Bandai Namco: “Elden Ring is just the beginning”

Bandai Namco: "Elden Ring is just the beginning"
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For a number of years, the conversations on this site about Bandai Namco have centered on the company’s desire to “crack the West” through its European operation, its strategy to focus on new intellectual property rights and its collaboration with the largest independent studios.

Speaking to Arnaud Muller, CEO of Bandai Namco Europe at Gamescom this year, it felt like all of this is now coming together, underscored by the massive success of Elden Ring in Western markets.

The hit developed by FromSoftware is currently the best-selling title of 2022 in Europe, ahead of FIFA 22 or Pokémon Legends: Arceus. As of June 2022, it has sold 16.6 million units worldwide and is Bandai Namco’s fastest-selling game of all time.

It took Elden Ring just three weeks to reach 12 million copies moved. For comparison, it took Dark Souls 3 over four years to sell ten million units.

Its success came as no surprise, but its scale took the industry by storm. When Müller asks what the success of Elden Ring means for Bandai Namco and whether the publisher’s Western ambitions have now been achieved, the answer is level-headed.

“We expected that [Elden Ring] was of a very high quality, but the fact that it touched such a large audience is extremely gratifying.”

“It’s a global hit, but it’s not [our] first global success,” he smiles, pointing to Tekken among many other successful Bandai Namco products.

The difference from Tekken – or earlier worldwide successes at Bandai Namco – is that Elden Ring succeeded in a genre (Souls-like) that was previously less mainstream and falls into the category of new IP – a topic that Bandai Namco at heart invested £96m in its IP axis strategy this year.

“We’re very proud of Elden Ring and the latest numbers – 16.5 million sales in a relatively short period of time,” Muller continues. “We are very proud of the quality of the game, we are very happy with the relationship with FromSoftware. We worked with FromSoftware on the Dark Souls series, but Elden Ring takes this genre to a new level… The open world, the accessibility of the game, the depth, it definitely exceeded our expectations and the fans’ expectations as well. It’s a great success. I think we expected the game to be a very high quality game, but the fact that it’s touching such a large audience is very gratifying and we’re very happy.

“Dark Souls has always been felt to be difficult [series] and Elden Ring is a difficult game, but I think with the work we’ve done to properly explain to our fans how to discover this adventure, this new game has touched a larger audience and made it more accessible. It’s a combination of the nature of the game and its positioning. And I think it worked very well.”

While Muller says Bandai Namco Europe is still “pushing” for a better presence in the West, he’s keen to show progress across the portfolio rather than pinning down success to one title.

“If you look at the games we [showed] At Gamescom this year I think there’s a good combination of, for example, a game from Japan with One Piece Odyssey, which is a Shueisha IP published by Bandai Namco, and then we also have Park Beyond alongside it.

“Park beyond [is] from Limbic, which we invested in last year. The first previews are very positive and we are very happy with the relationship with Limbic. It’s a German studio, it’s an IP creation initiative from Europe, which will mainly appeal to western consumers, but also Japanese consumers – it’s a global game. And next to that we have The Devil in Me, a game that we’re making with Supermassive.

“So that’s the Bandai Namco portfolio: a combination of games made in Japan, some globally successful, others probably less global. And then you have our own titles from Europe.”

The Devil in Me, the fourth game in the Dark Pictures franchise and the first season finale, is slated for release this November

Bandai Namco has been working with Supermassive on the Dark Pictures Anthology series for years. Earlier this year, Supermassive was acquired by Nordisk, but Muller says it “doesn’t change the relationship”.

“We are very pleased that you have found this partnership with Nordisk. nordisk [previously] invested in Supermassive, they met… I think it’s great for them that they have access to a transmedia approach with the capabilities of Nordisk Film, but they also probably have some funding options so they can continue creating their own games and we will continue to publish and distribute games with them. It’s good to have a partner with some success, some funding, access to a new transversal capacity to expand the business. It’s good for them – and good for us.”

Back in 2018, Hervé Hoerdt, SVP of Marketing, Digital and Content at Bandai Namco Europe, shared the company’s ambitions to have 50% of its games as new intellectual property. Since then, he’s also shared his concerns about the impact of acquisitions on finding AAA partners.

“This proliferation of acquisitions that we are seeing is hampering some of the smaller publishers in their ability to access the best studios in the world.”

