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D3P - Finding its Niche

D3Publisher of America's COO talks candidly about the company's attempts to launch new IP

D3Publisher may be better known in Japan than elsewhere - thanks to its "Simple" series of budget-priced PS2 games - but the company established subsidiaries in Europe and in America in 2005.

Although D3Publisher has licensed IP such as Naruto, Ben 10 and Flushed Away, last year it released some notable original IP - Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords enjoyed commercial success, while Dead Head Fred won the inaugural videogame writing award from the Writer's Guild of America.

The company just announced that it has acquired the worldwide publishing license to Coraline - a stop-motion animated film directed by Henry (Nightmare Before Christmas) Selick - as well as the North American publishing rights to Shaun the Sheep, for which it previously announced the European rights.

D3Publisher of America's executive VP and COO, Yoji Takenaka, recently chatted with GamesIndustry.biz about their attempts to launch original IP and plans for Vicious Cycle - the company's single internal studio it acquired last year.

GamesIndustryIn Japan, D3 is known for the "Simple" series of PS2 games. Why did these games not appear in the US, especially once the PS2 became a mass-market machine?
Yoji Takenaka

My focus for our western operation of D3Publisher is establishing a videogame publisher that has a diversified portfolio with good entertainment values. We are not ignoring those Japanese games because they are creative and idea-oriented.

We have been and we are still currently selecting games from our Japanese libraries. Those games have to make sense to us in these markets we are supporting - talking about US and Europe, and probably the worldwide market outside of Japan. The games have to be in line with our current strategy.

You will see some games in the future, and you have seen some games like The Adventures of Darwin, for instance, for PlayStation 2. It's a small game that I played and liked and we tried. Or Earth Defense Force 2017, on the 360, we had good success. Great first step into the market.

GamesIndustryIn the US, you're probably known more for licensed titles than some of your original IP. What is your strategy as far as the mix of original and licensed products?
Yoji Takenaka

Basically, we have sort of a 50-50 strategy right now. We support the kids market, we will support the original IP market.

GamesIndustryYou've supported both handhelds - the DS and the PSP. What's your take on the PSP, given that some people have suggested it is too expensive and lacks focus?
Yoji Takenaka

The PSP is a surprise for us. We are enjoying success with Ben 10 right now, selling a lot of Ben 10 PSP games - maybe that's where the boys are, you know?

The DS market has a huge installed base, and we are enjoying the DS market as well with Ben 10, Naruto and Puzzle Quest. Those continue to sell. So, I'm happy with the DS - very much so.

On the PSP, we are finding our niche.

GamesIndustryDead Head Fred is probably your most visible game on the PSP, having recently won the videogame writing award. How have the sales been for that game, and are you considering a sequel?
Yoji Takenaka

Saleswise, it didn't reach the numbers we had hoped for. However, probably 95 per cent of the people who played the game loved the game because there is such creative content there. So, I should say that I'm proud of its critical success.

Vicious Cycle is the only developer that we own, that has become internal [to D3Publisher of America]. We are evaluating Dead Head Fred because that's their lot.

GamesIndustryWasn't Vicious Cycle also responsible for Puzzle Quest?
Yoji Takenaka

Vicious Cycle did the port for Wii, PS2 and PSP. Puzzle Quest is with our friends in Australia, Infinite Interactive, and we are working with them. We will release a new Puzzle Quest this year called Galactrix with a whole new puzzle system. I'd like to surprise people.

GamesIndustryYou acquired Vicious Cycle about a year ago. What else are they working on for you at the moment?
Yoji Takenaka

They are currently working on Ben 10: Alien Force for PS2, PSP, DS and Wii. They are also working one next-gen title right now for us.

We are going to put a lot of resources into their engine development - the vicious engine. We'd like to make this engine as one of the top videogame engines on next-gen. They are still licensing their game engine to third-party developers.

GamesIndustryMost of your titles have been released for the PS2, DS, PSP and Wii as opposed to the Xbox 360 and PS3 - not surprising given the demographics of your licenses. But what about releasing more casual games on Xbox Live, WiiWare, or PlayStation Network?
Yoji Takenaka

That has become a new focus for us since we launched MadTrax last year and also Puzzle Quest: Xbox Live Arcade. Puzzle Quest was a big success; MadTrax, I should say, was a good success.

We are looking to expand that segment of the business by focusing on Xbox Live, PC downloads, PlayStation Network and WiiWare. So we are evaluating and putting out strategy into place right now.

GamesIndustryDark Sector is one of your only current-gen (PS3 and Xbox 360) titles at the moment. How has that performed?
Yoji Takenaka

Dark Sector was a very important title for us. We developed and have driven the title with western developers. We launched the title with a very strong marketing campaign.

It didn't sell as well as we hoped for, but in the meantime we are enjoying success with Puzzle Quest and also Ben 10 in the kids space, so overall I'm very happy with the results.

GamesIndustryWere the sales of Dark Sector not strong enough to consider support for a sequel?
Yoji Takenaka

We are still evaluating. We are still considering the opportunities.

GamesIndustryThere have been a number of mergers and acquisitions industry over the past few years. With so many publishers in the casual games market right now, is D3Publishing looking to make any business moves?
Yoji Takenaka

We'd like to establish the business and grow the business by ourselves, and we are not looking at any other opportunities.

Yoji Takenaka is executive VP and COO of D3Publisher America. Interview by Mark Androvich./

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Mark Androvich