where Oda Nobunaga began his quest to conquer all of Japan, these were all made up after the fact: The real reason is because when the founder Kitazumi Kouichi tried to sell Famicom (Nintendo Entertainment System) software, people would not remember company and product names written in katakana, and he decided to make a name that everybody would remember, Nippon Ichi. Unfortunately, nobody but Kitazumi himself liked the name.
The interview moves on to discussing the company’s endeavours in the last five years. Niikawa says that the creating of new intellectual properties is something that they find particularly important, and that the Nippon Ichi Project Festival is something that came up with to advance that. In around 2012, it was considered a matter of course for creating and selling (advertising, etc.) a game to require funding of hundreds of millions of yen. Their carrying out an internal game planning competition was because they wanted to see if they could make games that would not require large amounts of funds or staff, and this resulted in the ideas for htoL#NiQ and Yomawari. Both are now titles that represent the company, and he is glad that they did the competition.
As for Nippon Ichi Indie Spirits, Niikawa says that because NIS itself started out with under ten employees, they too have “indie spirit” at their core, and that he thinks what is most important to game development is not funds and scale but the passion and desire to create games.
He says that while indie games were starting to stand out more all around the world, Japan’s market for them was still small, and that it was a waste that people in Japan did not play them, and the idea that bringing these games to Japan would work as a business led them to start Indie Spirits. They are looking to this as a long-term project, and do not expect it to bring in large profits within the first two years: They are instead prioritising making partnerships with foreign developers and think that if they release maybe ten titles a year, Indie Spirits will be a recognisable brand in five years.
The interviewer next asks about the smartphone game Makai Wars, and Niikawa says that he personally considered jumping on the bandwagon with smartphone game development to be risky, and that while getting people to download the game with advertising and word of mouth close to the release would be relatively easy, having people to actually stay and play the game relies on how good the game itself is, meaning that at the core it would be no different from console games.
He thus thought that there would be no need to put what they already have aside to jump at smartphone games, but at the same time he also felt that they might need the know-how regarding smartphone game development eventually and that it would be bad if they didn’t have it when they needed it, and so they developed Makai Wars as a way to obtain knowledge regarding smartphone game development with their own existing IPs.
The game performed far over their expectations in the first two months, and though they had planned to slowly add more content based on opinions and requests from players, players are requesting far more than they had expected, and so they have increased the budget assigned to the project to add more features.
How NIS frequently holds events like the National Entertainment Festival is brought up, and Niikawa says that because the company’s headquarters in Gifu had been supported by the local population all this time, and they wanted a way to thank them, They had already done things like donating Prinny safety buzzers (portable alarms carried by children that make a loud noise when activated) to local elementary schools and sponsoring local soccer clubs, and them wondering if they could use the games themselves to contribute to the community in some way resulted in them holding a festival in Gifu, and the Entertainment Festival was an extension of that.
They inititally approached Gifu Shimbun, which had been holding a fireworks event for 70 years, with the idea that they could combine the events, and when they came up with the plan many other companies like Sony Interactive Entertainment and Sega joined in, with the end result being over 50 companies participating. The event was more popular than anticipated, with over 25000 people participating over two days.
The interview concludes with the interviewer asking Niikawa of what they plan to do before NIS’ 30th anniversary, and he says that no matter what happens, they plan to focus on console games. He thinks that the key to surviving is how many hits they can make on consoles, and that they plan to make more sequels to popular titles like Disgaea, Yomawari, and Labyrinth of Refrain.
They have also built the foundations to create new IPs, and consider raising these new IPs to be bigger as a task that they need to tackle. Finally, they also wish to expand to become a company that handles a wide range of entertainment, which would include creating movies, anime, and comics.
The National Entertainment Festival will be held this year at Yanagase Shotengai, in Gifu city, Gifu prefecture on 4-5 August.