This article is part two of a full interview. Read part one here.
Sega has the release of Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name (hereinafter referred to as Like a Dragon Gaiden) planned for November 9, 2023, as well as the release of Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth (hereinafter referred to as Like a Dragon 8) on January 26, 2024. Like a Dragon Gaiden will fill in the blanks between Yakuza: Like a Dragon and Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, telling the story of Kazuma Kiryu who, during the events of Yakuza 6, faked his own death and went into hiding, becoming “the man who is supposed to be dead.” Like a Dragon 8 will feature both Kazama Kiryu and Ichiban Kasuga as protagonists.
During Tokyo Game Show 2023, we were able to sit down and have a talk with Masayoshi Yokoyama and Hiroyuki Sakamoto. In the previous installment of this interview, the producers mention how they don’t act based on user opinions. In this article, we delve deeper into this topic.
How to get people to know about your game and also buy it
──(To Yokoyama) You talked about how you don’t concern yourself with user reactions and opinions, and you seem like someone who is consistent with pursuing their own way. Does this lead to you intentionally blocking out information?
I’m not sure how intentional it is, but I definitely don’t take in a lot of information. To start with, the only news I read is what’s in the sports news or on Yahoo News and LINE NEWS (Japanese news curation app). My friends from my college days are all like this too.
I feel like whatever doesn’t appear in such sources is sort of unknown to the world, and all information that people obtain outside of that is what they intentionally set out to find out. Because of this, I always opt out of targeted results and such. I want to have the same perspective as the average person.
──You mean to say that you try to maintain the perspective of average people your age (who are also your customer base)?
Yes. Getting people to know that you have a game coming out in the first place is the hardest part. Just while doing interviews today, I’ve noticed things I’ve definitely shared publicly not reaching where they’re supposed to. For example, I’ve been saying that Like a Dragon 8 is an RPG since about a year ago, and I still get asked whether it’s an RPG or not. And when I answer, “Yes, it is,” everyone’s surprised. These kinds of details were explained during the RGG SUMMIT (livestream event), but I guess that’s just how things are. Even if it’s mentioned during the RGG SUMMIT, people are bound to skip over the information. It’s an anticipated outcome.
But the release date is the most important thing. If people don’t know that Like a Dragon 8 is coming out on January 26, 2024, they can’t go buy it when it’s out even if they want to. Having this in mind, my goal is always to convey information in a simple way, and I’m always thinking about what should be conveyed.
The priority depends on the type of advertising too. For events like Tokyo Game Show, I think it’s important to raise the satisfaction of the customers who do visit, rather than try to reach a wider audience. So even if few people come to play the demo, it’s important that they enjoy it.
On the other hand, if you want information to travel far and wide, In Japan, you just need to go big with commercials. Honestly, I would just go for 15 seconds of “January 26” being repeated the whole time, but then you wouldn’t know what product it’s for (laughs). Anyways, I always plan promotion while being conscious of the fact that if I can’t convey the most basic piece of information, there’s no chance of conveying something deeper.
This time around, the Story Trailer from the other day will be the last one we publish. Up until now, we had been releasing multiple promotional videos including cast announcements, music collaborations and whatnot, but people always watch only the first one. As the number of videos increases, the views decrease, without exception. If we save up information to share later on, it will end up just not reaching the audience. This is why we decided to limit ourselves to one trailer, while having it packed full of information.
──Have you always had your current marketing policy, or is it something you keep updating with the times?
I’m always updating it. I mean, we used to make a bunch of promotional videos before.
Yeah, it used to be multiple shorter ones.
Things change with the times. In this sense, I’ve also given memes and shorts some thought.
We have a section on our team that uses TikTok, and they work on various things. We have, of course, given them the OK to make videos, but I sort of end up thinking that there isn’t much to earn out of standing out on TikTok. At the moment, it doesn’t really do much for us in terms of sales.
What I mean to say is, when something becomes a viral trend, it reaches everyone in a matter of moments, but the people who see it also forget about it shortly. This is why transient virality doesn’t translate to sales. Getting customers to buy a 70-dollar game (Like a Dragon 8 is priced at $69.99) is a lot more complicated than that.
