We sat down with the head of Crunchyroll Games, Terry Li, to talk about the recently-released Princess Connect Re: Dive, and Crunchyroll Games in general.
Tell us a bit about yourself
Sure, I’m Terry, the General Manager of Crunchyroll and Head of 360 - the latter being a group that encompasses a number of our key initiatives including games, commerce, events, merchandise, and ad sales. I’ve been at Crunchyroll for quite some time, previously overseeing all of our international operations. In addition, I also spent time at Riot Games on the publishing leadership side, and at Google and Yahoo too.
How big is the team at Crunchyroll Games?
Crunchyroll Games is relatively new, having only been around since mid-2018, and becoming a core focus more recently. The current team is about eight people, but rapidly growing. We also have a broader group of shared service teams from broader Crunchyroll that help with various games initiatives from time to time.
What can you tell us about your latest game Princess Connect! Re: Dive?
Princess Connect! Re: Dive is a fantastic hero-collection RPG that was initially released in Japan back in 2018, published by Cygames. The game subsequently reached the top of the mobile games charts in Japan, and was also later released in China and Korea, where it also generated incredible fandom and player interest. As a game, Princess Connect! Re: Dive combines sophisticated gameplay with high-quality animation. Players begin their journey across the land of Astraea alongside heroines to fight spirited, real-time battles. Each heroine can be powered up and strengthened as the story progresses, unlocking special story content. The game features a deep storyline, wide cast of characters, numerous game modes, and high-quality voice actors and music. It’s a game with incredible balance, depth, and fun gameplay.
What is Crunchyroll Games’ plan for attracting a greater Western audience to anime-style games?
We believe many of the stronger, higher-rated anime-style games actually have quite a deep narrative around the storytelling and character design. Our strategy to bring western audiences to these titles is to focus on these qualities within the game, and amplify the message around the rich lore and story depth. In addition, if a game is tied to an anime title, we can encourage potential players to watch the anime as well, thereby allowing them to experience the underlying story in multiple ways.
What is the difficulty in doing justice to the shows the games are based on?
The major challenge is generally around the coordination of the shows and the games’ promotions and events. Naturally we want to make sure the interaction between the two media forms and the audiences are interwoven and tell a unified narrative. As the storyline in the show progresses, we want to make sure the game is able to keep pace and stay relevant. We also want to make sure people who watch the show can pick up the game, and people who start with the game can easily move to the show.
As a talking point that is becoming more and more important, where is the line when it comes to monetisation in mobile “gacha” games?
As you can imagine, we get this question often since the gacha mechanic is quite common in anime games. The interesting aspect of gacha is that it is perceived differently in the East vs the West - in Japan and China it’s part of the core game mechanic so players are used to it. Therefore if a game is ported over from Asia, it will often have the gacha mechanic tied to the game economy. Our goal is to ensure that its existence in the games we port over does not disrupt game balance, which in my view comes down to accessibility. For example, if a gacha currency primarily serves to accelerate progression or items opening, then it acts both as a way for new players to catch up and core players to advance quicker - this means that the game should make everything that is purchasable also be earn-able. However, if there are certain characters or items that are simply impossible to obtain without paying, meaning the normal in-game earned currency will never provide a player access, no matter how much a player accumulates and plays, then that crosses the line in my opinion.
What is one feature you really hope players will enjoy?
Right now for Princess Connect, we just released the Clan Battle feature, so we’re hoping players will really enjoy this deeper and larger-scale cooperative PVE feature.
What difficulties are there when it comes to porting to the West?
There are a number of operational and design challenges. The main operational challenge is the overall localisation of the game’s user interface, character dialogue, and all aspects of the language conversion, which takes a lot of time and effort. Then the flip side challenge is to identify potential challenges in the game mechanics or unfamiliar game design and making sure we adapt them to the western audience. This can include monetisation mechanics or other accessibility requirements.
With a three year launch difference, do you have plans to help reduce the time it takes for players to reach parity with the JP release or are you letting players see what the content schedule is?
Truthfully speaking, it’s still quite early to say for certain. Our primary goal is to bring as true of an experience as possible for the western version, which includes all the possible original version content along with a consideration of proper timing and game balance. We will evaluate the content schedule over time, in discussion with our key Japanese partners and stay in communication with our player base of course.
Any plans on doing console/PC games or is Crunchyroll Games primarily for mobile games?
In theory we are open to all platforms and game formats, so certain consoles and PC are worthy of consideration. As of the current moment, most of our efforts are focused on mobile because that’s where the biggest free-to-play opportunities have been for anime-inspired games.
Which anime IP do you want to make a game with that you haven’t yet?
This is a tricky question because there are so many great anime IPs, and the popularity from season to season evolves. In addition to overall strength of IP, it also has to be suitable to be made into a game, and the IP holder must be okay with game adaptations and new narrative. As of now, we are always on the lookout for new game opportunities, especially games around tentpoles IPs that have multiple consecutive seasons of anime that have aired, or classic long-standing titles that have not fully embraced the games space.
A controversial one to finish off: Who is Best Girl?
Controversial indeed! Currently, my personal favourite character is still Rino - I like archers (and ranged attackers) and her AOE can be critical in arena battles. However, a lot of new characters are coming in the near future, so my preference may change soon!
Thank you very much for talking to us.