Another Dimension: VIZ Media's Brad Woods talks the firm's move into games publishing

As one of the top purveyors of anime, manga and licensed video games products, VIZ Media is a unique position to leverage their expertise in a new venture: games publishing. We sat down with Brad Woods, chief marketing officer at the firm to find out more about this new development.
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With a catalogue of licenses that includes the likes of Pokémon and The Legend of Zelda, as well as some of Japan's best-loved anime and manga franchises like Naruto, Sailor Moon and One Piece, VIZ Media finds itself uniquely positioned to shift gears into an entirely different kind of industry: games publishing.

The firm's recently announced three-title partnership with indie developer Rose City Games represents the firm's first foray into the games space, leveraging their built-in audience of enthusiastic fans to build a new games franchise in the style of VIZ's existing library.

The World Next Door is the first confirmed title to come out of the partnership, thrusting players into a dark and stylish fantasy world, clearly influenced by such hit titles as Hotline Miami and Night In The Woods. Players step into the shoes of Jun, a rebellious teen trapped in a world filled with magical creatures in a story-driven RPG that draws on the storytelling styles of narrative-based games as well as the weird and wonderful worlds of anime and manga.

"The World Next Door is a supernatural, story-driven game with action-heavy puzzle battles," Brad Woods, chief marketing officer at VIZ tells Licensing.biz. "The main character, Jun, will meet and develop friendships with an eclectic cast of characters while facing challenging puzzle battles that help uncover the mysteries hidden within the game's world."

Developers Rose City Games' background lies in producing licensed game experiences for such brands as Cartoon Network and Homestuck. The World Next Door will be the dev's first original IP but with VIZ's pedigree and a background in licensed products, it's fair to guess that this title could have a healthy licensing push should it prove to be a success.

"We met the Rose City Games team as a part of our business development efforts," explains Woods. "We have an internal team keeping an eye on trends as well as on companies who are leading change and doing truly creative work. As we explored the best way to enter the gaming space, the Rose City team stood out in their ability to reach and celebrate the indie gaming world, one that is huge with our fans."

Our measure of success lies in how our fans receive the game, what we learn, and how we continue from that point

Brad Woods, VIZ Media

VIZ's existing audience-base was a big factor in the company's decision to pivot to games, a built-in advantage that few publishers can boast when starting out.

"VIZ is a rare company in that we’re content providers but we’re also fans," elaborates Woods. "While our 30 plus years experience certainly lend us a business advantage when we look at entering the video game space, I believe our real point of difference is that we have a relationship with the fan community and understand what makes for a compelling experience. For our team it’s about good storytelling and quality entertainment being brought to life in a new format."

The game began life at a game design jam where artist and game asset designer Lord Gris devised the game's original concept, and later pitched the idea to VIZ Media in the Summer of 2017 in collaboration with Rose City Games' Corey Warning. Considering the potential for such an aesthetically original game, that is current and on-trend VIZ greenlit the project for development.

"As we look at ways in which we can connect with our consumers, the gaming category is one of the largest adjacencies in terms of how our fans spend time and interact with each other. In today’s world, gaming is a much an engine for storytelling as is an animation or the written word and for us, it is a natural extension of what we do very well."

Woods also points out that the game has great potential to have a sustained life beyond just the game title, with the potential for cross-media content in animation, comics and more. However, the firm seems to approach this with the appropriate level of caution for a new IP. Without wishing to put the cart before the horse, Woods expresses passion for the further development of the brand.

"I believe our real point of difference is that we have a relationship with the fan community and understand what makes for a compelling experience," he explains.

"Our measure of success lies in how our fans receive the game, what we learn, and how we continue from that point. It’s less about sales and more about the relationship with our customer. We see this as a very fan-forward initiative where we welcome feedback and intend to work together on making some truly great games."

As our conversation draws to a close, I question whether this new initiative could be a stepping stone to publishing licensed game titles from VIZ's extensive library of hit Japanese properties. While the VIZ is not ready to comment on this potential just yet, Woods closing statement hints at a world of possibility at the firm's doorstep.

"When the right concept arrives that fits the nature of our licensed properties, we will be ready to deliver."

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