If your product costs a dollar, you could benefit from making a bunch of shorts to promote it, but things change when you have a 70-dollar price tag. What ends up motivating someone to make a purchase will change entirely depending on the price. While doing TikTok may be beneficial in terms of raising recognition, not many people will go on to buy the game simply from seeing it on TikTok. For the Like a Dragon series, which is extremely well-known in Japan, I don’t find it really necessary to aim for virality in spaces such as TikTok.
Another factor is how time-consuming console games are. If you were to do part-time work during the time you spend playing games, you’d earn quite a bit, wouldn’t you? This relationship with money is important to consider. In this sense, Like a Dragon 8 costs $69.99, but if it takes you 100 hours to complete it, that’s another 700 dollars’ worth of your time, so you could say that the game takes $770 from people.
──In that case, what is it that you do focus on in order to get people to pick up the game?
It’s making sure the game is so good that people are glad they played it. The whole team is very strict about not lowering the bar when it comes to quality. To have people spend their time is the same as taking money from them, so we take it seriously.
With that said, I don’t intend to make stories that will please everyone. Whatever the responses, I want to make a story that users can’t forget. Since they’re giving up 100 long hours of their life to play it, I want it to be a fun and unforgettable 100 hours for them.
──Indeed, if you minded users’ reactions you wouldn’t have had Haruka Sawamura appear in Like a Dragon 6 the way you did.
*Referring to a development Haruka Sawamura, a character from the initial Yakuza titles goes through in Like a Dragon 6.
No matter how much it gets criticized, in my mind, it’s a completely normal development for Haruka. To my surprise, overseas fans were a lot more accepting of the fact, while a portion of Japanese users were disappointed.
In response to this, I can’t help but think “So what?” The way I see things, if we start making changes whenever users complain, we might as well retire. It’s hard to explain, but I think that Like a Dragon should be like a “god” that we mustn’t touch. If all of your opinions can be changed by the words of others, you shouldn’t be making a drama-packed game. You get nothing but criticism for it anyways (laugh).
Live-service games and similar need to work on delivering what users want at the moment, but for us, things are different. We have to go beyond that, which is why we choose not to heed user requests. On the other hand, we do look at reviews after the game is out.
We do skim through all the feedback, but in the end, we look for past issues ourselves. If you make fried rice and it’s too salty, you know you’re supposed to use less salt (laughs). I think we don’t need to ask for people’s opinions to know what points we need to work on.
We have more than enough issues to improve popping up during production, so we’re always thinking of our next steps on our own.
──It must be difficult to shut out the opinions of others, with social media and all.
I don’t shut them out. I look at all of them and then go “Yeah, and?”
──Now that’s impressive.
I have zero people on my block list, you know.
──(To Sakamoto) Do you share the same mindset?
This guy’s tough too.
Pretty much. Users offer us all kinds of opinions, but their reactions also change with time. Something I say can cause completely opposite reactions depending on timing, so I think there’s both pros and cons to listening to opinions. Having this in mind, I’m not too concerned about them.
When we release a trailer, there’s always people who shower us with praise and talk about how touched they were, but we don’t trust them unconditionally.
I mean, even if they’re positive they’re going to buy it now, they may give up come January 26 (laughs). After all it’s the New Year, if they spend a lot of money on New Year gifts, they may change their mind.
There’s always the possibility of being cancelled on (laughs).
If someone tells me they went to a retailer, preordered and paid in advance I might trust them a bit more (laughs). But that’s the thing with people, even if they’re sure they want something now, if there’s still months left till the release, you never know. I also cancel my clothes orders like that, I just change my mind, you know. Even when I preorder a new product because it’s “exclusive,” I end up changing my mind after a month passes because another brand releases their product in the meantime. At least that’s how things go with me (laughs).
And this is all normal. That’s why when people tell us they love the game and that they’re definitely going to play it, we do appreciate it, but we don’t believe it. With that said, we’re working on making the game and promoting it in a way that will make people want to buy it when it releases.
──I’m looking forward to the release. Thank you for your time.
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is scheduled for release on November 9, 2023, and Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth is scheduled for release on January 26, 2024 for the PC (Windows/Steam)/Xbox Series X|S/Xbox One/PS4/PS5
Interview, editing, photography: Ayuo Kawase
Writing, editing: Kosuke Takenaka
Translated by. Amber Vjestica (original Japanese article’s publication date: 2023-11-01 12:20 JST)