DANGEN Entertainment is a new publishing company that was announced during BitSummit. We sat down with four out of five members and discussed the history of the company, and their plans to change the gaming industry.
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PushDustIn: Thank you so much for this interview. Recently, you’ve announced this new company. So, what inspired you to start it?
Nayan Ramachandran: Well, as Ben would tell the story, his other day job is being an agent so he works with a lot with the triple A developers or publishers…finding connections and making sure people find the right people. He noticed that there weren’t a lot of indie publishers that were providing the right help for these indie devs. Dan Stern and myself, have a ton of experience working with an indie publisher and Dan Luffey has a lot of experience working with localization, and Ben has a lot of experience working with triple A…and understands this is the way it’s suppose to work. But we speak the language of indies. And he brought us to help make those connections together. So we started in March. I guess the end of March.
Dan Stern: Yeah, end of March. It was April for me.
Nayan: I guess it was the start of April pretty much when it started. It’s been kind of a crazy rollercoaster.
Dan Stern: I like where you were going where you said we were coming from indie publishing. And Dan Luffey coming from localisation and Ben coming from triple A to being tuned in with a lot of partners. One of the things I really like about what we are doing now, is that we all have some special skill that we are bringing to the team that someone else in the team might not have. So we are all able to cover some aspect of making DANGEN a better company and a better publishing group, [allowing us] to be able to do things that we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.
Nayan: The idea is that we are a small team of five. But we don’t need to expand. We are five, because we need those five people. Nobody is doubling up on anything. There’s no ‘fifth wheel’, so it’s all of us playing to our strengths. At the same time we are working with devs that we are really passionate about their games, and love working with them. It’s already an amazing start. We have some really incredible games.
PushDustIn: Your previous experience was with PLAYISM, is that correct?
Nayan: Yeah that’s correct. Dan Stern and I both worked at Playism. Luffey, you’ve done localisation at a bunch of different places, right?
Dan Luffey: Yeah, I’ve been doing localisation in the game industry, I’ve also worked on translations for manga and Japanese literature as well. Games are my foremost passion though. It’s great to work with a team of Japanese translators and translate these English games into Japanese and give them the sort of environment that I always wish I had as a translator. We are giving them the builds to play upfront so they know about the game, get a feel for the game. We are giving them proper amount of communication with the developers, so they can ask them any kind of question they want, to make the translations more accurate and close to the original as possible. We are also giving our translators revenue share, which I’ve never ever experienced as a translator. No company has ever given the translator a percentage of the profit. So we are really bringing them in and making them part of the team — something that I had always idealised as a translator myself.
Nayan: One of the things we are trying to do is really set ourselves apart from what other publishers are doing. Ben has incredible connections working as an agent. We are — and this makes a lot of sense for the Japanese space, we are working with veteran creators, to hook up with the developers we working with in order to help get their game promoted through a Let’s Play, or maybe contribute something to the game. We try to hook up things that make sense — some veteran game creator and some dev, it makes sense. It’s the kind of thing, a perfect example is something that just happened — we had Igarashi-san come by and play through the demo of Brave Earth: Prologue and Momodora V as well. That’s something we are able to do because of Ben’s connections. That can come through many different things. For instance, we can talk to…we are actually talking to a composer who did the music for a game that inspired a game we are working on now. And we are asking him, to provide one track for that new game. And he’s totally into it. On the other side, for instance, being able to provide cover art. We are looking to do box copies in the future, which makes a lot of sense for Japan, but often because these games are digital downloads, they don’t have box art, or they don’t have box art that appeals to the Japanese audience. So, we can go back and talk to Japanese artists that work on art for games that have a similar genre or similar premise, and get them to do the box art for this game. The advertisement aspect of doing the Let’s Play or endorsing the game — that’s largely a marketing thing. It’s because the spokesperson matters so much in Japan. Even American actors realise this. You see Tommy Lee Jones, and Meg Ryan…well, Meg Ryan not so much anymore but back in the day, Nescafé.
