Can the mind behind one of Japan’s most popular games replicate his success in the West? Monster Hunter creator Ryozo Tsujimoto speaks to Will Freeman…
Capcom’s PSP game Monster Hunter is a true sensation in Japan. In 2008 it was the best-selling game in the country – but despite that, and at a time when Capcom is creating globally powerful hits like Resident Evil 5, it has failed to capture the eye of audiences in the West.
The series’ creator and producer, Ryozo Tsujimoto, plans to change all that, however – and he is now looking at ways to make his studio’s game a success in Europe and America. Here, he explains to Develop his team designed an online co-op game that could be played by anyone – even commuting business men playing in just 15 minute bursts – and how the hit title has helped ‘normalise’ gamers to online play…
It took a few iterations for the franchise to become the big hit it has been on PSP. What challenges has the game’s production encountered?
Actually the development started ten years ago, when at Capcom there was a strong movement to promote console network gaming, and this was at a time when networking was only really seen in PC games. At this time three titles were produced – Auto Modellista, Resident Evil Outbreak, and finally Monster Hunter. It was conceived as an action game where everyone joined together to hunt and for large monsters using large weapons.
After creating two titles on PS2 we realised that there was a barrier in network gaming of that type. It was very difficult to overcome the hesitance of consumers to play network games. Both from a technical viewpoint, and because the game was rather complex.
At that point we felt it was probably better to move to a handheld, the PSP, and present a more casual gameplay environment where players can actually see the person they are playing with, while they are still enjoying genuine network gaming. Partly the decision was seen as way of normalising ordinary consumers into network gaming, and doing that finally realised the concept of the very first Monster Hunter. It just benefits the game’s concept, and in fact it benefitted the whole idea of consumer network gaming.
Obviously you made the right decision, and Monster Hunter remains one of the most popular games in Japan. Did you ever expect such success?
When Monster Hunter started we were very ambitious about the title, and of course we knew we wanted big sales. We hoped that a Monster Hunter game one day would hit one million sales, but no one back then could have ever have expected that it would be as popular as it is now.
Why is it such a success, do you think?
The biggest factor was definitely that the game moved to the PSP and was played on a handheld gaming device. When the PS2 version came out the game itself was highly reviewed throughout the review sites, and it was really very social, but as a console game it was very difficult for good word of mouth to spread. There was a limitation on the rate that new people picked up the game.
So it was the move to PSP that we have to thank. The handheld meant players were meeting outside and advertising the game themselves. The fact is that they could demonstrate the gameplay to anybody that they met with. That made it very easy for Capcom to maintain the hype by organising events and festivals based around the game, and those have proved very helpful for us.
Looking forward, how do you plan on expanding the reach and popularity of Monster Hunter?
One thing we have not done yet that we would really like to do now is to focus on the global promotion. We need to take the game to the whole world. The first time we tried, but it didn’t necessarily happen, so in the future we plan to spread Monster Hunter ’s success globally.
Is the concept something which can translate easily overseas?
What has been lacking here in the past with the Monster Hunter series was definitely the promotion. The PR and marketing for the last two titles have been very limited, but this time we're taking things far more seriously, and Capcom as a company are taking things more seriously in terms of the promotion.
Currently in Europe the Monster Hunter franchise has been fairly quiet, so the first step is to actually just spread the name. No one here knows what the game is so we just need to spread the name of Monster Hunter.
The next step will be to explain and convey the information on what the game actually is. Then next we want to let people play the game and experience it for themselves. Finally, we need to maintain support for the community, to keep people coming together playing the game. It's very important for Capcom to strategically plot this path.
In recent months some Japanese developers have suggested that Western studios are taking a lead in terms of the quality of work produced. Is the apparent gulf between Western and Eastern developers something you recognise?
I agree that the way games are being made is changing, and I do see that there is room for improvement and much can be learned from the Western developers by the Japanese. However, on the other hand while I see that Western developers do seem to make games very logically, and perhaps efficiently, Japanese creators tend to make games artistically, or rather they craft games. They may even be irrational about some details, but they definitely know about the crafting of games, and attention to detail.
So what could Western developers learn from the work of Japanese studios?
I certainly wouldn’t want to convey that Western developers are in any way behind, but there are certainly some good practices to learn from. In Japan there is a talent for the small details, and there they tend not to cut corners.
Of course that can affect the development process positively and negatively, and I don’t think development problems are confined to the Japanese or Western markets. They both have their own style.
As you’re one of the few third-party developers to create a truly successful PSP game, what’s your advice to those making games for the format?
One thing is to analyse the situation in which a PSP game is played. When games can be played anywhere, you have to consider the environment in which the player chooses to be in when playing.
Then, taking that environment into account, you have to consider how long people will be playing a game for. You have to offer games playable in 15-minute chunks because in Japan nobody really has large chunks of time anymore, but just has lots of time in small segments.
Even the businessman Monster Hunter fans who have played over a thousand hours have probably never player more than two hoursa day in small chunks. That’s a huge consideration.
Given the relatively low development support PSP is receiving in favour of other formats, would you consider creating versions of the game for DS and iPhone?
Because Nintendo DS and the iPhone both have distinct features it is an interesting idea, but until there are good ideas about how to utilise those features it is quite pointless to realise something. Although the two devices are very interesting, I’ve not quite come up with anything relevant yet.