The Group’s competitive advantages in the amusement market includes advanced technical capabilities, “places” in the form of more than 250 facilities, and IPMakoto Asanuma Managing Director, BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Inc.
The Group recently opened VR ZONE SHINJUKU, one of Japan’s largest VR entertainment facilities, in Shinjuku, Tokyo. It is thronged with customers who want an immersive experience and new astonishment. In this section, Makoto Asanuma, Managing Director of BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Inc., which is in charge of the Group’s amusement business, discusses market trends, the potential of VR, and future initiatives.
Would you discuss your current responsibilities?
Asanuma: I am responsible for advancing real entertainment; for the AM Business Unit, which handles arcade games, etc., installed in amusement facilities; and for SP Project for the pachinko and pachislot business. In contrast to entertainment centered on digital elements, such as smartphone game applications and home video games, real entertainment leverages locations at which people can actually gather and enjoy the entertainment. My role is to expand this field.
Was the recently opened VR ZONE SHINJUKU the first initiative in thisarea?
Asanuma: That’s right. This project leverages the knowledge and know-how that we cultivated at VR ZONE Project i Can, a facility that we opened on a limited-time basis in Odaiba, Tokyo. VR ZONE SHINJUKU is one of the largest VR facilities in Japan, and with a space of 3,500 square meters, it enables visitors to experience 16 types of activities, centered on VR.
Over the past few years, conditions in the amusement market have continued to be difficult. To overcome these challenges, we will need to decisively change our thinking in ways that are different from a simple extension of existing approaches to business. In producing VR ZONE SHINJUKU, we wanted to build an entirely new entertainment facility that has never been seen before. We went through a process of trial and error as the opening approached, and thanks to everyone’s hard work, visitor satisfaction is high and the reviews have been even better than expected. Moving forward, we will strive to further increase recognition of this facility and to offer this experience to as many customers as possible.
VR ZONE SHINJUKU
Address: Kabukicho 1-29-1, Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo
(7 minutes walk from the east exit of JR Shinjuku Station / 2 minutes walk from Seibu Shinjuku Station)
Hours of operation: 10:00 - 22:00 (last entry at 21:00)
Days of operation: Open 365 days a year
Method of use: Advance reservation system
Fee: Entrance fee - ¥800; children - (6 to 12) ¥500; 5 and younger - free 1-day 4-ticket set: ¥4,400 (set of 4 entrance tickets and activity tickets)
* VR activities are for customers aged 13 and over.
* For further information of the reservation method, etc., please refer to the website: http://vrzone-pic.com
Did collaboration among Group companies play a role?
Asanuma: The provision of services at VR ZONE SHINJUKU resulted from our effortsto focus the comprehensive strengths of theNetwork Entertainment SBU. BANDAINAMCO Entertainment Inc. and BANDAINAMCO Studio Inc. worked on VR equipmentplanning and development, while NAMCOLIMITED is handling facility operation. Inaddition, we have received many proposals from within the Group, such as inquiries about the potential of developing certain types of products for sale at the facility’s shop from companies in the Toys and Hobby SBU. In this way, I believe that the strengths of the Group include our diverse know-how and our ability to propose ideas. There may be a strong clash of opinions, but it is encouraging that there are colleagues who can engage in discussions with passion from a variety of different angles, while everyone is working in the same direction. In the future, we will continue to leverage the Group’s internal knowledge and work to further ramp up enthusiasm for VR ZONE SHINJUKU.
What is the competitive advantage of the BANDAI NAMCO Group in the VR market?
Asanuma: The Group has developed know-how through research into sensory-feedback machines conducted over many years, and NAMCO LIMITED has cultivated operational know-how through more than 250 amusement facilities in Japan and overseas. By combining this know-how and VR technologies, I believe we will be able to provide entertainment that leverages the strengths of BANDAI NAMCO. And our greatest strength of all is IP.
At VR ZONE SHINJUKU, visitors can enter the worlds of a variety of IP, such as Evangelion, DRAGON BALL, and Mario Kart. The introduction of activities that utilize IP facilitates the creation of images for VR content and motivates customers to experience VR. Also, the use of VR to offer concrete versions of images held by customers leads to further demand for the VR experience. IP has the wonderful power to forge strong connections between our customers and our ideas, and my appreciation of that power has been reinforced.
What is the future of the VR business?
Asanuma: With VR ZONE SHINJUKU positioned as our flagship facility, we will take on a variety of challenges. With that content, we will aim to roll out more than 20 small to medium sized stores in Japan and overseas under the name VR ZONE Portal. Customers can understand the fun of VR if they experience it for themselves. We will pursue the potential of the VR business by launching touchpoints that enable customers to readily experience VR in locations around the world.
The company has started to develop gaming machines as a new initiative?
Asanuma: In September 2016, in cooperation with Ainsworth Game Technology Limited, a leading developer of gaming machines that is based in Australia, we began joint development of gaming machines for casinos. As the first step, we developed a slot machine themed on PAC-MAN, which has been placed into operation in Las Vegas and other North American locations. PAC-MAN is extremely popular in North America, and the PAC-MAN gaming machine is highly regarded. As with our VR initiatives, this product demonstrates the strength of IP. Moving forward, we plan to implement area expansion and enhance our IP lineup.
The PAC-MAN VIDEO SLOT WILD EDITION gaming machine is being rolled out in North America
PAC-MAN VIDEO SLOT WILD EDITION & ©2017 BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Inc.
We want to offer new forms of surprise in accordance with the key phrase “I have never seen or experienced this before”
What is the situation with arcade games in existing facilities?
Asanuma: Conditions were extremely challenging in the first year of the current Mid-term Plan. In this setting, we reevaluated our product lineup and organizational system and took steps to increase efficiency, and as a result we were able to make a restart. A distinctive feature of the arcade games at existing amusement facilities is the “entirely free platform.” For example, a large number of matters are up to the discretion of the manufacturer, such as the specifications and sizes of the machines as well as the content of the play. Anything that the manufacturer thinks of can be added, and accordingly it can be extremely difficult to make the decision that “this is good enough.” However, in consideration of the challenging environment, we also changed the direction of our machine development. I think that we need to reconfirm our understanding of the situation, identify our strengths and what we need to do, and implement development with a sense of speed. Moving forward, we will continue to refine our activities and work to develop and provide high-quality machines that meet the needs of the age.
What is your emphasis in the development of human resources?
Asanuma: Without the development of human resources, there can be no business. Entertainment is an industry in which the pace of change is extremely fast, but I believe that if a company nurtures its human resources and leverages its strengths, it can overcome difficulties no matter how much the market environment changes. To that end, supervisors must know more about their subordinates. What are their strengths? What are their interests? In what areas can they best apply their strengths? Supervisors need to know the answers to these questions, raise motivation on the front lines, and establish environments conducive to effective work. I believe this is the mission of management.
What strategies are being considered for the next Mid-term Plan?
Asanuma: Leveraging the experience gained under the current Mid-term Plan, we will continue to take on the challenge of creating new things and generating high-impact entertainment in line with the key phrases “I have never seen this before” and “I have never experienced this before.”
The pace of progress in technology has been dramatic, and over the past three years the change has been remarkable. Over the period of the next Mid-term Plan, I believe there will be multiple new technologies that we cannot even imagine at this point. We should approach these changes as opportunities and rapidly launch measures to stay one step ahead of the expectations of our customers.
This article is an extract from the Newsletter, BANDAI NAMCO News, which was published in September, 2017 and partially re-edited.