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RPGamer Feature - Publisher Pow-Wow - Ignition Entertainment
Ignition Entertainment
Ajay Chadha
President of Ignition
Ajay
Shane Bettenhausen
Director of
Business Development
Shane
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Titles:
Blue Dragon Plus
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Ignition Entertainment

First off, could you detail the decision making process for selecting which games are released in North America. Who is involved and what steps does the process go through?
Ajay Chadha: Towards the beginning of Ignition Entertainment's publishing life, we had no formal approval process in place because we were still trying to prove ourselves in the marketplace. When you're the new kid on the block, you simply cannot cherry-pick the best games from all over the world...competing with the bigger, more established publishers takes guts and perseverance. But now, we've managed to forge some valuable relationships and bring some really stellar titles to market. And recently, we have implemented a more formal process that allows us to select titles that we feel passionately about.

Shane Bettenhausen: Questing after top-quality games for us to publish has been my primary task since joining Ignition earlier this year. I work closely alongside Ajay and another invaluable team member, Robert Macchiaverna, to evaluate games from all over the world—Japan, Europe, North America, and even more obscure locales—as you'll never know where the next gaming phenomenon might spawn. Sometimes, a game is already in final or a nearly finished state, so it's easy for us to decide whether it possesses the elusive qualities that make bringing it to market a worthwhile endeavor. But often, these games exist only in skeletal, unfinished or merely conceptual states, so it's imperative that we dive deeply into the developer's mindset to discover if the title is worth our effort.

To what extent is the game's developer involved in the publishing process? Could you share some examples of how they are involved?
Ajay: The developer's involvement varies wildly depending on how complete the game is when we decide to publish it. Ideally, we'll be closely involved on a creative level throughout. Because some games take over two years to make, we like to share in that process from beginning to end. But even with a title that's already complete, but only in need of a U.S. localization, we'll try to involve the developer in order to better tailor aspects of the game for a Western audience. And of course, the game's developer is instrumental in helping us to gather press assets, creating trailers, and getting the message to the consumer.

Shane: Moving forward with Ignition's future releases, I'm personally thrilled about the chance to leverage my many years of editorial experience to act as a conduit between game developers and our consumers. I believe that we can offer a clearer glimpse behind the scenes of game development; showcasing the immense talent, artistry, and personality behind the world's coolest games.

What difficulties and/or barriers have you had to overcome in publishing games in North America? Could you share some examples of barriers that have been overcome and/or those that could not be? What barriers are different from platform to platform?
Ajay: When we strategically take a project to market, the biggest barriers we face are often with the artists--getting art through the approval process can be shockingly tough. Japanese artists are notoriously protective of their work, so getting permission to make even miniscule changes to a character portrait or logo can involve a tremendous amount of back-and-forth discussion. Also, when bringing Japanese games to a Western market, sometimes we'll see the original Japanese packaging and realize that we have to change it. Even if the box art may be an aesthetically interesting design concept, it simply may not catch consumers' eyes whilst sitting on the shelf of a Wal-Mart in Kansas.

Shane: I can attest to how touchy Japanese artists can get about meddling with their lovely creations: I'll never forget all the apologizing that I had to do years ago when I was at the dearly-departed Electronic Gaming Monthly after we accidentally mirrored a piece of character art for Final Fantasy X-2. Now that I'm on the publishing side, it's easier for me to understand where these game creators are coming from, and I believe that I'll be able to facilitate a smoother asset-approval process moving forward.

When ramping up for a game's release, how are the decisions made as to where to advertise, which game gets priority, how many copies to produce, and when to release the game?
Ajay: Determining your precise audience on a platform as popular as the DS can be difficult, because it's so shockingly diverse and vast, yet there's a lot of overlap—who's to say that soccer moms, hardcore gamers, and little kids can't all enjoy the same game? So we choose to view each of our titles on its own merits, and attempt to reach multiple audiences through both traditional and truly out-of-the-box advertising and marketing concepts. And depending on the marketing budget for the game, we'll continue to expand into even more ambitious audience outreach tactics.

Shane: Determining how many units of a game to ship and choosing the best possible release date are crucial, and everyone here-from public relations, marketing, sales, and production—all caucus on the best possible course of action for each individual title. It's imperative that we stay abreast of the market conditions and do competitive analysis to ensure that we're not launching the same day as a direct genre competitor.

How are translation decisions handled, things like renaming a game or character? Any games you've had a really enjoyable time taking liberties with? Do you have any examples of games given a less-strict translation that influenced your own?
Shane: So far, we haven't run into any scandalous name changes (no rampaging boxers named Mike Bison...yet), but some of our future titles might be receiving slight name changes in order to make them better suited for the U.S. audience. I'd say that the same logic applies to our localizations—we strive to remain true to the original source material whenever possible, but if we felt that certain aspects of a game's narrative or characters would be indecipherable to an American audience, we wouldn't be afraid to alter it as long as it meshed naturally with the rest of the game experience.

Any interesting or horrific stories that you could tell us about? You know, maybe that one office incident that everyone laughs about and shares with new hires?
Shane: I came to Ignition with something of a reputation for betting cash on interoffice fighting game matches, and it didn't take long for Robert to best me in a match of virtual fisticuffs. Despite my legacy of "letting it ride" until we'd go double-or-nothing on the next game, Robert demanded that I pay up at that instant. Unfortunately, my cash reserves were depleted at that exact moment, so I rifled through my rucksack and managed to scrape together Robert's prize in change—some of it American, some Japanese Yen, and a random coin or two from Europe—and shockingly, he actually took it! He scampered back to his desk like Gollum, proudly clasping his pathetic, multinational monetary prize.



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