Interview: We Chat to BNC Design Studios, A New Wii U Developer With An Eye on Licensed Products
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
"Mario is still the greatest name in entertainment"
While the third-party retail game scene may be increasingly desolate on Wii U, it seems the download-only market is very much alive and kicking. There are a broad range of multi-platform and exclusive games on the way, from established and experienced Nintendo download developers to newcomers utilising tools such as Unity and web-based coding through the Nintendo Web Framework. Perhaps with an eye on a future when fun, accessible content is an even more prominent part of its role in the market, Nintendo is opening the doors to developers of all sizes to take a punt on its eShop platforms.
Another company planning to do just that is B & C Design Studios, which aims to produce products in video games, non-electronic games and collectible areas in the coming years. It's also a registered Wii U developer with a title in the works, so we caught up with Jake Taylor, the founder of the company.
We'll reveal more details on that upcoming release very soon, but in the early part of our discussion we covered Nintendo's increasing openness to licensing its IPs, an area that B & C has pursued in the past and plans to do so again. Taylor provides some interesting perspective on why this move by Nintendo is important, and his hopes that his company can play a role.
Nintendo Life: First up, can you introduce yourself and tell us more about B & C Design Studios?
Jake Taylor: Sure, my name is Jake Taylor, founder and current operator of BNC Design Studios. We happened upon the video game world about 2 years ago and actually became a Wii U Developer right after GDC (Game Developers Conference) last year. Before making video games however we were actually toy makers, working with Nintendo on several projects. Unfortunately due to several constraints none those projects ever made it through but, instead, here we are.
NL: So was the company founded two years ago, or did you work in other areas before the aborted toy products?
JT: You could say yes, we were founded because of our incorporation date which was two years ago, but like all projects we began several years before that, only legalizing what we needed to in time to deliver.
Actually of interesting note, after Mr. Iwata's comments at the Investor Relations meeting in regards to opening up their IP's to merchandising, several of those old projects have sprung back into life.
NL: Right, so from your perspective Satoru Iwata's comments on licensing are an attractive (potential) change in your company's policies?
Why does Disney have Mickey on everything? It reminds people to keep going Disney. Nintendo is trying to do the same.
JT: There are some definite implications, yes, but for us it means Nintendo's finally not afraid to succeed in other realms. That's an entire debate in its own right there.
NL: Would you say Nintendo could earn a great deal of profit from greater toy licensing, for example, or are the gains more in terms of exposure than raw numbers?
JT: It's going to be a little of both but what many people are shy to realize now is that Mario is still the greatest name in entertainment on a worldwide level. Opening up the plushy pipeline is going to un-stop a profit stream for Nintendo. In addition however, as Mr. Iwata noted, they want it for the exposure. Why does Disney have Mickey on everything? It reminds people to keep going Disney. Nintendo is trying to do the same.
NL: Is it perhaps also the case of expanding awareness of other franchises, such as Metroid, Kid Icarus etc? Mario is still relatively prominent in terms of plushes and merchandise (though expansion is of course possible), but non-games may not have even heard of these other franchises. Do you agree with that?
JT: Absolutely, in fact after my last statement I sat here thinking about their desire to bring other names to common knowledge. Half of the time I'll refer to Mario as the pan holder for the whole gamut but it is worth noting that Nintendo's fan base is absolutely and irrefutably loyal and in some cases scary. If Nintendo allows its fans to just soak in their franchises by opening up a plethora of items and merchandise then the brand loyalty is kept in touch. For us, especially when designing the products, like a fully automated Metroid encased in a glass case, merchandise is what carries a fan until the next release of Metroid, or a Zelda themed treasure chest music box is what tides them over until the next big Zelda. But while Mario is the big public placeholder, it's the less known brands that garner the loyal following.
NL: Satoru Iwata also mentioned an openness to "digital fields", which we interpreted as meaning things like ringtones, wallpapers etc. What kind of products do you think could and should be licensed?
JT: Honestly? I have absolutely no idea. There are definitely other things that he could be referring to. For better or worse it may mean the return of the SNES classic learning titles (Mario Learns Typing, et al) or porting Mario over to Leapfrog.
If I could say what do I hope it means? I hope it means an app that turns all of my contacts into Smash Bros. characters and sets my text message background as an arena. Or importing Mii tech into phones/tablets.
NL: That could certainly be popular. So are you able to indicate what sort of products your company is considering, what kind of scale and so on? Also, are you optimistic in your chances of getting into the licensed toy business with Nintendo?
JT: Sure, so traditionally we've focused on what you might call uncanny or 'not-on-Target-shelves' items. High end collectibles for example. Another realm we've tackled pretty in depth is board games. For example, we'd love it if Nintendo allowed us to bring Mario Party to life. In fact I think that would be an incredible step for the series with the Wii U's NFC capabilities and GamePad. In regards to our optimism... that one's hard to say. Let me clarify, I am very optimistic, but Nintendo is very non-traditionally traditional. It doesn't matter how good of an idea you send their way, if it doesn't fit their current strategy, which is usually VERY specific and planned out VERY far in advance, you never had a chance to begin with. So it's a shaky area, but that doesn't mean we're not going to take the chance, even if it does mean lost resources.
In terms of games we're currently confined to smaller eShop friendly titles. We do have a secret weapon however which is our end all but that's something of a much larger scope and scale and we may not get to tackle that for a few years now.
We'd like to thank Jake Taylor for his time, and our upcoming second part will reveal and discuss in detail the Wii U project currently in the works at BNC Design Studios.