And it’s true that Bandai Namco has had a number of bad lucks on this front, with Little Nightmares developer Tarsier Studios being acquired by Embracer and now Supermassive back in 2019. While the Little Nightmares IP is owned by Bandai Namco and able to continue without its original developer, the Dark Pictures IP belongs to Supermassive.

We ask Muller if the trend of consolidation of acquisitions that has rocked the industry in recent years could threaten Bandai Namco’s ability to work with these big independent developers.

“What I find is that we need to secure the IPs that we create with the studios that we work with. By securing I mean when we invest in IP creation, when we invest in marketing for those IPs, we also have to remember that we need to get some kind of security for the future of the studio developing that IP. So we’re working on that.

“You know, this proliferation of acquisitions that we’re seeing is hampering some of the smaller publishers in their ability to access the best studios in the world. But at Bandai Namco we have the financial resources to secure these partnerships. We are working on a number of measures to secure these partnerships – first option rights, intellectual property ownership, minority interests in these studios. So there are ways to secure the relationships.”

Muller adds that increasing IP creation for the western market is still a priority for Bandai Namco Europe, but that the 50% target appears to have been met when looking at the different business verticals that Bandai has Namco Europe operates.

“50% is an interesting number because that means we have to source 50% of our own content from the west. Some of this is from distribution, some is from release in Europe, some is from intellectual property creation. Our goal is to significantly increase the portion of IP creation within this western portfolio. The rest coming from Japan is backed up by our parent company in Japan. So within that 50% of the content that we secure, we have a number of distribution deals that we’ve secured with some of our partners.”

Muller points to the fact that Bandai Namco is the distributor for Square Enix and EA in some countries and has distribution deals with Outright Games and Supermassive.

Bandai Namco presented Limbics Park Beyond at Gamescom this year

“And then the rest comes from the intellectual property creation initiatives – there’s Park Beyond, Little Nightmares and so on. So the magic number of 50% was actually something that was always here and is already here, depending on which side you’re looking at,” he continues. “Of course, with the success of Elden Ring, the weight of games from Japan has increased, but the following year you sign a distribution deal with a game like Cyberpunk and then you already have over 50%.

“The question is how much do you have within that 50% from IP creation, from your own IPs. And it’s that part that we’re growing, but we’re talking about the timing of development [is] three to five years, depending on the game. So we are now coming to a point where some of our initiatives are bearing fruit. The first was Little Nightmares of course, but now we come to Park Beyond. We also announced games with Reflector, our Montreal studio.

“There are more games coming that have not yet been announced but will be part of this IP creation pot within the 50% from the West.”

“With cloud gaming developments of tomorrow [players] can access any game they have on any screen regardless of platform.

In our conversation about securing and creating intellectual property, the topic of exclusivity comes up, especially in the context of the trend of consolidation of acquisitions. As Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision progresses and Call of Duty becoming exclusive – or not – a recurring theme, Bandai Namco is still very happy about being platform-agnostic and doesn’t see that changing.

“I can’t comment on Microsoft’s strategy and acquisition of Activision or Bethesda,” Muller said. “They do what they want [with] the portfolio of acquired games. My concern is more for the fans, the fans who can access their games.

“I think tomorrow with cloud gaming developments they will be able to access any game they have on any screen. This is the future, and as such, whether you own a PlayStation or Xbox console, at some point you should be able to access your game in the cloud from any screen, regardless of the platform you’re playing on.

“From Bandai Namco’s perspective, we’ve always been platform agnostic, we will remain platform agnostic. We want our IPs and our games to be accessible to as many players as possible, regardless of what they play on. And that goes for mobile. I think in the future people will be able to play high spec games on mobile anyway and so this will open the doors for our games to be accessible to more and more people and more and more countries are – countries where consoles are not necessarily present today. So it doesn’t matter which console it is. Bandai Namco always wanted to be platform independent in my opinion because it doesn’t matter what platform people play on.

Closing our conversation, Muller shares his anticipation for what’s to come, whether from the west or from Japan.

“Bandai Namco Europe is focused on developing its own IPs and increasing the portfolio weight in the West within the Bandai Namco Group, but there is so much great content coming out of Japan that we are very excited for the years to come, and Elden Ring, I’m tempted to say, is just the beginning of it.”

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