…You still see Boss Coffee
Nayan: Yeah, Tommy Lee Jones with Boss Coffee
Nayan: Yeah, Justin Bieber does Softbank now. None of those people would dream of doing that in America. I’m going to advertise for coffee in America. But, it makes sense in Japan as the spokesperson is such a powerful thing. For us, we see that and it makes for an article that a site would be willing to run as that would be really cool, and that’s an exciting thing to write about as it allows us to get the developer’s games elevated to the point where people who might know the game even exists, actually get to see it and actually play it, and find out it’s a game they are actually into to. So that’s the goal really — to try to get it in-front of more people.
PushDustIn: So really, the goal of the company is to bring people together and getting those people where they should be.
Dan Stern: That’s a really big part of it. In this instance is might be anything like promotional like the box art, or something used inside the game itself, but it might be something like working with Twitch Streamers. So we are working really closely with the Twitch Global Moderator of Japan, Chyado Sensei has been very cool, working with us. Like helping us key into the Twitch community. Which can otherwise be — it’s — not necessarily connected, there’s no unified hub or anything. Even though there are a lot of communities there, it’s not necessarily organised —
[Ben Judd suddenly appears]
Ben Judd: Is this a private party?
Nayan: It’s a private party but you are invited.
Ben: What’s been said?
Dan Stern: I was just talking about Chyado Sensei.
Ben: Oh the Twitch streaming?
Dan Luffey: You should talk about the veteran game creators working with the indies.
Ben: During my main job, as an agent, I’ve had the honour of working with a lot of talented creators. I was a latchkey kid, and it was Japanese video games that ended up making my childhood a much happier thing than otherwise it could have been. One of the reasons why I’ve been in the Japanese game industry is because I feel that I have a debt that is owed. When I look at these indies, it’s quite clear they are inspired, by all of these Japanese creators, and wouldn’t it just be great if they had the opportunity to work in some capacity to work with the creators that inspired them? Some kind of mentorship, apprentice sort of role. That’s where the base idea kind of came from. Sure enough when I started talking to the high level Japanese creators I know — as I’m very connected in Japan, again, very alone so that gives you a lot of time to knock on people’s doors and say, ‘want to get a drink?’. I was very surprised that they were all very, very nice. And very excited working with indies. So what I thought was going to be a more, oh you know ‘unless I’m a publisher I’m not going to do it, or unless I’ll be making a lot of money I won’t be doing it, or what I thought was going to be a standoffish attitude from the Japanese creators…ended up being their hearts, and passion is still in making games. When they see someone who is a fan of them to that level, they were extremely forthcoming about trying to help in anyway they could. That’s going to be our kind of special sauce as a publisher — we are going to say Hey! We are going to market your game in a way that no one else is because it will be Japanese users looking at that famous person they know, and that famous person is going to help you out with your game, and not only that but you get to create with some shape or form…and that’s the dream, right? You empassion your creators, but you’ve also helped get the awareness from the end user. That’s all I can say, as I got to go back to the stage for awards and stuff.
Dan Stern: That’s something I can key in personally. Japanese games are a big part of what brought me to Japan in the first place. I remember last year, Sakaguchi was here, talking about Terra Battle. I came up and I said hi and this is really embarrassing but I have to tell you how Final Fantasy VI changed my life. I said ‘You would’ve gotten this all day’ and he said “I have, I have!” He still listened and at the end of it I was like “I appreciate that, no really man, I need this, this is for me, I’m not trying to butter you up, I need this!” (laughs)
Eigotaku: That must be really weird working with people that inspired you and working with your heroes..
Dan Stern: It is.
Eigotaku: Just in general, that balance of creativity… It wouldn’t be surprising if there was a degree of pretentiousness and complacency with veteran creators or even with younger people saying you inspired me but I wanna do my own thing. The level of communication of embracing each other from different sides must be really, really exciting.
Dan Luffey: It’s amazing how open people are. For example, the creator of Brave Earth, he’s totally open by how he’s inspired by Castlevania. When Iga-san was there, they chatted it up. “This reminds me of this…” There is no animosity or awkwardness about it.
Nayan: What I love about it is that there’s definitely not a “In my day, games were better”, I really like the fact that when these veteran creators come in, they do feel like they’re mentoring and offering feedback. When credit’s due, they offer it: “man, this is so much better designed than when I tried it, this is a better boss than any boss I can design.”
