Capcom Interview - Jan 11, 2007

With the release of Justice For All, second of the Gyakuten Saiban games to be brought over from Japan, Capcom has started really pushing their community themed approach to promoting the series.  Part of this involved the official Ace Attorney forums starting up on Capcom's main site.  Long time Court Records supporter Wooster, through his time spent there, was able to meet Capcom's Senior Director of Strategic Planning and Research, who goes by the handle "Sven" on the forum and is a fan himself of the Ace Attorney series.  After some prodding (and permission granted from Capcom's communication division) Sven was able to answer some questions regarding the series for us fans.

Court Records would like to thank Sven (and Capcom) for treating us fans with this exclusive interview:


#1. In what ways were you personally involved in the Phoenix Wright Project? You've said on the forums that you've been an important figure from within Capcom in pushing the Phoenix Wright Saga forward, and made PW your pet project.

A minor note, but I’ll refer to the franchise as Ace Attorney for reasons that will hopefully become clear as the series progresses.

As far as my involvement, I’m one of the key people responsible for planning the US business and one of the voices involved in our product portfolio worldwide. From the US side of things, I’ve been one of the more outspoken advocates for the series, I’ve both pushed our US sales organization and marketing organization to be more aggressive with their production runs on the first Ace Attorney. I was also the individual who actively proposed that we localize the second title for release in the US and Europe. As I’ve pointed out before, it’s very unusual for a game to have as many individual production runs as AA1 did especially given its inauspicious start.

As far as my appreciation of the series goes, I was enthralled by the first game for its approach which in some ways is a throw-back to some of the PC adventure games (stuff from Sierra, Infocom and LucasArts in particular) that I enjoyed while growing up. As a lifelong gamer, I also have a distinct appreciation for games that are different and perhaps don’t quite have the same commercial appeal as some of our other titles. Much like many of our fans, that makes me want to evangelize the series that much more. I’ve genuinely enjoyed the series so much and I want other folks to like it too.

I’ve also really had a great working relationship with Ms. Matsukawa, who is the series producer. She’s continuously gone out of her way to support the US office and she really gets the power of community when it comes to her franchises.


#2. Gyakuten Saiban was released in Japan circa 2001 on the GBA, while the USA received Phoenix Wright in 2005 on the DS. What changed from 2001 to 2005 that encouraged localization that was a hindrance earlier in the decade?

 Honestly, that decision predates my time here at Capcom (I started December 2005) so I couldn’t really say what the rationale was. If I had to guess, I would suspect it would have to do with the DS gaining traction and CJ (Capcom Japan) was looking at the new platform as an opportunity to expose the series to a different audience (one that was shaping up to be broader, particularly in Japan, than preceding handheld platforms). I do know that our acting CEO of the US/European office, Tobisawa-san, was one of the few voices at the most senior executive levels that wanted to try to bring the series to the US so getting that ball rolling was really his vision.


#3. It's been said in a few places that Phoenix Wright's sales were quite surprising in a good way. Could it be explained a bit better how Phoenix Wright's US entrance faired better then other new sagas given a similar startup, and Capcom's outlook on the series before and after its general acceptance?

I won’t give any numbers but its introduction was slow… but the adoption rate was very steady. Even though the initial shipment was small (even by DS standards) it didn’t immediately sell out in the few chains that carried it. The reviews were fairly strong (not amazing, but strong) and there was some decent support from some quarters. Gamestop and EB (pre-merger at the time) were the only two majors that carried the title and they did so in decent, but not aggressive volumes. They placed one initial order and one small follow-up order and then decided to not keep the SKU active (no more orders).

What happened next was bizarre. Our distribution channels (non-retail distributors who resell to typically smaller retailers) just kept ordering. We kept doing small production runs… a few thousand here, few thousand there. Word of mouth was spreading and obviously we continued to see the “OMG I can’t find AA anywhere” posts all over the boards. We’d place an order like every month for now upwards of 12 months, never knowing when we’d finally satiate the demand for the game and we always had to be careful not to over-order (inventory management on cartridge media is extremely important).

This past holiday, we even had some of the majors (Toys R Us, Gamestop and others) bring the title back in for active sale. That just normally doesn’t happen.

Long story short, if our initial order was X, the current lifetime sales are more than 3X, which for a title that started as small as AA1 did, just doesn’t happen. It’s a testament to the power of the community, spreading the word about a unique title. People love this series and I think we all like to see the underdog win one once and a while like that.


#4. Capcom is currently pushing it's community centered philosophy, as evidenced by the "Join the COMMUNITY!" slogan appearing in the full page ads. Can you explain how this directly relates to Justice For All's release, and some of the intended consequences and projects that are community centered?

It’s simple really. As I mentioned above, the community was most directly responsible for getting the word out on Ace Attorney 1. We’d like to harness that same sort of grassroots appreciation for And Justice for All and continue to have them spread the word. As you’ve seen at the community site we have blogs going to tell folks about what’s happening with the project, we have materials like desktop, signature images, forum avatars and more so people can spread the AA love to places that they like hanging out online. It’ll also be a place where we make a LOT of the major announcements such as events and appearances for the people who want to know first.

Quite simply, the intended consequence is we want to attract all of the people who are as into AA as we are (or perhaps are even more into than we are) and get them talking to other people with similar interests. Community is about facilitating communication between these people, the team, the US office and each other.

And from that communication, we hope to come up with better marketing plans and promotions that the community itself has helped propose.


