The future of Puzzle & Dragons' studio? Free-to-play on consoles

GungHo Online believes in the big potential of large-scale free-to-play console titles, but it needs to be done properly

By Jonathan Toyad

Image credit: GungHo Online

Image credit: GungHo Online

With Puzzle & Dragons doing pretty well for itself last year, one wonders if company and developer GungHo Online will be resting on its laurels and just rely on the game. That isn’t going to be the case, as GungHo Online Founder Kazuki Morishita said in a Gamasutra interview that the company has plans for the console space.

The company will still keep doing free-to-play, but will emphasise more on consoles and making sure the game it creates makes sense design-wise. “That’s a good focus to go on with,” said Morishita, “We really think there is pretty big potential for free-to-play on consoles. But we also feel that it’s not a thing to do just because it’s a thing to do. It has to be done in a way that core users are able to understand and agree with, because a lot of people don’t agree with the free-to-play model. If you do it just because it’s a trend, or just because everybody else is doing it, they’re going to point that out.”

Morishita also addressed the skepticism surrounding the free-to-play model. He said that his company is not fixed on the model, and highlighted that there are key differences between F2P and retail. “The biggest difference between retail and the free-to-play model is that retail is about having an endgame, whereas free-to-play does not. What the company provides in place of that would be the service. And I think that once you understand the service part, people will more understand the free-to-play model — how that works with the game and service combining together. It becomes a completely different product. Around 2005 – 2006, on a personal level, I was against the free-to-play model.”

Image credit: GungHo Online

Image credit: GungHo Online

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He said that Puzzle & Dragons’ in-game monetisation is similar to a tutoring service, and that whether people use it or not, factors in a player’s enjoyment in the game’s lifespan. “Basically to go to college, for example, some kids need tutors and some don’t. They’re both trying their best at what they do: studying. Some people have to pay to get to a certain level; some people don’t. We believe that’s sort of similar to the monetisation model,” he added.

“I believe that gaming is all about the goal and how you get there, how much work you actually do to get there. The reason people feel like completing something that is fun or enjoyable is because you’ve worked hard to get there. It’s the journey,” said Morishita. He brought up the Japanese concept of ‘doryoku’ (‘great effort’ in English) that acts as a drive that encourages free and paying customers to play through a title to the end.

Morishita also stressed that his team does not think about the sales when creating a game because it would get in the way of its fun factor. “It’s about blocking certain stuff so that users will pay, right? That always ends up into a not-so-fun game, pretty much. So that’s what I try to avoid, and why I really do not think about sales when I am making a game. That’s my philosophy I came up with when making free-to-play games, and I feel that’s the base model that we should continue doing as GungHo,” he shared.

So the prospects of a Puzzle & Dragons game for the PS4 and Xbox One is still up in the air, but it’ll be interesting to see and hear what the F2P-centric company will announce in the near future for next-gen consoles. Then again, the most cost-cutting measure would be to still make games on the PS3; Japan developer’s are still doing it if past Media Creates software numbers are of any indication. 

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