Interview: XSEED on what happened with Muramasa and more [update]

[Update: we had attributed some of these remarks to the wrong person. Our apologies to Mr. Berry.]

Last September, XSEED Games announced its intent to publish Vanillaware's Wii side-scroller Muramasa: The Demon Blade in North America, to the delight of hardcore action gamers and people who like to see pretty things. Then, in April, it announced that it wouldn't be publishing the title, a duty that then fell to Ignition Entertainment.

At the time, we wondered why XSEED would decide not to publish such an eye-catching game. The short answer: it wouldn't decide to do that. XSEED's Jun Iwasaki and Ken Berry gave us details on the Muramasa situation, as well as the recent Fragile announcement, and the timing of Flower, Sun, and Rain. And, of course, they gamely accepted our pleas for Retro Game Challenge 2.
Just sort of a general question: Can you explain the XSEED relationship with Marvelous.

Jun Iwasaki, President: So, the first relationship started with Valhalla Knights on PSP. At that time, we made some kind of licensing deal; we sold about 50,000, right?

Ken Berry, Product Manager: I think so.

JI: And then, we tried to propose another title, and then I started discuss with Marvelous -- Wada-san, at that time, a deeper relationship. So we say "co-publishing," not only a general licensing deal. They will be publisher, and we will help support marketing and sales, most of the business organization for the US market. Finally we made a co-publishing deal. We got the rights to support Little King's Story, and Arc Rise Fantasia, Half Minute Hero, and other titles as well.

About Muramasa -- I'm very sorry to bring it up.

JI: (laughs) Ah, yeah.

Can you explain --


JI: What's happening? (laughs)

Yes, what's happening.

JI: Anyway, all licensing and co-publishing deals, finally, are Marvelous's decision. Muramasa, as you know, among their titles, is a big title. So there is a lot of chance to get a good offer.

Marvelous got a lot of good offers from others, and finally, they decided to take that offer, and of course they asked us to allow them to do that, and I said "yeah, okay." It's hard to explain. It oftentimes happens, that kind of situation.

KB: But in short, it wasn't our decision, right? A lot of people I've seen write on Internet forums, you know, "why would XSEED get rid of Muramasa?" Obviously we would love to be publishing that.

JI: No, of course, we'd like to keep it, but we don't have the IP, they have the IP. The final decision is by Marvelous. Of course if they allow us to publish, of course, we'd like to keep that title.

When a new Marvelous title comes in, does XSEED do the initial marketing for that?


KB: No, we only do PR and marketing for titles we're working on, that we're publishing -- or at least, in Muramasa's case, titles we thought we were publishing.

Does XSEED make offers to Marvelous like other publishers?


KB: Are you saying that for any new Marvelous title that comes out, are we being judged just like any other publisher in terms of a North American partner, or do we get preferential treatment from Marvelous?

JI: You asked if we have the first refusal right?

Something like that.


JI: No, no, no. Not all titles. But several titles, already, they've asked us to publish, like the current lineup. But, Lux-Pain, we haven't published, Ignition published ... Several titles, Marvelous themselves decided this is appropriate to do as licensing. So not all titles, but most titles we discuss at the beginning. "Okay, so this title's appropriate as co-publishing, but other titles" ... that kind of discussion, we did before.

So how about Namco Bandai? So far, you've announced two titles from Namco Bandai (Retro Game Challenge and Fragile). Is that part of a larger agreement or a game-by-game basis?

JI: Game-by-game.

So you saw these two games --


JI: I'd like to make a contract, but as you know, Bandai Namco has a US subsidiary -- two subsidiaries, Bandai Namco America and D3 Publisher. If they'd like to pick from the two of those, we have no chance to publish. But by chance, fortunately, we got the publishing rights for those two titles.

I'm sure everybody asked this, but is there any chance for Retro Game Challenge 2?


JI: Oh, everybody asks.

KB: (laughs)

JI: I hope to do that, but so far the sales results -- not to expectations. And also, hopefully, we'd like to publish Retro Game Challenge 2, but in the beginning we have to calculate profit. So, I can't say now it'll never happen, but it's up to the sales results in the future. If it dramatically increases, the sales, then maybe I'll offer a pitch to Bandai Namco again to bring to the US. But currently ... it's tough to bring, so far.

I really liked Retro Game Challenge.


KB: Thank you! We get a lot of enthusiastic emails saying "thank you for Retro Game Challenge, please bring the sequel," and I mean, we love the series too, but, like JI said, maybe at some point, if sales dramatically increase of the original one, but right now it doesn't make business sense for us to bring over the sequel.

JI: The publisher's point of view: the DS business is tough. Profit-wise, it's tough.

Can you divulge the sales numbers so far for Retro Game Challenge?


KB: We're not going to divulge any kind of sales numbers, but I mean, we would have to sell quite a bit more of the original to be to a point where bringing over the sequel would make sense.

JI: And also, it's up to the terms for the numbers of the sales.. we have to pay some kind of royalties, and guarantees, that kind of costs. ... it's a lot, so that means our profit is very small.

I wanted to ask about Flower, Sun, and Rain. It seems to have been announced a long time ago, and is just now coming out. Was there a delay? It came out in Europe first, right?

KB: Why it was delayed? Um, well ... (laughs). What was our original date? Did we have that down as March? What was the date you were working off of?

I'm not even sure if there was ever an official date earlier than that. It just seemed to have been announced kind of a long time ago, and then it came out in Europe, and then kind of a long time later it's coming out here.

JI: So, we considered, with that game -- it's very unique. Unique. So we considered, "is it appropriate to bring to the US or not?" And considered it again and again, so finally we decided "okay," we'll try to launch. This takes a long time of consideration.

So you were thinking about it for a long time?


JI: Yeah, thinking for a long time. As I explained before, the DS market is getting, not worse, but difficult to keep the shelf space, and this title is too unique, so it's hard to explain to the buyer what this game is, and also it's too core, so we considered profits or how many units we can sell. We considered it again and again,

KB: I think we might have initially slated it for March, but as you know, March is one of the busiest months.

It was a very busy month for the DS.


KB: Oh yeah. Because you know all the publishers have their fiscal year end, or at least a lot of them do, so they all try to ship around the end of March. So I know we pushed it out from March, at least for that reason. And now we have a solid release date a little less than two weeks from now on the 16th. So, yeah, just looking for a nice little opening, because it is a unique product, and so we don't want it to get lost with a bunch of titles coming out around the same time.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.