Dan Stern: It makes a lot of sense to me that when Kayin told me that when Iga came he spotted the patterns for every enemy before he even saw them do anything. Looking at the enemies design he understood like how they’re going to behave. He [Iga] aced this one section that’s usually a stumbling block for a lot of people and went straight through it, he didn’t even get hit. He saw the guys there did a charge and an overhand swing and he baited them out, backed up, came in and killed them. He spotted it so quickly.
Dan Luffey: The traditions of Japanese gaming live on in these creators from overseas. Being able to tie them together is almost like passing the torch onto the next generation.
PushDustIn: There’s a company that bring back Japanese composers — is it Brave Wave? , once they start reaching out to Japanese musicians, a lot of them are surprised that they’re fans of their work. They didn’t realise they had that level of fame, so have you guys run into that as well?
Dan Luffey: Manami Matsumae, the creator of the original Mega Man music, even to this day, she doesn’t believe how people around the world love her music. She goes to the shows and listens to the concerts and kind of understood to a degree but she doesn’t act like it.
Nayan: Yeah, no she doesn’t. I’ve been out drinking with her a few times and she’s like “people like it, it’s not just nostalgia?” “Yeah, people love your work, just accept it!” Why is it surprising at all? I think a lot of the creators don’t realise the impact they’ve had. I see a lot of the Japanese creators see all these games inspired by them and the games they worked on when they were younger, they’re realising, this was a major impact. All these kids grew up playing these games, now they’ve grown up making the same kind of games, only slightly different. It’s awesome, it’s really awesome. It helps both sides. You see the veteran creators and then you have these new developers who get to meet their heroes and get to actually show them the game and when they see them play it they’re like “I really love this game”. It really does mean something.
PushDustIn: The whole system reminds me of kouhai/senpai, it seems like a great way to embrace Japanese culture.
Dan Luffey: Except without all the Japanese bullying (laughs).
Dan Stern: It was originally Japanese games like the Squaresoft stuff on Super NES that got me really, really into games. Even though I liked stuff before that, that’s what really hooked me. There was a lot of awesome pixel art back then that I was so into. I’ve said this before a number of times but on PlayStation, I found that the first half of the PlayStation’s life, I saw a lot less of that and those games being made and the indie scene really bought that back. It really revived pixel art to me, and it revived 2D game designs and out of that we got a lot of really great stuff that I wanted to play. Now we’re seeing stuff like CrossCode and Iconoclast that harken back to some classic Japanese designs. It’s amazing to me that I’m able to be involved and that I’m able to get them back to the country that originally inspired them being. It feels good.
PushDustIn: Are you trying to match up platforms for these games based on the creator wants ones or are you targeting specify platforms.
Nayan: We’re working with PC, PS4 and Switch. All the games we’re showing right now are PC, that’s all the stuff we have for now, but there’s no question that for most of or all the games that we’d eventually like to get them on consoles. Just in general, getting Western games out in Japan, it just makes sense to do consoles. While Steam is growing, and it is growing, and sales are rising, you just can’t compete with PS4 and Switch. It just comes down to timing, bandwidth and not whether or not it happens, but when it does. But for now we’re talking PC. There’s a couple of games that we’re looking to work with that are primarily on console and not on PC, but that’s not really something we can talk about right now.
Eigotaku: You mentioned all the different elements that come together, it’s not just the game, it’s the box art, the score and with companies like iam8bit producing beautiful and glorious vinyl and stuff like that, it must be exciting to get that physical element back. Steam has its advantages being digital, but you see things coming out recently that harken back to collecting booklets and stickers and bringing the interest back into physical media. Digital has its advantages but having a physical, tangible object in your hand is something really important to have as well, so that must be exciting from a creative point of view, bringing all of those people together, but also the production as well producing physical merchandise.
Nayan: In general, the good news is that physical is still alive and well in Japan and plenty of people still buy it, I still buy physical. For us, it’s cool to do extra stuff but more than anything it’s really important we deliver the games the way the players want. And if what the players want is physical purchases on consoles then so be it.