#5. Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney for the Cell Phone has been really cryptic from day one, and not much has been cleared up on Capcom Mobile. How is the episodic content supposed to work? Are we being charged by case? By transition from court phase to investigation? And how do subscriptions work exactly vs the individual downloads? Additionally, will we see Case 5 in this platform, as some of the many claims to fame about it were its use of the touch screen and microphone, which are often incompatible on many cell phone platforms.

Alas, I’m not fully conversant with how the mobile implementation will work. It’s been in progress for a very long time. I’ll have someone put in a call to the mobile group in LA and find out for you.


#6. Japan has a large selection of Gyakuten Saiban merchandise, from FanBooks, to Manga, to Guides and nick-nacks. Are there any intentions to bring any of this State-wise, or create some of your own merchandise? On a related note, Capcom Japan , has a large selection of their game music available to download on iTunes, is there any intent to mirror this for the US fans who are without an authentic Japanese Credit Card?

Yes and yes! We’re looking at a number of these opportunities. We recognize that the fans want “stuff” and we’re working on figuring out what we can bring over and what we can make ourselves. I’d encourage anyone who wants anything specific to voice what they’d like to see on our forums. I assure you, we’re listening.


#7. Now this one's kinda complicated, but I'll try asking it anyways. It's been fairly well known at this point that the English speaking community has been at some scale importing GS2 DS from Japan with its dual language support. At the other end of the spectrum, we have some from the European and Australian communities importing or planning to import from the United States to promote sales and encourage GS3 to be localized in English. And again we have some people who both import and then buy their native versions.

Imports tend to display the greatest incarnate of demand, however, the results of these demands appear in the wrong Marketing statistics. How does this tangled web get sorted, if at all?

This is indeed tricky. As I’ve mentioned before, we’re thrilled people love the series so much that they’re importing the game from Japan, however, what that tends to do from a “do we localize it?” decision making process is basically tell us, there’s no need to localize because people will buy it from the home territory. On the flip side, when we look at what we’ve sold of game X in a certain territory and go to look at the sequel to decide whether or not we bring it over, technically there’s no way for us to account for those import sales (and nothing to say that if we do bring it over, someone hasn’t already imported Game X2).

You do point out that some people buy it in every territory (and to those diehards, we salute you two or even three times) but these people are not generally the norm. Most importers buy one, and understandably only one copy.

So how does it get sorted? Well in the case of Ace Attorney, it’s a bit of a leap of faith combined with some strategic planning. We had to make a decision to localize AA2 at a time when we’d sold very little of AA1. So we asked ourselves some questions: Did we have a committed, passionate fan base upon which to build a franchise? (most definitely, yes) Is this a type of game we could do a little bit better with each time at bat? (we thought yes) Does the game have aspects to it that make it inaccessible for people to pick up the second title as their first exposure to the game? (in this case, no).  Lastly, I see the game as different enough to stand along side some of the very unique titles that Capcom in known for. In that respect, it helps to bring credibility to the Capcom brand as a whole.

So we take a step and go for it. There’s a LOT of text in AA and it’s not just simple stuff. There’s complex puns, naming issues and subtle (and not-so-subtle) humor and that’s no small feat to bring over intact. And it’s not cheap and it requires major focus from our already thinly stretched localization group. But we feel that the series is worth investing in.


#8. For this one, I honestly don't expect a straight answer, but I'm going to ask regardless. How optimistic are you 'personally' about how JFA is going to be accepted upon its official release, in direct relation to a sequel being released?

I think it will be more successful than its predecessor sales wise. People WANT this game (and rightly so). Critically speaking I think it will wind up right around where the first one was. Like many of our games, reviewers will either “get it” or they won't. With a few exceptions, our games tend to polarize people and reviewers. To some degree, that’s good. At least people have an opinion and they aren’t ambivalent.


#9. At either E3 or TGS, the particular event alludes me at this time, it was brought up from a Capcom employee that he was unsure at that time if GS4 or GS3 would see localization first. Is Capcom 'considering' skipping GS3 and going right into GS4 should enough profit from JFA's release warrant another localized title? With 'considering' being in reference to the possibility but not being anything set in stone that could back lash could the opposite answer come to play.

If it were to happen (and again, every new iteration is contingent upon the sales of the prior outing), we would do Ace Attorney 3 before Ace Attorney 4. It makes no sense to bring them over out of order. This is doubly true given that AA4 is made from the ground up for the DS. If we shipped AA4 before AA3, it would seem like a step back in the quality of the franchise.


#10. Capcom Japan released GS2 DS, a good few months before the Sister Project in the United States . This I find interesting because GS2 DS contains The English version JFA within it. Why was there this significant window between the releases?

Being honest, the localization completed more quickly than was anticipated and Japan opted to ship when they were able. Our US marketing efforts were centered around a January date and to properly prep the market (retail, the media and consumers), there was no way to accelerate it without jeopardizing sales. We also tend to like the more quiet, post-holiday season for our titles that we feel could use a little extra attention. It’s so easy to get lost in the holiday maelstrom.


#11. Capcom Japan has stated that they put the English versions within the Japanese DS titles for players to develop their English skills. What discouraged the reverse to be true, EG, English developing their Japanese skills?

Interesting question. I don’t know the answer. Is that something people would like to see? Again, if so let us know on our forums.

To reiterate, the best way for us English-speaking fans to get their hands on a translated GS3 is to show Capcom we really need it!  Head on over to Capcom's forums to let them know you want to see AA3 and other merchandise for our beloved little series.