D2 Launch Record
Source: Riichiro Yamada
Last updated: 2020-09-18
Source (Part 1): https://note.com/reachman/n/ne5c801eb1c95
Source (Part 2): https://note.com/reachman/n/nb29695c5b487
Source (Part 3): https://note.com/reachman/n/na77467a8bf73
I thought it was time to move on to talk about titles I've worked on that most people would be interested in, so I took a survey.
The story of D2 Megaten won by 46.7%.
I feel sad for "Let's Make a Pro Soccer Club"... I've been there longer than D2, haven't I? Don't you want to hear about being surrounded by Juve ultras at Old Trafford?
Well, after all, I'm recognized as a D2 person. Thankfully.
After all, I am a genuine "Megatenist". I prefer Megaten to Castlevania and Final Fantasy, and in a recent graduate interview at Sega, I answered "Soul Hackers and Let's Make a Pro Soccer Club" as the games I enjoyed recently. I was impressed by "Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne" and of course I bought the Maniax edition. If you still have it, Tokunaga, I'd like you to return it to me.
Of course, I had no idea that I would be involved in Megaten after joining Sega, since I had no connection to the company at that time, but it was a miracle that I got this opportunity. Once again, I would like to thank everyone at Atlus who has continued to create the Megaten series.
However, I originally wanted to repay the favor by achieving even greater success, but that was not possible at the time of my appointment. As a producer, I think it is fair to say that I am fighting a losing battle.
I have to preface this by saying that I think this is one of my failures. I have a theory that "there is far more to gain from winning than losing," however I also believe that failure stories are more educational than hearing success stories from others. This is because methods for success continue to change, but the factors for failure are relatively universal.
In that sense, I feel that writing this article can be a good way to learn something about moving forward with a project, and since I don't really like giving talks at CEDEC and the like, it may be valuable and interesting for people other than D2 players to read it with that in mind.
As you grow in your career, slurp mud.
When I was a general manager at Sega Networks, I kept saying these words to my subordinates who were being promoted. Well, it was just something I learned as a salaryman, but I think I was right on target.
When Sega Networks, a brand specializing in smartphone games, was established, I was transferred from Sega Corporation and became not only a producer of one title, but also the general manager of the Planning and Development Department, which oversees planners, placing my position closer to management.
In that case, I can't give priority to what I want to do. It's a new brand after all. Create titles, hire people, train them and manage them. Keep doing these things in parallel. It looks easy when written in words, but it was a very busy time for me.
There were projects I wanted to work on, but I prioritized what was necessary for the company at the time. That's exactly what in-house titles like Chain Chronicle V are, and so were works under contract like Super Robot Wars X-Ω. I just kept working, thinking, "Anyway, what I have to do now is support the company". As a result, people grew up and development became stronger, however...
Sega's hit smartphone titles "Chain Chronicle" and "Puyo Puyo! Quest" are not Sega Networks' in-house titles. They are titles made by Sega Corporation itself. (That's why Chain Chronicle's Jun Matsunaga and Puyo Puyo's Mizuki Hosoyamada are certified gods.)
"Monster Gear" and "War Pirates: Heroes of the Sea", both of which were promoted by the leader of Sega Networks with the exhortation, "I'll slurp mud, so one of you guys hit a home run", were not big hits and did not lead to significant financial results.
It was time to call it a day. I've had my fill of mud. It's time for me to do my own thing and get results.
It's time for me to do what I want to do.
No one disagreed with me. Maybe this was the result of my continuous slurping of mud.
Then I decided to proceed with two projects. The first was Let's Make a Pro Soccer Club for the World Cup. This is a project aimed for two bases. It would be a good pitch, and it would definitely sell.
And the second is...
"I'm going to make a smartphone version of Megaten."
This is a home run. With this, we hit a home run, and it was against this backdrop that the D2 project was to go forward.
How would you make a smartphone Megaten?
Now, let's say you were to make a "Megaten for smartphones". Imagine. If you were the producer, what kind of game would you make? It is relatively easy to come up with ideas like "I want to include this" or "I wish there was something like this," but it is surprisingly difficult to put together the whole picture.
In particular, when considering a free-to-play smartphone game, the most important point is how to monetize the game. This is a completely different level of difficulty than creating a traditional console video game. If you don't design this properly, there is no business to begin with.
Common smartphone games focus on "character gacha" as the main source of sales. However, Megaten does not have an abundance of characters. (It's a bit different when it comes to the Persona series.) After all, "demons" are what users want most in Megaten. Therefore, it would be straightforward to sell demons.
However, there are circumstances that are completely different from normal games.
The demon design is absolute, no compromises.
This represents the essence of the problems that arise when making Megaten on smartphones. In order to keep making character gacha merchandise, normal smartphone games dress up their characters and create variations, but demon design in Megaten is a holy grail. If you start changing it, it will cease to be Megaten.
This is not a typical game operation. And since the series doesn't feature accessories for demons such as weapons and equipment, it would be difficult to sell them.
Well, what would you do?
In my mind, I couldn't think of a better option other than selling the demons. In that case, the requirements are as follows:
"The value of the demon must be maintained for as long as possible."
That is what it means. As long as we cannot easily increase the number of demons, it is impossible to operate like a common smartphone game, where characters are thrown away one after another, or to sell collectibles that depend on the popularity of the characters.
It is easy to put it into words, but how to do it? It would be difficult to build it from scratch, but there was one game that was able to do that, so it was easy for me to imagine the design.
Yes, the title was "Summoners War".
Similarities to "Summoners War"
Summoners War is a Korean RPG released in 2014, and as the subtitle says "Sky Arena," PvP (duels in D2, Taiman in Yakuza Online) is the main content of the game. It is a big title that has been a hit all over the world and has earned more than 100 billion yen.
