I was recently invited to visit the headquarters of Onion Games in Tokyo to have a sit-down interview with its founder, Mr. Yoshiro Kimura. Onion Games is the developer behind the recent arcade-puzzle game Million Onion Hotel ($3.99). They also released the quirky RPG Dandy Dungeon (Free) earlier this year. While Onion Games is somewhat new in the scheme of things, their staff has deep roots in the Japanese game industry. Mr. Kimura’s career alone stretches back more than two decades, and he’s worked with and for companies such as Square Enix, Marvelous Entertainment, and Sony Computer Entertainment. Many of his games are considered cult classics in Japan thanks to their refreshing approach to what can often be a very conventional form of media.
Like some of my other interviews, this one turned out to be rather lengthy. As a result, it was split into two parts. You can find the first half of the interview here. I’d also like to note that Mr. Kimura carried out this interview almost entirely in English, which is his second language. Please keep that in mind if anything seems unusual about his phrasing or the like. The unusual content, however, is all his. Now, let’s get on with the final half of the interview.
On the Ups and Downs of Mobile Gaming
TA: You’ve made a couple of mobile games now. What do you see as the good points of mobile gaming, and what do you see as bad points?
YK: Hmm. As a developer, a negative point is that people don’t want to buy games. They want to try to play them free first. I understand this, and it’s not bad. But a little bit… I don’t want to say this is bad, but it’s…
TA: A challenge?
YK: A challenge? Hm. Well, I made Dandy Dungeon for free, and I made Million Onion Hotel, a premium game. I have sympathy for both types. I can do work for both. Before making Dandy Dungeon, I didn’t know anything. I was walking in the mist. But now I think I know what to do, and how to do it with free games. But still, I like to make arcade games, with a proper price. 480 yen (Shaun’s note: around $5) is cheap, but mobile players say it’s expensive. What is this? That is a bad part for me, as a developer. As a player? Mobile gaming is good! This next part is good for developers too, come to think of it. I can make games that people can play while on the train, in the house, in the toilet, everywhere. Anyone who has a smart phone can play the game anywhere! This is good!
YK: I don’t know how many gaming machines there are in the world, as far as consoles, arcades, and computers go. But this number might be much lower than the number of smart phones, right?
TA: I think that’s right, at least where dedicated gaming hardware is concerned. They’re on a whole other scale.
YK: So I want to try to make games that can reach all of those people worldwide.
TA: I hear what you’re saying about the price discussion. I think for older guys like us, when we see someone look at a 480 yen price tag and say that it’s too high, it’s bizarre. I notice this with pinball. I love pinball, and…
YK: Me too!
TA: Really? Okay, we’ll be good friends then! But yes, I love pinball, and there’s a really nice app called Pinball Arcade where they take the actual classic tables and put them in digital form. I think it’s great, because it’s preserving a lot of these old mechanical tables that are very hard to find now. They sell the tables for about five dollars, and I see so many people saying that that’s too high for one table. And all I can think is that those machines were one dollar per play in real life. If you play it five times, you’re getting a deal!
YK: Yeah, I think it’s okay, if the people play it a lot.
TA: I think the thing is that there are just so many games for free. As a member of the media on the outside looking in, I feel like this is the new challenge for the game industry. How do you get people interested in your game when most people have hundreds and hundreds of games that they have bought and maybe haven’t even played? So you’re competing against the present, but you’re also competing against the past. Sorry, that was my little rant.
YK: Yeah, I’m thinking the same thoughts, though.
TA: So you’ve done a free game, Dandy Dungeon. And you’ve done a paid game, Million Onion Hotel. How does your approach differ for those two kinds of games?
YK: This is another tough one. With Dandy Dungeon, I already knew about the freemium market. So the point with this one was that once someone plays it, they should feel like it’s a premium game. My feeling is that a lot of people are tired of freemium games because they need to spend a lot of money. That’s why Dandy Dungeon has, for example, the duck. If you buy the duck, you can play as much as you want without worrying about rice balls. This is the style: freemium, but feels like a console game. This is Dandy Dungeon. I think people noticed this, and that’s why the game is still alive. And Million Onion Hotel. Hm, should I speak honestly?
TA: (laughing) Whichever approach you want to take. If you want to go “PR", you can.
YK: I do a lot of “bad" things with Million Onion Hotel and its systems. Usually games like this have a similar style, like short time retention, making sure each game only lasts for one minute, and so on. This is how you’re supposed to do it. For example, people say that they want to play on the train, so it should be short. People say they want to continue.
TA: I had a Twitter conversation about that last night, I think you saw it.
YK: I can’t remember why I did that, but there is a why. You know, when you make a mobile game, there is a proper style already established. You should do it like this, and like this, and like this. And I mentally threw that all away. I still believe there are a lot of people who want to play arcade-style games on mobile.
TA: Well, I hope you’re right.
YK: And 480 yen is so cheap for them, I think. Once those people notice this game, then they will love it.
On Design, Love, and Humanity
YK: By the way, yesterday’s question from Twitter, that person. They wanted to select a stage?
TA: Yeah. What they wanted was to be able to skip the slower parts in the beginning to quickly get back to the faster, more exciting parts.
YK: Is that fun, if I do that?
TA: Well, I think more options never hurt. I think when you get to the higher levels of Million Onion Hotel, it’s very intense. And if you love that intensity, playing through the slower part again can feel a bit tiresome.
YK: It’s the same as sex, right?
YK: I can’t speak as well as… in English, I must speak honestly. Slowly, slowly, and building up, and up. Then, the ecstasy comes! Games are the same. If you want to feel the ecstasy, you must start from the beginning, I think. And you can do it in only five or ten minutes. Also, did you notice that you can stop the game? If you stop the game, kill the game, then you can restart from the same part.
