And what the future holds.
One of the things I love most about BitSummit – the yearly Kyoto-based indie games showcase – is that it’s a very egalitarian-feeling event. One booth may have a solo dev from Scandinavia demoing his or her very first project, the next may be showing off Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, and be manned by the legendary Koji Igarashi himself. Walking around the show floor you’ll see this kind of juxtaposition repeatedly: there’s no barrier between the industry newcomers and the veterans – and if you spot the likes of Swery, Shuhei Yoshida or Keita Takahashi, you can just say hello.
This year’s show took this to a whole new level. PlatinumGames – based a short train ride away in Osaka – had a merch booth, and who should be staffing it but basically all the studio’s most prominent people. Walking past, I spotted the legendary Hideki Kamiya, PlatinumGames’ President Kenichi Sato and Masaki Yamanaka (director of Anarchy Reigns and World of Demons) in amongst many other studio personnel.
The fact that the most senior members of PlatinumGames spent their weekend hanging out at BitSummit says a lot about the show. It also, obviously, says a lot about the studio; about people’s willingness to chip in, to all pull in the same direction. It’s important, because while Platinum may have had a huge success with Neir: Automata relatively recently, it’s also had a hugely turbulent few years (slash existence). It’s the people that help it get through tough times, however, to weather the storm and come out the other side stronger. Solidarity is key.
Platinum is trying to change, too, to head into an era in which it owns more of its IP, and who can blame it? Its best games – Bayonetta, Vanquish, Metal Gear Rising, Neir: Automata – aren’t its own to utilise freely, while much of its work-for-hire content (Transformers: Devastation, TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan) has been forgettable at best. And then there are the publisher-funded projects which have clearly experienced difficulties, whether that’s the Xbox exclusive Scalebound, which was cancelled, World of Demons, which was due last year but has seemingly gone AWOL, or the years-long work with Cygames on Granblue Fantasy: Relink, which Platinum is now no longer involved with.
The studio’s plan to build wholly-owned IP is still coming to fruition, with at least a couple of unannounced projects in the works. It’s one part of the company’s larger mandate to chase new ideas, to foster creativity and provide opportunities to its staff. Illustrating that, Platinum’s Executive Producer Atsushi Inaba and the director of Astral Chain, Takahisa Taura, had a discussion on the BitSummit stage this year entitled “PlatinumGames: Training the Next Generation of Disruptive Creators”.
“In most companies, it’s already decided who the creative director is. It’s fixed,” Inaba tells me when I ask about the presentation. “But at PlatinumGames people have the chance – if they have the passion and the enthusiasm – to be a creative director if they want to.”
At PlatinumGames people have the chance – if they have the passion and the enthusiasm – to be a creative director if they want to.
Helping this along, in Platinum “the team members are not fixed, so there’s not, like, a ‘Bayonetta team’,” Inaba explains. “What happens is – a team will get together to make a game and then once that game is finished and complete, then the team will dissolve and a new team will form for whatever the next game is. If a team is always the same then the creative director will always be the same and you don’t get that mix of ideas.”
For Inaba, fostering new ideas is key. “As a producer, I like to have new ideas, to think about new ideas,” he says. “And also, to be surrounded by people who like thinking of new ideas. This is the kind of environment that always exists at PlatinumGames. Everyone in the company is thinking of new ideas.”
A good example of someone who has now stepped up as a result of this philosophy is Takahisa Taura, who was a designer on Nier: Automata and is now the director of Astral Chain. “Yes, that’s basically what happened,” confirms Inaba. “He wanted to do something, and I thought it was a good idea and wanted to support him. I was able to feel his passion towards the project.”
And it really is passion that Inaba wants Platinum to run on. Forget Transformers, forget Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it’s time for the studio to deliver on its talent with original content. I ask Inaba for his take on subscription services like Xbox Game Pass, as the idea of a “Netflix for games” could open up more opportunities for Platinum to make games driven by passion, as they don’t have to sell for full price at retail, instead adding value to a catalogue.
“I believe there’s a lot of possibilities for subscription services,” he tells me. “Right now there still needs to be some work to figure out how it fits in with the console market. For example, I watch Netflix Originals and of course, they get the money to fund those from subscribers, but I feel that many of the shows that they’re producing aren’t that interesting, so for a subscription service the quality of the movies, or in this case games, would have to be high and balanced with the cost of the service. So really, once that balance can be achieved, then a lot of possibilities open up.”
These kinds of services could very much play to Platinum’s strengths. The market for mid-budget titles is a lot smaller than it once was – wedged as it is between the massive budgets and spectacles of triple A games and the low barrier to entry of the ever-growing indie scene. Subscription services, however, could drastically expand that mid-budget market and allow a studio like Platinum to be creative and take risks, and provide a point of difference for the service. “I also think the same thing, and PlatinumGames’ games are heading in that direction, to fill that gap,” Inaba replies.
Of course, that’s just one direction in which the games industry is heading. There’s also the idea of a streaming future. “When I heard the announcement I was very excited and felt that it was the future of games,” Inaba says of Stadia. “Not necessarily that Google would be the one to win in this future, but that streaming services have so much potential and so many possibilities, and that that’s the way that game developers should be moving forward,” he explains.
Inaba thinks streaming games will change the way people play games, and by extension, the way games will be developed. “Right now,” he says, “the way that games are made is that developers will come in a team and think of what they want to do, then make it, and then sell it. And then after selling it they would maybe get feedback from the users, but now the rate at which users can give feedback is very rapid and you can see user reactions much more quickly. So the current model of creating games, of thinking, making by yourself and then releasing, will change very drastically because you’ll have that user feedback at a much earlier stage.”
Coming back to the present, PlatinumGames has a lot of irons in the fire right now. Astral Chain is hitting Switch on August 30th and is looking great, Bayonetta 3 is still in development so hopefully we’ll see something soon (“I can’t say. It’s not our IP, so we have to talk to Nintendo about what can be released and when, but development is going smoothly.”) and World of Demons will hopefully re-emerge soon too (“I can’t say too much, but what I can say is we had to rethink how it was shaping up… and think about how best to deliver the experience to the users… I think that you’ll be surprised next time we show it off. And I want to say – it’s not dead, it’s still there.”)
On top of those there’s Babylon’s Fall, which was revealed at E3 2018 and looks intriguing, as well as the unannounced titles, including one that Inaba told VGC is “truly is unlike anything else.” It’s a hectic time at the studio, then, but hopefully Platinum’s quest for new ideas, for greater control of its destiny and to reward passion will pay off.
Cam Shea is Editor in Chief for IGN’s Australian content team and loves quirky Japanese games. He’s on Twitter.