Incidentally, this game also has gacha. Therefore, you will sometimes find a discourse that goes, "Gacha is not accepted overseas, so Japanese smartphone games do not sell well," but this is not true at all. There is another reason why Japanese games are not accepted.
The Japanese term for gacha games, "soshage", has an unclear definition. I don't think smartphone games are social games...
If "Soshage" is to be defined as "free to play smartphone game," then without a doubt it is Summoners War. It is a well-made game. I can honestly say that I played this one a lot, and it was the most addictive game I've ever played outside of Clash of Clans.
What is it about Summoners War that makes it so interesting?
Overseas, this game is not really marketed as an "RPG" genre. It is described as a "Strategy" game. I think this is because the battles are turn-based and "RPG" sells better in Japan, but here is the point. This is a "strategy" game.
A simple summary of Summoners War would be:
- Highly strategic turn-based battles
- Challenge various battle scenarios with the characters you have developed.
- Customize your characters with runes (equipment) that drop from specific quests.
- All characters can be trained up to 6★.
This is exactly the same for D2. You can see how D2 is inspired by Summoners War.
You may say, "Oh, it's just a rip-off," but that's not true at all. The aim of the game is to provide a different kind of strategy from Summoners War through a special battle system called "Press Turn". If you play both, you will understand that they are completely different games.
And as I mentioned earlier, in terms of securing the value of the characters, this game stood out from the pack. As far as I can remember, there were only a few 5★ characters added over the first two years of D2. As expected of Summoners War, six years after its release, more and more characters are being added...
In other words, 5★ characters are seriously hard to get in Summoners War. I have been playing this game for quite a long time. I have paid quite a bit of money for this game in total, but in the end, I think I have only gotten about 5 characters in 3 years of playing. There really aren't any 5★ characters from the gacha.
Imagine, this was in 2018. Four years after the start of the Summoners War service, the 5★ emission rate, which had not been displayed until then, is now displayed in the game. The probability of getting a 5★ from a regular gacha is...
I believe it was definitely lower before, and although I didn't intend for it, I felt something fateful about how the rate was same as early D2.
We have thought about the framework of D2. So, how can we actually make it into a project? This is what we are going to talk about.
How do you get a project approved?
I was often asked this question during interviews for new hires. Well, this must be a mystery to you as well. The only way to answer this question is to say, "If the boss says 'OK,' then the project will be approved." It is not easy to get a go-ahead for a game with a budget of several hundred million yen, and there are many factors involved in making a decision that allows the project to proceed. It is not a simple matter.
I am a producer, so if I can get a project through to the right people at the right time, the project is up and running.
D2 was a project that was approved through an internal planning competition at Sega Networks.
Barriers to Bottom-Up Planning
When I was the head of the Planning and Development Department (a department for game planners) at Sega Networks, I sometimes heard complaints from younger employees that it was not clear what the formal process was to get a project approved.
Well, those sorts of people were not the type to voluntarily submit plans unprovoked, so I would tell them:
"There's no such thing, so if you're confident, you should take your project directly to the top!"
I could have pushed them away, but I pretended to be a nice person, so I would send them polite advice. However, in a large company, such a process would certainly not be visible, and since titling is an important part of the company's strategy, it is often decided at the upper layer of management.
In the first place, it is rare for planning to be done from the bottom up. In addition, since development is the job of the developer, he or she is too busy to write the plan. The less and less planning is done, the lower the probability of bottom-up planning, and so on... a vicious cycle occurs, and a sense of stagnation arises, as if there is a sense of "planning is not going through".
If I were a producer, there would be fewer rivals to submit plans, so I don't really care if there aren't many new game pitches, but as the head of a department where game planners gather, this is a problem in terms of human resource development and motivation control.
So, I decided to hold a planning competition under the auspices of my department, but this "planning competition" is quite troublesome, and even if a project passes the competition, it is not often turned into a project. In that case, there are quite a few anti-patterns that eventually become nothing more than a recreational space to write a plan and let it die on the vine.
Therefore, my goal was to hold a project competition and to make sure that a project would emerge from the competition. To achieve this goal, I decided to make a change in the format of the competition.
It was quite simple; I added the verdict of a producer to the criteria necessary to pass the planning competition.
What is a producer's job?
This is another question I am often asked, but I define a producer as someone who can bring a project to fruition. There are other people with the title of "producer," but for them, "project manager" is a more accurate description of their job.
I thought that the producer's ability should also be shown on the spot, so I made the project competition itself a place where producers could compete for the final prize. The process was as follows:
- Planners submitted only simple concepts for the first round.
- Producers judge the submitted proposals and polish up the projects they like.
- In the second round, the producers will present the proposals as their own plans.
- Judgement in the presentation counts towards career evaluation.
The most important point is that the producer presents the project as their own. Some people bring in projects that will never be accepted, as if they are trying to help young people grow, so the message in the format was to bring in a project with the intention of succeeding. If you don't really intend to make the project succeed, it won't succeed.
At the time of the first round of proposals, there happened to be a project based on Summoners War. I asked Keiichi Ono who came from Monolith Soft (the first director of D2), who submitted it, "Why don't we do this project for Megaten?" We submitted the plan together and made a presentation.
This project won the top prize in the competition, and the project was then put forward in an open format.
As a result, many plans were submitted in subsequent presentations, and we were able to proudly show that "we have an environment where projects can be started from the bottom up" when it came to hiring and other matters. It is a small story, but I think it is one of the successes of my management work that I can talk about.
The D2 project was approved by the top management, and we were on our way to making it a project. All we had left to sort out was to get permission.
That's right, in order to proceed with this project, we had to get Atlus' approval.
(Interipelli's Note: Unfortunately, this is where the retrospective ends. We never did find out how Atlus was convinced to give their oversight and permission.)