TA: Yeah, I just noticed that a few days ago, actually.
YK: Some people ask me why the game doesn’t have save data, but there is save data! You can play from the last part you were playing. This is already good, I think, no?
TA: For me, that’s fine.
YK: I think yesterday’s Twitter person told you to tell me I am ‘bonkers’. Yes, I am! (laughs)
TA: Well, there you go. (laughs) I was supposed to tell you that.
YK: Yes, I am! (laughing) Good bonkers! Anyway, this game is like this.
TA: Well, I think you’ve explained the reasoning behind your decision very well. And I think, you know, coming from the arcade roots, old arcade games are the same way. They start a little slow, and they build up.
YK: See, why I’m afraid of speaking like this is that once someone reads this, they might immediately feel, without playing the game, like they don’t like this. There’s a possibility of this. In the Japanese audience, someone said that Million Onion Hotel is a game about noticing things. You know? You might not understand things when you start, but you’ll notice something and figure out some answers every time you play. This is a very old-fashioned style of game. Recent mobile games, freemium and paid, are different. The most important thing is for them to be easy to understand.
TA: They want to make so that everything is very clear to the player.
YK: Yes, very easy to understand. Everything has become easy to understand. You know, not understanding is also good. Life is like this. Something happens, people have to figure out how to solve the problem. This is important. This is the ecstasy. “Oh, I know the answer! I found the answer! Oh, ah, okay, I got it!" This is the game. So I didn’t put explanations for anything in Million Onion Hotel. Well no, there are some hints on the collectible cards, and in the storyline. Sometimes I wrote some hints, and you know, it’s enough. I want to believe this! For the Japanese audience, it was okay. People figured it out, and now the score rankings went up and up. There are some super players!
TA: Yeah, when I first started playing it and looked at the leaderboard, the disparity between the top scores and my first score was… unbelievable. I thought, I have a lot to learn.
YK: (laughs) But if you play well, your score will be like this. (makes a rising gesture with his hand) Then, you’ll feel it’s possible. Outside Japan, though, the scores aren’t doing that yet. Only one or two people are playing at that level. But you know, it’s good. Some people have already learned. The reviews on the game are okay. The store reviews are also okay. But not many people are playing the game yet.
TA: Yeah. Well, I think you mentioned that you see this type of easy-to-understand game a lot in mobile, but I think it’s wider than that. Even big-budget console games have this feeling now where they’re afraid to hide things in the game because they think people won’t find it, making it wasted energy or resources.
YK: That’s ridiculous! Don’t you think so?
TA: (laughing) Well yeah, but again, I’m from that older generation, so I think it’s kind of… hmm. When I play a game like yours, and I apologize because I avoided this pun in the review, but it’s like an onion. It has many layers, and it’s very exciting to see what’s coming next. I feel like even if I found everything, it would still feel like I didn’t find everything. It would make me want to keep playing.
YK: Yes! Very good! That was my intention. There are a lot of secrets. Maybe you will find something more.
TA: I feel like I will. I feel like I can’t stop playing it yet.
YK: I had a child play this, and they loved playing it. Maybe that’s a good sign.
TA: I think if you can get people to try it, there’s a lot to like in it. I suppose that’s the gap that needs to be crossed.
YK: Yeah, you know, promoting this game around the world has been so difficult. I don’t feel like I’m doing anything different from Dandy Dungeon, but this time, I feel it’s been very hard. Maybe the price is too high?
TA: Well, maybe it’s just the whole free game versus paid game thing. I don’t know what the promotions looked like in the App Store either.
YK: But once people play this, I have confidence that they will be happy.
TA: You know, what’s really cool about Million Onion Hotel is that it’s fun to play, but it also looks fun to play. When I was playing it for the review… well, usually my wife and son don’t really pay any attention to what I’m doing on my phone, because I’m always playing something, right? But with this game, they could see me tapping away frantically, they could hear the sounds, and they came over to watch me! So that helps, but you have to get people to see how fun it is.
YK: That’s a very good story! Please write this!
TA: Well, I’m saying it, so I’ll be writing it. Okay, well those are all of my main questions, so I guess what I’ll do right now is to give you the chance to give any message you’d like to our readers. Anything you want to say, it’s all yours now.
YK: What? (laughs)
TA: No pressure!
YK: What should I say? Well, uh, recently I’m thinking about homo sapiens a lot. You know homo sapiens, right?
TA: Yeah, yeah, I’ve met a few.
YK: Americans, Africans, Japanese, you, me, everyone, we all belong to homo sapiens. Books tell me that homo sapiens are like this, or like that. I think, maybe, homo sapiens love to play free games. But homo sapiens have a special technique. We can speak rumors to each other. This is one strong power of the human race. We can speak rumors, tweet rumors, of how Million Onion Hotel is strange. (laughs) Weird and good. Please play the game. This is my message. People worldwide can’t easily notice that my game exists. But to the TouchArcade readers reading this, please play it. Call it good, bad, crazy, or stupid. Please.
TA: Well, you heard the man. Please. (both laugh) Well, thank you very much for doing this interview.
YK: Thank you!
Thanks once again to Mr. Kimura for his time and kindness. Be sure to read the first half of the interview if you missed it, where we discussed Mr. Kimura’s favorite games, how Onion Games started, and what the deal is with onions, among other topics. Oh, and while I forgot to ask during the interview, Mr. Kimura has informed me that his favorite pizza topping is olives. Yes, I was expecting onions, too. Thanks for reading!