Interview: Tecmo Koei CEO, Kenji Matsubara

Exclusive one-on-one discussion with the global boss of Japan's newest publisher. The product of two high profile game companies, can Tecmo Koei truly realise Matsubara's vision to become the "number one" games publisher?

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"Who is this Matsubara guy anyway?"

So said former Team Ninja leader Tomonobu Itagaki in a recent interview with 1UP.

Well, Kenji Matsubara is the global President and CEO of Tecmo Koei Holdings, as well as co-founder of the recently merged company. I met him last week for an interview, and I think we're ready to answer Itagaki's not unreasonable question.

He seems like a perfectly good guy to me - a confident games executive with a plan. He came from the Koei side of the fence rather than from the Tecmo side, which is probably a good thing considering the pre-merger turbulence that had been occurring within Tecmo management (former Tecmo President, Yoshimi Yasuda, eventually resigned after ongoing legal feuds with Itagaki. Matsubara told me that Yasuda is now president of another Japanese publisher, although he didn't mention which one).

Momiji in Team Ninja's Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2

Matsubara is frank on his views about the games industry, and open in his praise for what competitors are doing right. The idea to approach Tecmo about a merger was down to Matsubara, and the swiftness with which it went through suggests that he's someone who knows what needs to be done and doesn't waste time in doing it.

Matsubara was in London last week to celebrate the opening of Tecmo Koei's European operation (of which Matsubara is also titled President and COO), which gives Tecmo a physical presence in the territory for the first time (previously, their titles had been distributed by platform holders like Microsoft, or third parties such as Eidos, Ubisoft and Take 2), and it's obviously a key part of Matsubara's strategy to win in the west.

The event also promoted the first title that Tecmo Koei Europe will publish - the highly promising Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 [see our previous interview with Team Ninja's Yosuke Hayashi here], which is the PS3-only update to Ninja Gaiden 2 [review]. Incidentally, Yosuke also confirmed plans for a dual-platform Ninja Gaiden 3.

This interview focuses on Tecmo Koei from a global perspective, looking at its home Japanese market as well as its aspirations for those in the west.

Kikizo: Could you start by telling me a bit about your personal background in the industry?

Matsubara: Actually, I do not have a long experience in this industry - I only joined Koei in 2001. Originally, I graduated university in 1986, and I joined the IT company Hitachi, and I was there for eleven years. Afterwards, I joined the software business company Oracle, where I spent five years - so my background is business related - hardware, software, and entertainment software - so getting softer and softer! [Laughs] After I joined Koei, first I was in charge of online games and mobile games, and I produced four games that were MMO titles, and many mobile games. And as of three years ago, I was working as president of Koei.

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Kikizo: There have been a lot of consolidations in the Japanese games industry - Square Enix, Sega Sammy, Namco Bandai - why was this the right time for Koei Tecmo to join?

Matsubara: Since becoming president, I set up a medium term plan, and actually I didn't plan to look at consolidation so soon. But the global games market is changing very rapidly. Platforms are diversifying, and the western business is expanding. To survive and compete in this market, we need to have some sort of scale - it's critical. And that's the trigger of this consolidation. Square Enix had made an offer, and we had started a discussion with Tecmo as well. But Tecmo's founding family and Koei's founders' family have actually had a good relationship for many years, which is why we were able to make a deal in such a short time! We started the discussion on September 1st, and it was agreed two days after! Tecmo's founders and management team understands that while it is nice to stand alone, it is risky, and scale is critical.

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