Nioh a ‘triumphant return’ for Koei Tecmo as it eyes the western market

Nioh’s success was never set in stone. The title’s chaotic development started back in 2004, but it only hit shelves this February. An even bigger surprise was director Fumihiko Yasuda’s assertion that the concept of the game had “remained the same throughout development.” 

So how could a game whose life began 13 years ago still be relevant to the 2017 market?

Well, it appears that players of today do, indeed, want to play the same games as players back in 2004 (with better graphics, naturally), because Nioh has just surpassed 1m units worldwide – a feat it’s managed to achieve in little more than a month.

“Nioh has been particularly challenging, as it’s a brand new IP we’ve been working on for years,” Koei Tecmo’s general manager Yasutomo Watanabe tells MCV. 

“It utilised all the resources of our company. We received unequivocal support from our western publisher, Sony Interactive Entertainment, and Nioh is performing very well so far so we are very happy with it.”

Watanabe also tells us that Nioh is Koei Tecmo’s “most successful title in the west.”

He adds: “This position essentially validates our strategy to expand our brand and user-base in the long term and proves that our titles can reach the highest spots in the charts. With overall positive player feedback and media reception we are very pleased by this result and hope to repeat it in the near future.”

Could this mean a revivial of Koei Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden series? After all, it’s arguably the most likely Koei Tecmo title to repeat Nioh’s success in the west, and developer Team Ninja’s creative director Tom Lee did recently say that Nioh was a “gateway into the next chapter for Ninja Gaiden.”

Watanabe wouldn’t be drawn, however: “We know a lot of our fans in the world have been waiting for the next Ninja Gaiden and it is one of the most important projects for us as well,” he says. “At the moment, we are not in a position to announce anything, but we are hoping to share good news with you once we are ready.”

Whatever the next big thing in the west is for Koei Tecmo, Watanabe says the Japanese developer and publisher learned a lot of lessons from Nioh’s release, particularly in attracting a wide audience. 

“From a development standpoint, the approach Team Ninja chose yielded very important results, as they essentially included the wider public on development decisions from an early stage with the
release of the Alpha demo,” Watanabe explains. 

“Being so open, [as well as] incorporating feedback from the fans certainly helped increase interest in the game and shape players’ expectations.”

Localisation was also key to Nioh’s success, he adds: “With the help of our western publisher, SIE, we were able to release the game in an impressive 15 languages; something that opened up Nioh to an entirely new and wider audience. 

Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, Nioh is a title reflects a lot of creativity and a lot of soul, and is a reflection of what made Team Ninja a successful studio in the first place. It’s a triumphant return to the studio’s strengths and media and players reacted very positively.”

Releasing games in the west hasn’t always been this easy for Koei Tecmo, though. Back in 2015, the publisher was caught up in some controversies regarding the representation of women in Dead or Alive Xtreme 3.

“We always try to develop and release our games with the utmost consideration of each territory’s culture,” Watanabe prudently answers when asked if Koei Tecmo keeps this issue in mind when it releases a game in the west. 

“This is the main reason we did not release Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 in the western regions, as we felt it didn’t represent the values of the west and so would not appeal to western players.”

So what is Koei Tecmo’s strategy to appeal to western players then?

“One of the most important things is to conduct solid market research to identify global and regional trends that can be incorporated in our own development engines,” Watanabe says. “We would also like to pursue partnerships with established brands or IPs to appeal to a wider audience and to grow our brands further.”

He continues: “Personally I’m happy to see a lot of Japanese games hit the charts in the west, however there’s no border for entertainment and most people don’t care where a game comes from; they only care if it’s fun. 

“We are proud to be a Japanese game publisher with unique content and approach and will continue to strive for success in the western regions. Thanks to A.O.T. Wings of Freedom and Nioh, a lot more gamers are now aware of our company and are interested in our releases. Next year and going forward, we plan to release big titles for the western market.”

For now, in addition to the continued support to Nioh, Koei Tecmo’s hard at work on more eastern-centred titles that will also release in the west, such as Toukiden 2, hitting shelves today, and Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada, which is due in May. 

In the past weeks, Koei Tecmo also released Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey and Berserk and the Band of the Hawk. While these titles aren’t likely to be as successful as Nioh and A.O.T. Wings of Freedom here, Watanabe still expects them to find an audience, even if it’s a niche one.

“Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is a long-running Japanese comic and has recently enjoyed success in the west via a new version of the anime. We have created an interactive experience for our fans and I would expect people who know this IP will find it thoroughly enjoyable. The initial reaction to the game has been very encouraging and it’s one of the best collaboration titles we’ve done to date,” he says.

“Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey is another long-running series produced by Gust and forms the second part of the Mysterious trilogy. The prequel, Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Book was the first release of the series for the PS4 so we’re glad to see the series has picked up interest on this platform.”

With Koei Tecmo’s native market narrowing down, though, looking west seems to be a natural, next step for the publisher: “The Japanese market is very strong so far as mobile games are concerned. However with the console games market there are some issues and currently it’s not the key territory for console game sales,” Watanabe concludes. “Simultaneously, the western and Asian regions have been growing in importance and so our focus is gradually shifting towards them.”

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