Game developer NextNinja’s CEO and producer Masayuki Yamagishi (aka Yama-P) sat down with Anime Trending at Anime Expo 2023 to talk about the company’s mobile games Grand Summoners and Touhou LostWord and the future of the company as they look forward to anime adjacent mobile gaming.
Could you please share your day-to-day role as the CEO of NextNinja as well as the producer for Grand Summoners and Touhou LostWord?
Masayuki Yamagishi: As not only the CEO, but also the producer, most of my time is occupied by the development process for games. My main job and focus are to deliver the best possible game that we can and being hands-on. I’m not as focused on the logistics like other CEOs may be focused on, but I’m similar to other peers that focus heavily on the products.
When you say hands-on, do you mean that you are involved in the creation of the story and events? That kind of involvement?
I don’t make all the decisions alone. There’s a story team that I consult with, but I’m there every step of the way for each team. I’m always communicating with them all the time.
For fans not familiar with Grand Summoners, how would you present the mobile game to potential new users?
For a while, we had RPGs like Final Fantasy and things like that, and now Grand Summoners takes those RPG elements, but taken into the modern world of smartphones.
So, it has those kinds of classic RPG elements in this modern smartphone game, but because it’s in this modern age, we have a lot of special elements to make it easier for new players to start very easily. For example, there are features like auto farming things or even kind of an AI feature where you can put in commands on how you want units to act in response to the battles.
Grand Summoners has many anime series collaborations as well as events with other IPs. Could you share the creative decision behind working with other recognizable series?
Grand Summoners is an anime RPG, and even though Grand Summoners itself is an RPG, it has a lot of collaborations and crossovers with series that might not be RPGs themselves.
We’re always thinking about series that might not have classic RPG elements and we think about how they can be brought into the world of Grand Summoners and interact with them. With Kill la Kill, we talked about how the weapons would grow there, or with Tokyo Revengers, how these high school students would interact with fighting dragons and things like that. That’s one element that we’re always thinking about with the creative process behind bringing these crossovers into the game.
Can you talk about how you decide which series to work with?
There are a lot of factors. We coordinate with Good Smile Company who’s our publisher and we think about which series have a lot of fans, which ones are popular, and which series people would want. We also think about if this series has had collaborations before and consider other kinds of decisions.
One big factor is the timing. We’ll have season one and that will garner a lot of fans and it gets popular. Then you’re getting ready for season two in the time being. Another example of timing, with That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, when Milim made her appearance in the anime series, it was a big part for people to get excited about. That’s when we started the collaboration. Those timing decisions are also a really big part of it.
What are the next steps for Grand Summoners’ future and what can fans expect?
The Japanese version of Grand Summoners is in its seventh year. The global version is in its sixth year. Right now at its peak, it has the highest popularity, player base, and revenue compared to its past. We’re thinking about how to continue that trend and have it continue for ten plus years and continue to succeed.
Currently right now, the North American user base is the largest and then we have the Japanese user base following that. After that, there’s Europe and Asia and so forth. Especially now, going forward, we want to make the game more easily accessible and grow the player base from other regions like Europe and Asia.
That’s one reason why we’re here at Anime Expo. We can have live streams and things like that, but it’s a whole different story to come here to these kinds of events and get ourselves out there and meet players directly.
For the game itself, we have a lot of different game modes. There’s a single player mode, multiplayer mode, and PvP. We’re actually always working on new things. Within this year hopefully, we’re also trying to release a new mode as well.
Can you talk about how the Touhou LostWord mobile game project started?
We were talking with our publisher Good Smile Company about Grand Summoners and wondered, “What is next?” Good Smile Company asked me what I wanted to make and I answered “I want to work with an IP with a lot of cute girls.” That’s kind of how the projects started.
The Touhou series has a very dedicated as well as loyal fan base that’s been around for a very long time. How did you factor that into development for Touhou LostWord?
As you said, Touhou has a very loyal fan base spanning many years. We didn’t want to betray their expectations or anything, so we did a lot of research. We researched Touhou Project in general and looked into what their fans like and experience, and tried to create a work in our own way that reflected that. But we also made it fun, new, and original.
The last time we were at Anime Expo was four years ago, and Touhou LostWord is now in its third year. Before then, I did all kinds of research in advance. I was going around the halls seeing booths, visiting artists booths, and looking at what kind of illustrations there were and what kind of products theyhad.
I would go around and ask them and take pictures, too. I’d also go to gatherings and events they had here such as cosplayer gatherings. For example, I kept note of who was cosplaying what, took pictures, and conducted research that way.
What can fans expect in Touhou LostWord’s future?
Currently, Touhou LostWord is kind of a single player experience, right? But obviously people like to experience these things and think together. So, we’re trying to introduce more social aspects and more ways that players can play and enjoy the game together. That’s what we’re focusing on going forward here.
Another part of that future plan is music. It’s kind of universal, so we’re thinking about both domestically in Japan and overseas at the same time to expand live events, including music.
NextNinja has been expanding its games into overseas markets like the United States and China. Will we be seeing more globally released mobile games, both in Japan and overseas such as Touhou LostWord?
As NextNinja, our goal and motive is to make these games in Japan, but deliver them globally. It’s kind of very similar to the process of anime. It was created in Japan, but as seen overseas and even now, it reaches a larger audience outside of Japan. The Japanese population is about 120 million and there are 8 billion people in the world. So, right now it’s becoming a much more global thing and that’s kind of the direction that we want to follow as well.
What are some challenges with launching a game overseas, especially one created in Japan and is releasing outside of Japan that fans may not be aware of?
It was very difficult and a lot of trouble. The challenge is communicating with media such as yourselves, publishers like Crunchyroll, working with all of these overseas companies and related content partners. And of course there’s the Google Play and App Store. We had to go through a lot with them. There’s a lot of communication that occurs there. That’s kind of one of the biggest things that people might not think about too much. There are a lot of parties involved in bringing this globally.
We do take some examples and references from companies in the anime industry like KADOKAWA and KODANSHA who kind of took those first steps many years back and expanded globally. We’re kind of trying to follow their example, referencing them, and taking similar steps to also expand ourselves globally.
Could you share some final comments for fans of NextNinja and all of the games you’ve worked on as well?
As NextNinja, we’ll continue to make sure that fans have a fun and interesting time. We ask that fans continue to look at us as we expand and bring them more fun and interesting games.
Actually, the company name itself is supposed to kind of help them remember us and get to know us. That’s kind of the reason we have the name NextNinja.
NextNinja’s Grand Summoners and Touhou LostWord are available on the App Store and Google Play Store. The company is currently developing a new Bungo Stray Dogs mobile game. It is currently being promoted in Japan.