The interview was slightly edited, with approval, to improve readability.
The interview was conducted during Tokyo Game Sho 2017.
Special thanks to Bri Bri from Japanese Nintendo who helped with the transcription.
PushDustIn: This is PushDustIn, Brando and Chris (Chau) from Circle Entertainment. Thank you so much for joining us today. I’d like to ask you just a couple of questions about Circle Entertainment. What is the history behind the name Circle Entertainment?
Chris: It’s a little bit complicated. Circle is like groups that want to do something, which we are. When we started our company we had two or three people. Just like a smaller group, we have passion for the gaming industry. We were a developer before so we wanted to do something like indie development but we [decided to] focus on publishing which is the reason why we are Circle. We only wanted to do something with our passion and we don’t care about what the others think. We started the company in Hong Kong where there aren’t many successful gaming companies. That’s why people don’t [generally] support gaming industries [in Hong Kong] but we don’t care if they don’t think it’s a good idea as we wanted to do it. So this is the Circle (points to the logo), the reason we’re using the red color for the first letter ‘C’ because I am Chris [laughs], I am the head, the first person so people follow me, that’s the reason why. They need an opinion so I will be the first one that people ask [laughs].
PushDustIn: And in Japan, you’re partnered with Flyhigh Works and they’re a separate company?
Chris: They are not a separate company…
Brando: I was confused with the names…
Chris: Flyhigh Works is a new label in Japan, well not actually new label as it’s [been in existence for] six years. The CEO and I are really good friends and we met each other many years ago and we both loved games. So, when he started to talk about creating a new company in Japan I told him I’d give him my full support and take it step-by-step. Most of the time Circle manages [both the] overseas business and the overseas business for Flyhigh Works. For titles, Circle is bringing to Japan and we ask Flyhigh Works to do the publishing. They’re doing really, really well and the developer feels satisfied with that. Unless, for example, the platform is not good like the Wii U platform. The other platforms: the 3DS, Switch; the publisher and the developer are both happy.
As far as I know, people are always thinking Circle is Flyhigh Works, Flyhigh Works is Circle. We are okay with that as it is very clear that we want to make the developers happy. We want to use our record to create a successful reputation in Japan but we don’t want to use two labels in one region. That’s why we keep Flyhigh Works in Japan and most of the Western countries are by Circle.
PushDustIn: So there’s been a huge indie boom on the Switch…
Chris: People say this is the first year they saw the Tokyo Game Show have a Nintendo-exclusive booth with 32 Switch kits, 21 titles. Actually, I think maybe this is for global and not Tokyo Game Show [laughs]. But for the past two years, we have had a smaller booth with maybe 10 or 13 titles for Nintendo 3DS. It’s very rare to see us have titles on PS4 but we got a title on the PS4 but at this moment we only want to focus on Nintendo titles because it’s rare to see a company with only with Nintendo’s titles.
Some people say it’s really a shame Nintendo doesn’t have a booth in Tokyo Game Show but we have many, many Nintendo titles here that people can play on the Switch in here.
PushDustIn: So, you are ‘representing’ Nintendo?!
Chris: No, no, no, we can’t do that! Otherwise, this is killing ourselves [laughs]! But we really like Nintendo first party games — that’s another reason for our passion to continue working with Nintendo. We never boast which will be a success like this. Before the Switch officially launched, we already began working for a few Nintendo Switch titles. On the launch period, you saw VOEZ and Kamiko, all making the titles better since last year anyway. We only want to do titles on Switch but we will never think that the title will be successful or not. It’s really, really simple idea, just the Switch. I don’t [really] care about the sales.
Actually, Flyhigh Works, which includes Circle…we are two-man, three-man publisher so we are not a huge company. We keep our costs low so that means we can return more for developers and if one title fails we can still keep going because we are okay as we’re just a couple of people here. We want to return more to our partners that keep the long-term business between us, so they’re happier. We are doing our best without any cause to do bad. For the good past we got experience for the Japanese market, we know which games will sell better and we know how to catch the people’s attention but we are not professionals. Some titles we are good [at publishing] but some titles we are still learning. For example the music games, we never released music games before, they’ve always been a big surprise here.
