OPINION: Why Hudson is leaving America

OPINION: Why Hudson is leaving America

By Morgan Haro

February 9th 2011 at 10:51AM

Brand manager Morgan Haro says the firm is a symbol of Japan's struggle

Soon, or already, you’ll see the news hit the wire and probably a few gaming blogs from our PR company (the fine, and extremely professionally awesome folks at Fortyseven Communications) that Hudson Entertainment is shutting it’s doors.

Second, let me be clear, Hudson ENTERTAINMENT. Not Hudson Soft.

Hudson Soft is still a company with offices in Tokyo, Japan that will still be employing a good handful of people. Hudson Entertainment is part of Hudson Soft and we handled bringing Hudson’s games to North American territories. All major Japanese publishers have a similar set-up from Sega, to Capcom, to Konami.

But as you may have seen in the news, Konami has acquired the entirety of the Hudson group, and the offices in Japan will likely be focusing on social games. This was the line that was touted in the news earlier this month.

However, there apparently won’t be any need for the talents within the San Mateo offices of Hudson Entertainment. It was revealed today that all of Hudson’s previously planned projects have been cancelled and that our office will be closing it’s doors at the end of February.

Lastly, these are my own personal thoughts on the matter and are in no way representative of the Hudson group. I’ve known that this was a likelihood for some time now, but with the news going public in a day or so, I feel at liberty to share my thoughts on the matter more publicly since, there’s no company’s feathers left to ruffle.

I should start by saying that over the past 3 years, I have worked with one of the most talented and knowledgeable groups of people in the industry. Amar Gavhane and Mike Pepe are both extremely learned in their fields and passionate about gaming to boot.

In short, they kick ass, and they taught me a ton. Since this was my first position in the gaming industry, (not counting the internship I had done with Hudson in my last year of college in 2006) I had a ton to learn, and they were absolutely crucial in my development. For that, I’ll always be grateful, whether I continue to stay in the industry, or not.

Peter Dassenko was Hudson’s clutch Producer for titles like the Bomberman Live series, and was always pushing innovation and partnerships with key developers stateside.

Takehito Hanyu taught me the love of learning Japanese and how to be an all around computer geek. I not only continue to learn the language, but I also have a kick ass gaming PC thanks to him.

There’s so many other amazing people there, Bob Goad, Tammy Taw, Yusuke Tsugawa, Darin Dahlinger; not to mention folks I worked with who had moved on prior, Andrew Plempel, Sebastian Santacroce, Andres Perez, and many others.

But like every company, Hudson Entertainment wasn’t perfect. As the industry continues to march towards the drum of Western game development, Hudson became for me, a symbol of why Japan has fallen behind when it comes to bringing worldwide hits to gamers.

The act of producing and developing a game in Japan, and then bringing that game over to the US to compete in an increasingly competitive market is more and more, and incredibly tough proposition.

A challenge in itself to be sure, but to compound the issue, minimal communication and stifled collaboration seems to be hampering the chances of success.

In previous generations, developers only had so many factors to worry about to produce a title that meets a general level of acceptance. But as we, as gamers, became more accustomed to games that demanded not only more from the player, and in turn, more from the developer, many companies seem to be having a hard time keeping up.

From the Wii generation on, we had success with the first Deca Sports due to its ability to fill a hole in the then hot ‘omg it’s like Wii Sports’ category, but we failed to innovate when it came to the sequel, and the sequel’s sequel. Meanwhile, there were countless missed collaboration opportunities between the US and Japan.

But it wasn’t just with Deca Sports. By the time we had received the game design document for any given title, development was more than likely well underway, usually past the point of the dev team able to make any major changes.

Usually, a green-lit concept would have some redeeming ideas, but from my perspective, there were countless opportunities our titles weren’t taking advantage of.

Numerous trends to not only watch out for and adapt to, but possibly start as well. It was only at the start of 2011 did an air of change come to that communication process. But it appears it was too late.

At the end of the day though, and this is no secret, game development is a business. And Hudson has certainly done it’s best to keep on top of the heap. We made games. Some quick cash-ins like Oops! Prank Party, others more innovative like Bomberman: Live on XBLA and Lost In Shadow on Wii.

Communication problems aside, there was also that little issue of money. And while Hudson has been around for years, it’s clear that we didn’t have the money muscle to bring on big talent, and create big experiences. In this current landscape, it’s tough now to have companies that find a place somewhere right in the middle. You’re either a hit, or an indie developer looking to be a hit.

A special note goes to the fans demanding a return of the Bloody Roar series. It was something I personally pushed for in the company, despite the crowded fighting game market. With digital distribution channels like XBLA and PSN, I felt there was a chance, if done right, to re-invigorate the series.

There were some game design documents sent around internally of some spin-offs of the series, but it didn’t seem like it was the right direction. There was a chance for something to happen late 2011, early 2012; but clearly, we won’t see what was to be.

To the Bloody Roar fans out there, I read every single one of your messages, petitions, and calls for the series to be brought back. You guys are awesome, and perhaps some day, a developer and a publisher will pick it up, and do it justice. Until then, just know, you guys rock.

All together, the key to better success for Hudson needed to be grounded in higher communication and collaboration on a game’s development from beginning to end. I could go more into detail about specific points for specific games, but speaking from a general level; bring the development out from isolation and use the creative resources we had here stateside to engage in a more collaborative development process.

We have so many fun titles that could have benefited from our collective passion. So many franchises that we could have created and improved upon to make gamers sit up and pay attention.

In fact, it was an initiative I had wanted to see through by going to the corporate office in Japan with the above mission in mind. But without taking measurable steps to bridge the culture, communication, and collaboration gap, we end up swimming in our own kiddie pool, watching the cool kids rush through the awesome waterslides on the other side of the fence.

But at the end of the day, I have respect for Hudson’s goals, and I’m proud to have been a part of it. I remember playing Bomberman and Milon’s Secret Castle as a kid. I remember the thrill of getting the internship there. Going to my first E3 in 2006 and knowing that this was the industry I was meant for.

Meeting members of the press of who’s work I had always read, the friends I made, the friend I lost, working on my first website, working on my first marketing plan, going to SD Comic Con, NY Comic Con, PAX, interacting with big-time Hudson fans and the gaming community at shows, on our forums, on Twitter, Facebook; I’ll never forget it.

For all the flaws that Hudson Entertainment as a company had, our team never lost the love of the game, of the industry, and for everything that gaming culture represents. It’s who we are, and what we do. Let’s hope it stays that way.

So what will become of Hudson Entertainment now? It’s strange to think about all these web presences I carved out, all these social media initiatives I planned that were meant to continue to breathe life into our titles far past release. Brand plans created for titles that will never ship, or if they do, I’ll have nothing to do with them. www.hudsonent.com underwent a huge redesign last year, and now, I’m sure that domain will be shut down within a month or so.

All the plans I had laid for our titles in 2011, will cease to exist. As usual, I was going to be tasked with the development of all the microsites and social media planning for the year, as well as handle the brand management for a handful of titles on 3DS, Kinect, and the NGP.

And there were some really amazing cool ideas on the table on how we were going to push the envelope in those departments, including integrating some really awesome initiatives with social media as the platform.

But what’s great is that I can take all that same creative energy that went into those ideas, and bring it to another wonderful company, or perhaps one day, a company of my own.

So without further ado: WHO’S HIRING?

[This article originally appeared on Haro’s own personal blog. It has reappeared here partly due to suggestions it could be taken down.]