GREE's got a new game plan for 2013, SVP Eiji Araki explains [Interview]

Modern War
Modern War

It's safe to say that free-to-play gaming has taken off on iOS and Android. Companies at the forefront include DeNA, Zynga, EA, GREE and more. But the latter (not "and more") has an interesting approach. Sure, the publisher has simply brought a number of its hit Japanese mobile games to the West with varying success, but it also has tried to fuse traditionally Japanese free-to-play mobile game mechanics (i.e. card battle) with Western style mobile games.

Early products were simply amalgamations of the two, but have since improved to make the fusion more organic (e.g. Knights & Dragons). But where does GREE go from there this year? More importantly, how does the company not only push the envelope, but escape the poor reputation of free-to-play? We recently chatted with GREE SVP of Social Games Eiji Araki to learn just that.

How exactly does GREE plan to raise the bar creatively with its games in 2013?
One of our strengths is melding proven game mechanics together taking the best elements from a variety of different genres. For example, in Knights & Dragons, we used the best elements from card battle mechanics and RPG mechanics and brought them together to create an experience a wider range of gamers can appreciate. We will be using the same methodology moving forward in 2013, so our players can expect to seen an evolution of exciting and innovative titles. In addition to how we plan on raising the bar with new games, another focus will be raising the bar for existing games. Our plan is to invest significant time in ensuring that players constantly have new content for existing games. A great example of that is Modern War--which came out well over a year ago but we are still creating new mechanics to keep it fresh for players--including our recently kicked off "World Domination" event.

Eiji Araki
Eiji Araki

Can you provide any more insight into what new genre or game mechanics GREE will experiment with this year?

We've already launched some exciting titles this year including NFL Shuffle--a fully licensed NFL game. So it's been pretty busy so far and we are barely two months in. Over the next several months, we will continue to explore different genres and different audiences--trying to find ways to encourage and innovate for all types of players. We will continue to look at forming partnerships with great international developers and major licensing partners (like we have with NFL and MLB) as well as hoping to drive innovation.

How will GREE craft its future card battle games to appeal better to Western audiences?
Western players have really embraced the genre, so continuing to build on what they like while adding new things into the mix--art styles, techniques, mechanics, and genres--is a priority. We also look forward to finding innovative ways to use mechanics from card-battle games and see how they work for games that aren't traditionally seen as card-battle games. For example, we have two major licenses--the MLB and NFL--both franchises lending themselves perfectly to the mechanics found in more traditional card-battle games. So using learnings and mechanics from card-battle games and blending them with those franchises--it was a perfect fit.

Since live games will be a large focus for GREE in 2013, what kinds of live multiplayer games does GREE have in mind?
This year, we will continue to innovate in both our new games and existing titles, across multiple areas. One of these areas is deeper multiplayer/social experiences. We will be adding more competitive and cooperative features to our already existing set of ways players can enjoy the game together including guilds and PvP. We are also looking into more synchronous multiplayer gameplay to keep our players excited. With all the great hardware out there and smartphones-as opposed to PCs or consoles- being more accessible everywhere we go, we see tremendous opportunity in how games are played on mobile and are looking forward to seeing what will happen in 2013.

NFL Shuffle
NFL Shuffle

Critics and enthusiasts alike often peg free-to-play games with labels like "Pay to Win." How does GREE plan to distance itself from this image in 2013?

Unfortunately, free-to-play has earned a negative reputation with gamers, but I actually believe it offers a fair model for players. All players can play games for free, they don't need to pay $50 to buy a package, only to be disappointed later. We design games that players can complete from start to finish without spending a dime, and only if players want to spend to enhance or accelerate the game, they can.

Ultimately, free-to-play allows the players to decide how they play the game, where they invest their money (if at all) and what elements are most important to them. That level of customization is really unique to the free-to-play model. We will keep innovating our gameplay and pushing production quality so that everyone can continue to enjoy great, high-quality games for free.

Are you currently digging any of GREE's games at the moment? What do you think of its approach to 2013? Add Comment.