Brando: What has been the reception been so far?
I think it’s good and Rayark are so happy for that. I can’t leak the sales but I can just say they are good, better than our expectations.
PushDustIn: I know that Kamiko has been a breakout success for the Switch.
Chris: We released the numbers to the media about two months ago it’s about 120,000 copies all over the world, but right now it’s about 140,000 copies. It’s just five dollar game, it’s made by two indie guys, two people making the game in four months by Unity very quick but everything they were doing was step-by-step. It’s a learning experience, we don’t have investment, we don’t have money, but we have our passion and we want to make sure we are working effectively. We don’t want to slow-down some things, we don’t want to be greedy at this moment but if the timing is right we will think about titles. so that’s the reason why Kamiko gave is really, really great success, the inside of ourselves success and not just the software part.
PushDustIn: So with the success of Kamiko, will you be revisiting that franchise in the future or is that up to the developers themselves?
Chris: The developers were Skipmore, a smartphone developer of indie games. They released a lot of smartphone titles. All of those titles are very successful. One day I found one of their games on iPhone or Android, I’m not sure. It’s Fairune, the first title that came from Skipmore on 3DS which I think is really good. However, we ported the game to 3DS, it wasn’t easy but we still finished Fairune 2 and Drancia Saga, but it was not a huge success. People like the game but it’s still limited [success]. The developer still contributed his passion to consoles. Fairune only launched on 3DS, not for other platforms, [and] they made this sequel for 3DS.
Before Kamiko they started on a project much bigger, it’s called Picontier but they stopped the project and worked on Kamiko. Once they finished Kamiko they moved back to Picontier because they needed to find some creation, find some sense, they needed to work away for awhile and then they’re back they know how to do it better and they got experience from Kamiko. They can finish the battle system, they can think of more ideas for this game. That’s the reason why it took four months to make Kamiko because they couldn’t take too much time.
You mentioned about the sequel and for sure. We have a rough consideration for a sequel but the author for this moment the only wants to focus and concentrate on Picontier. Picontier is not just a beginning, it’s not just a launch and then we finish, Picontier has much bigger expansion for the future. For example, we’ve only shown one island in the game and maybe in the future, we will add more islands and bring your boat to other islands so they want more ideas for this game, not just to copy from the older titles they make. Maybe they will set aside some time for a Kamiko sequel, maybe a new game so I can’t guarantee in this moment but Skipmore is really, really good, they have talent, they have passion so let’s say we can expect more titles in the future.
PushDustIn: One thing that Circle Entertainment has really been focused on -or a good point about Circle Entertainment- is that they release a lot of titles at budget prices so is that a big focus for your company?
Chris: When we created our company, we are a smaller circle, we used our savings – not so much saving, just a little bit. We don’t have any family legacy [laughs], we don’t have investments so we also launched some titles it was not so good. Everything is step-by-step, we’re learning from our experience and from our users so budget game perhaps came from our past records. But if we’ve got timing, we’ve got support or we’ve got ideas we will still be thinking lots bigger titles but it’s step-by-step, but maybe some kind of budget game like Kamiko can satisfy many players but we need a good idea for sure, we don’t want “Okay, Kamiko was successful, let’s just change the skin, we copy and make another Kamiko-style game.” We don’t want that, we want to have something fresh because we want to learn something. We don’t want to think about learning money and then invest in any AAA titles, that’s kind of a different business.
PushDustIn: So you’re thinking more interested in learning a new skill, a new genre and trying to see how you can push that further?
Chris: Yes, so we can’t guarantee the future but sometimes we just jump with a great idea and the people they will cover it with you and then “wow”, the title just got made in a few months.
Brando: With indies and budget titles you have more room to take risks and support new ideas?
Chris: Yes, I would like to support indies. However, we are not some kind of capital fund or something. We have our own titles and our first priorities are to support these guys first but we’re still open-minded about talking with different indies. However, I saw so many indies and they’re already got funds from a government so I don’t think the funding will be quite as important for some indies. However, they probably don’t have local marketing experience like Death Squared so we will give our best [advice] for them to make a good localized title for Japan and that’s the reason we changed the title to RORORORO[ロロロロ] [Death Squared in the West], it’s four cubes.
