Interview

Building Better: Bandai Namco Mobile's new approach to development

Chief publishing officer Massimo Caporale discusses building its new Barcelona studio in the midst of a pandemic

Building Better: Bandai Namco Mobile's new approach to development

Bandai Namco is a pioneer of the global games market. From the creation of Pac-Man in the arcade-era, through to the latest generation of consoles, the company has produced hit after hit.

When it comes to mobile, Bandai Namco continues to innovate. The company's new Barcelona studio is home to Bandai Namco Mobile, which has ambitions to take the company's heritage in games and push it forward into a new era.

PocketGamer.biz spoke to Bandai Namco chief publishing officer Massimo Caporale, about the ways in which the new studio is innovating.

PocketGamer.biz: What drove the creation of Bandai Namco Mobile?

Massimo Caporale: Bandai Namco Mobile (BNM) was created with the ultimate goal of accelerating the growth of the Bandai Namco mobile business in the West.

To achieve this, we devised various different strategies: we are building a brand new development studio focussed on creating innovative free-to-play mobile games and new western-focussed intellectual property to complement the excellent games and IP coming from Japan.

At the same time, we are expanding and strengthening our mobile marketing teams and focussing on growing and nurturing the fan base in the West for some of our most iconic and successful games such as Dragon Ball Legends and One Piece Treasure Cruise.

We keep exploring new opportunities and business models to extend the reach of our most famous IP.

Finally, we keep exploring new opportunities and business models to extend the reach of our most famous IP, working on titles such as Pac-Man Party Royale on Apple Arcade for example.

Ultimately, BNM here in Barcelona is designed to become the HQ of key Bandai Namco mobile gaming activities in the West.

Why did the company decide to focus so strongly on the creation of new intellectual property?

When it comes to developing new games here in Barcelona, the decision to focus on new IP was two-fold.

From one side, we already have excellent teams (in Japan and in Barcelona) working with external studios to develop new games based on our popular IP - which mostly come from Japan. So, strategically, we are looking to complement our portfolio with new IP focussed on the western audience.

On the other hand, we know that the most successful mobile games did not necessarily come with an existing IP but have been dominating their category/genre because they were innovative and mostly first-to-market when they launched.

Image Credit: Bandai Namco.

Innovation is key for us here at BNM, working on new IP means that we can approach this innovation with full creative freedom and a blank slate, without any limitations.

Hence at BNM, we are focused on creating new IP to strengthen and add variety to our portfolio, as well as to foster and enhance the search for innovation that is core to our company culture and ambition.

Why did Bandai Namco choose Barcelona for its new mobile studio?

When we took the decision to invest in creating a separate company within the Bandai Namco group, fully focussed on mobile games in the West, we considered various international mobile gaming hubs. None of them could rival the attractiveness of the lifestyle of Barcelona.

Working on new IP means that we can approach this innovation with full creative freedom and a blank slate, without any limitations.

Besides having a large pool of talent already present (more than 150 games companies are currently active in Catalonia), a very international and vibrant culture (20 per cent of residents in Barcelona are expatriates, there are many international schools available, etcetera.), the city really has a lot to offer in terms of culture, food and outdoor lifestyle.

Not to mention the magnificent beaches next to our office.

Barcelona has made a tremendous effort in the last 20 to 30 years to create a brand and hype around the lifestyle here which really helps when wanting to attract international talent.

Our aim is to build the best possible team and we believe that between the talent already present locally, and the attractiveness of the city to foreigners, there really is no better place than Barcelona to set up a new mobile gaming studio!

Come see for yourself, we’d be happy to show you around our amazing office!

In the volatile and competitive global mobile market, how does Bandai Namco differentiate itself?

Setting up shop in Barcelona put us in direct competition for talent with many other mobile games companies already present in the area.

However, we had the chance to build a unique company that could benefit from the freedom of creating a brand new culture, while at the same time having the security of the Bandai Namco group behind us.

Internally, we discussed what kind of culture we wanted to create at BNM. We read a lot of literature, we talked with fellow mobile games companies and friends, but ultimately, we followed what we believe would be the best approach to attract top-class talent and give them the freedom and responsibility to create great, innovative experiences for our fans.

Image credit: Bandai Namco.

We have a very flat, open and collaborative structure. We hire only the absolute best and most expert professionals and we aim to give them the opportunity to create those magical experiences that will become the next milestones in mobile gaming history.

We focus on small, agile teams, full of talent and with the freedom to explore new ideas, make decisions quickly, fail fast, learn faster, and ultimately push us beyond the limits of where more 'classical companies' with a hierarchical structure, more rigid processes and the usual dose of bureaucracy could ever dream of getting to.

How did you approach the creation of a studio with such a different structure?

Building a new studio/company is, on its own, one of the most challenging and rewarding things to take on. To do so during a pandemic adds a whole new meaning to the definition of “challenging”. We were scheduled to open the doors to our amazing new office in April 2020, but of course a month before that, the whole world just stopped.

Since we were already working in a hybrid (office/remote) model, the shift to go fully remote was not challenging per se. However, as a team of 12 back then, we quickly realised that we could not just wait for the whole pandemic to end before resuming our hiring efforts, and this is where it got really "fun”.

Interviewing, hiring, and integrating new team members without even meeting them once in person was really challenging, and I won’t deny the fact that, at least initially, it slowed us down.

We focus on small, agile teams, full of talent and with the freedom to explore new ideas

Face-to-face time is very precious, especially in a creative industry such as ours, but this becomes essential when in the process of building a new team, where personal relationships need to be built from scratch.

Nevertheless, we kept pushing on our quest to build the most talented team in the industry and we have now grown to 33 of the best games professionals on the market, spanning 13 different nationalities and averaging 12 years of games experience.

We are definitely not done yet, as we look to welcome more of the very best and currently plan to peak at 70 people, a number which we do not want to exceed. By focusing on small agile teams and a flat hierarchy, we can preserve our company culture best.

Naturally, this evolves over time, as we face new challenges and make choices every day. The ability for everybody to be self-driven, candid and collaborative while remaining truly humble is imperative for every hire in the company because every single one of us has a huge impact on shaping our culture and our future.

For this reason, we take hiring very seriously, concentrating on quality over quantity and only hiring the very best senior professionals to continuously raise our talent density.

This is a lot to ask, but working with such a talented team is extremely motivating and invigorating. As a result, our team is as ambitious and engaged as I have ever seen before. We are in many ways exploring the unknown and I can’t wait to see where this new journey is going to take us. We are just getting started!

Find out more at https://www.bandainamcomobile.com/

PocketGamer.biz regularly posts content from a variety of guest writers across the games industry. These encompass a wide range of topics and people from different backgrounds and diversities, sharing their opinion on the hottest trending topics, undiscovered gems and what the future of the business holds.

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