In this series of features we invite 'Nindies' to share thoughts on their experiences in 2016. In this entry we chat to Chris Chau, co-founder and CEO of CIRCLE Entertainment; the company is one of the most prolific eShop publishers, particularly on 3DS, and we discuss its continuing drive to release a variety of download experiences.
First of all, can you introduce yourself and your role with CIRCLE Entertainment?
I am Chris Chao, the CEO who manages CIRCLE Entertainment.
CIRCLE has an incredibly broad business, publishing a significant number of games in the West but also, notably, helping developers bring their games to territories like Japan and China. Can you talk about your general business, particularly in terms of your approach to publishing?
We were originally concentrated on the development business, until 2015 when we decided to close this development business to save resources; we wanted to 100% focus on the role of the "Bridge". The "Bridge" means to help different regional partners (developers and publishers) to explores unfamiliar markets, especially for Asian developers that want to connect with the Western markets. Sometime that doesn't mean we will directly publish their games, but help them to seek publishers with a very good advantage to match their expectations: such as development fee details, mobile version publishing, etc.
For example, we hand over all PlayStation games to publisher Qubic Games; they are reliable, so far, and developers like them.
Developing or publishing games is an investment, and that brings us risk.
Can you talk about how you've developed these relationships with developers? Do you approach game makers, do they come to you, or is it a mixture of both?
Sometimes we notice specific developers have releases on the way or have announced their title, so we will try to reach them. Besides, some developers also contact us directly and present their unannounced titles to us.
We can't say every developer is fully satisfied after we publish their games, because of market changes that are sometimes quite unpredictable. But we're still thankful they gave us opportunities to work together and learn something from them. Developing or publishing games is an investment, and that brings us risk. What we can do is to estimate the market, we don't want to give them the wrong expectations, and we also do our best to promote their title and return a fair royalty to them.
Finally, I guess with most developers we have kept a good relationship; they like to work with us continually. I think the most important thing (which is also very hard) is to try to be a friend with developers, not just be an agent or a boss. Fortunately, some developers became our friends after 3-4 years of cooperation.
As a publisher you've been prolific on the eShop, in particular. What initially drew you to the 3DS eShop?
I guess it's because no publishers continued in that direction without hesitation. Some developers, they saw our PR and heard good words from other developers. Some developers we visited them, they got very good impressions and were positive in seeking cooperation with us. I can say, it wasn't necessarily intended, it just happened. And we are very happy to be a friend/partner with different developers on 3DS.
What are the most important changes - from your perspective - that you've seen in Nintendo's download stores over the past decade in which you've been in business?
I feel it's very complicated. The good part is that the digital console game market seems to be expanding, the bad part is games (especially Indie titles) are hard to sell in this market. Very ironic, right?
Players still seek high quality, and also cheaper (maybe discounted) hardcore titles. However, many developers don't have enough resources to meet all these expectations, and then their new small budget game (fun and simple) sells poorly; even with very good comments, sales are still sometimes decreased up to 80% compared with 2012, for example.
The good part is that the digital console game market seems to be expanding, the bad part is games (especially Indie titles) are hard to sell in this market. Very ironic, right?
Players can easily get free simple games from other platforms, and they like to save money for the biggest titles on Nintendo platforms. We've found a similar situation on PSN; right now, Indie games will be extremely hard to sell on consoles.
But this effect is slower in Japan; compared with 2012 or earlier, the decrease rate is not very huge - but it's still noticeable.
To focus on 2016, how many games have you published and worked on this year?
I guess it's about 50 games (if the Kutar series counts as 10 titles), and most were on Nintendo platforms. I told Nintendo we are always prioritising their platforms, unless they decide to not support us anymore.
Are there any projects or releases that you're particularly proud of in 2016?
Generally, I am glad to work with any older or new developers, it's our pleasure to publish their games; no developers means no publishers. We are very happy to hear many gamers talk about our titles, leave messages for us that they are looking forward to sequels for some titles, such as Mercenaries Saga, Fairune, The Legend of Dark Witch...etc. Those voices tell us that if we decide to release new games, they are still willing to buy them.
Speaking of titles, I want to say, developers are not perfect, they need time to study how to create a better game, and we also need time to study what best meets our gamer's expectations.
What are your thoughts on the 3DS and Wii U eShop library in 2016? Has it been a good year for these stores, in your opinion?
To be honest, I have no idea for Wii U, but for 3DS I think it's still positive, especially as Pokémon gave everyone a higher impact.
Do you hope to be active on the Nintendo Switch eShop? Can you tell us a little about your thoughts on the upcoming console?
Right now we are focusing on 3DS, Steam and PlayStation (probably VR); we tried to apply for a Switch license and Nintendo wants us to be patient. Personally I am a little bit worried about Switch (not the hardware), but I'm still willing to work on the platform.
If you want to know my worries, I have to say that if this platform can easily port the likes of Unity and Unreal, for gamers that's cool to see so many titles come out, but how can we make sure game quality will stay at a high level? Maybe some indies will port 5-10 titles in 2 months; it'll be hard for small developers to survive on the platform with such huge competition.
What can gamers look forward to from CIRCLE Entertainment in 2017? Do you have any particular plans that you'd like to share?
We have some titles in development for this year; we will decrease casual products, focus more on 'hardcore' games. The one we announced its Picontier, and we still have 15-20 titles planned on different platforms (probably published also by Flyhigh Works and Qubic Games); 2-3 titles are huge in size and targeting Q2-Q3 2017. When that time comes we will share information with Nintendo Life readers.
Also, we won't give up on Nintendo platforms.