Brando: …and you mentioned adding in the hats to kind of appeal to the Japanese markets?
Chris: Actually the hats idea is originally created by the CEO of the SMG Studio. If I were the hero, I don’t want to play like a robot, like a cube with only one eye or two eyes, it’s not cute and if the robot has been destroyed I feel nothing. However, if I like the character I can choose my portrait, maybe the hat will be easier so okay, we make some of his eyes for the hairs, they send us the hairs which will be popular. I like the poo because people like something we were just discussing…
Chris: Yes! I think they have a great idea but the public don’t know the market, we just telling them the market needs something to catch people’s eyes. The market needs something for the player’s compassion with characters, not just robots. This belongs to our experience how to help developers do better in Japan. However, to developers self-publishing in Japan for Switch, it’s okay, no problem because the IP is popular they can still sell well in Japan but from [point of view] we want to catch the users are very traditional. [The users who] perhaps don’t buy any magazines or see any media press, probably students or parents buying games for kids. How can they catch some information for this game, how can they know that this game is good for their children and how can they know this game is better for family gatherings so I think the most important is the publisher reputation. If one publisher keeps doing a great job then the parent will feel comfortable with this publisher. The [publisher can] have the responsibility to the users.
PushDustIn: And you have also dealt with localization the other way, from Japanese to English such as with Kamiko with the localization from Japanese into English.
Chris: Well, we have a few voluntary translators in the UK and maybe America. The UK guys have experience for other companies but they want to help us so we send our titles to them and they help us to translate, and then we will get another guy but not just to translate we also want to make sure the text won’t be missing, the level won’t be missing so we also need to do QA. We have a freelancer here; an English speaker, Japanese girl, she helps us with our English titles. So we are trying our ways with our limitations, we are thinking of more ways of doing our things better and better.
Kamiko is a short title but the difficult part is Kamiko has a lot of traditional Japanese culture so we need to find a translator that understands traditional Japanese culture [in order] to translate this part to Western users. It’s not so much content, but cultural issues, but I think we are doing things so-far-so-good.
PushDustIn: I remember playing Kamiko in English and comparing it to the Japanese and in the English version, the priest is speaking in the olde English style.
Chris: So you think it’s good?
Chris: Thank you!
PushDustIn: It’s a great localization.
PushDustIn: Last question, what does it mean to be indie?
Chris: This is really hard to explain as some guys think indie is a smaller team, two or three persons should be indie, some guys think titles without too many commercial considerations. I need to clarify something, usually, we don’t intentionally make labels as an indie publisher and we don’t need a label for that but we will help indie developers for sure. And what we think of these indies; they are doing something they like, that’s fine. It’s okay, it’s really simple if they like, they got passion, they want to do something and they don’t care too much, then just do it! This is indie, yeah. It is simple, right?
They can have money, they can have commercial experience, they can have very very good employees from the biggest company, it’s okay, no problem. The important thing is they are doing something they really like, they are happy to continue.
— カン神巫女 -KAMIKO- (@Kan_Kikuchi) October 16, 2017
Brando: What are your plans for the future? Any exciting news you can tell us?
Chris: Well for sure we have so many Switch titles lined up. But things change fast, the market changes fast, we are thinking [about] new, a new experience for us. We don’t want to stay [stagnant]. The future is unstable, but we are not like normal Japanese teams and too stable, we want to try anything but in this moment we are thinking clear: we want to stay strong on one platform at least because our experience is only for this platform [the Switch].
And for the future, we will try more other opportunities. For example, if we have the opportunity with the package [retail version], maybe we will try these things, maybe we will try to create titles with quite big sized projects, and maybe we will also invest in indies to make their dreams come true but everything is still under consideration. But for sure we will be at the Tokyo Game Show next year and for sure we will bring more surprises next year. We won’t stop in this moment.
Brando: I really enjoyed the games we played from the demo booth.
PushDustIn: Yeah, me too, I really enjoyed Kamiko, Picontier and Splatter, RORORORO and Golf Story.
Chris: I’m so happy you guys like most of our games!