Dan Stern: To be fair, I get this on a personal level, I buy a lot of stuff on physical media as well. I think there are people in the States that are like that, it’s just that brick-and-mortar shops are a pain to use, you’ve got to drive out to a place to go pick something up and they might not even have what you want. The numbers show that the culture is moving away from that in the West but it’s not really like that in Japan so it kind of opens up a lot of opportunities to do new things; if you want to print something, or if you want to print some goodies that go along with the game then it gives us some opportunity to do something you couldn’t just do with digital.
Eigotaku: Speaking as a fan, I waited seven months for Rez Infinite to be delivered due to a postal problem (laughs) but the Switch version of The Binding of Isaac coming with the Zelda-inspired instruction booklet, it’s great to see those new, different ideas coming out that suit the style of the game or just giving collectors and fans physical stuff to collect. It’s great.
Dan Luffey: We were just saying the other day, it’s sad to see that some games now don’t come with an instruction manual…
PushDustIn: Yeah, Switch doesn’t.
Nayan: With Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the sleeve is the manual That’s because you open it up, and it’s transparent.It’s a really weird design.
Dan Luffey: But like you said, special editions are still alive.
PushDustIn: Another question I’d like to ask, Ben’s not here but Ben has a lot of experience with Kickstarter games. Will you guys also be using Kickstarter to help indie developers?
Nayan: For now, no. The problem with Kickstarter is the sheer amount of work required. I’ve worked on three Kickstarters and….no.
Dan Stern: I’ve done two myself.
Nayan: It comes down to two things, one: right now we don’t have the bandwidth, we are doing exactly what we feel we want to do and don’t want to spread ourselves too thin and it’s just nerve-wracking. I honestly don’t enjoy it.
Dan Stern: Short term, that is all true. It is an incredible amount of work. It’s not just starting the campaign obviously, there’s the lead up to it, the flow up afterwards and the updates all the way through development. It adds a whole layer of extra effort that needs to be put into development of the game. But on top of that, I think the landscape of Kickstarter has changed a lot to and the benefit of doing a Kickstarter versus the expectations and obligations that rise from it, it’s not there as much as it used to be.
Nayan: I wouldn’t like to give a definite no on anything but for now no. It just doesn’t make any sense for us. There are plenty of games already funded that are in development that need our help. And that’s another thing, we’re not actually grabbing that many titles per year we’re looking at doing four to six titles a year, and instead of picking up as many titles as we can and throwing them all the wall and see what sticks, we’re heavily vetting each title and making sure that every title in the line-up for the year is what we think is going to be a big hit. And because we’re working with these small set of titles, we get to do close release marketing and really have a long tail on keeping the users in the community engaged with those games. Especially with those games that have a lot of updates. One developer was talking to me and said his game has a new update every three days and it seems really interesting to me too. We want the bandwidth to be able to keep up with that so that the Japanese community can enjoy those updates every three days the same way the American community can.
Dan Stern: My experience of working with releasing games in Japan is that what works in the West might not necessarily work over here and people say that a lot. But specifically, in the way of billing and maintaining a community, one thing that doesn’t work is relying on Steam forums or relying on forums in general because the way Japanese people use the Internet is not the same as we do in the West. The biggest forum in Japan is totally anonymous and nobody posts under their name. And each chan has a different culture and has a very different set up as well. And culture as well. It’s not necessarily a place where you put a topic and seek answers. It is a place where people throw a lot of opinions and it’s not very structured at all. Where Steam forums and the way people organise communities in the West, that won’t work in Japan because they’re not going to use the forums. A couple of people might ask the questions but there’s no way to get a real community going that way. But there are ways to actually do it, you have to go to the places where they actually are like Twitter, like NicoNico Douga, like Twitch and you can talk to them there and engage them there through the Japanese content creators that are already part of those communities.
PushDustIn: So what does your name mean?
Nayan: DANGEN? It’s a super quick and easy explanation. Dangen in Japanese means where’s the conviction but it also has a second meaning, it’s a portmanteau of the words ‘Dandy gentleman’!
Dan Stern: It’s a common way of shortening words in Japanese.
PushDustIn: So do you consider yourself dandy gentleman?!
Nayan: I feel it was originally due ironically, we’re all a bunch of slobs so wouldn’t it be funny to call ourselves dandy gentleman?! (laughs) Obviously on our website, we wear top hats.
PushDustIn: Thank you for this interview!
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