Addressing changes in customer needs by providing new forms of fun and leveraging individualityHitoshi Hagiwara President and Representative Director, BANDAI NAMCO Amusement Inc.
The Real Entertainment Unit’s mid-term vision is “We Create Entertainment Experience Only Here and Now Worldwide.” The Unit is working to operate amusement facilities and develop amusement machines that leverage the distinctive strengths of the BANDAI NAMCO Group. In this section, Hitoshi Hagiwara, the president of BANDAI NAMCO Amusement Inc., the core company of the Real Entertainment Unit, discusses the market environment in Japan and overseas, facilities and amusement machines that are recording favorable results, and the Unit’s strategies and vision for the future.
Would you discuss the environment in the Japanese amusement market?
Hagiwara: The biggest changes in the amusement market environment are in customer needs. The widespread use of smartphones has enabled customers to obtain vast amounts of information on their own, and there is growing demand for things that are different from what everyone else is doing. In this age, we cannot achieve customer satisfaction without addressing needs for so-called “intangible consumption,” in which consumers act with clear purpose based on information that they have obtained themselves. Our Unit is not limited to the tangible goods business, in which we make and sell products. We are also aggressively developing the intangible experience business, where we provide inspiration that leverages the distinctive strengths of the BANDAI NAMCO Group. In these ways, we are addressing changing needs.
What are the BANDAI NAMCO Group’s key points of competitive advantage and differentiation?
Hagiwara: The biggest strength of the BANDAI NAMCO Group is the IP axis strategy, which is being implemented on Groupwide basis. In addition to our strengths in the ability to utilize diverse IP, the Group also has a range of business formats and extensive know-how, and accordingly we can develop a variety of types of fun based on different approaches. Last year, the amusement machine planning and development functions were separated from BANDAI NAMCO Studio Inc., a game content development studio, to establish BANDAI NAMCO Amusement Lab Inc. This step was taken with the objective of creating new fun for amusement facilities. Accordingly, I believe it will become a major strength in the development of attractions and activities that utilize new technologies.
In our pursuit of new types of fun, one turning point was the installation in 2016 of the Indoor Seaside Kid’s Beach at Asobi Park Plus, an indoor playground. Indoor Seaside Kid’s Beach uses the latest computer graphics and 3D audio effect technologies to reproduce the environment of the seaside in the tropics. It enables customers to experience the sensation of running barefoot in the waves that wash up on the beach. By providing new types of entertainment that were not available with businesses operated under the traditional game center model, we have been successful at leveraging original characteristics and drawing customers who are acting with purpose. To develop the Indoor Seaside Kid’s Beach content, we leveraged the know-how of the BANDAI NAMCO Group. We are working to provide new types of fun by drawing on the Unit’s strengths in being able to develop machines and content, operate the venues that provide them, and deliver services to customers through a single value chain.
Specifically, what types of venues are being created?
Hagiwara: Favorable results are being recorded at VS PARK, an entertainment-related sports facility. The number of fitness gyms is increasing in each region in Japan in line with the growing health orientation throughout society, but there are hardly any sports-themed facilities that customers can enjoy casually. At VS PARK, we also offer digital activities, such as Nigekiru, the world’s first game that enables participants to compete with all their might over a short distance as they try to outrun fierce animals that are projected on the wall. These facilities enable customers to move their bodies while enjoying cheerful, boisterous fun with friends.
In addition, in July 2019, we opened MAZARIA, which is based on the concept of a “place to enter the worlds of animations and games.” MAZARIA is located in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, which is known as a symbolically important area for animations in Japan. This facility offers a variety of VR activities, and customers can enjoy an immersive experience that seems as if they are entering animations and games. This applies not only to the games but to the entire space, including the furnishings and BGM. Furthermore, the same building also houses NamjaTown, which was rolled out previously by our Unit. After enjoying leading-edge activities at MAZARIA, customers can experience an entirely different retro atmosphere at NamjaTown. In this way customers can spend an entire day enjoying themselves at BANDAI NAMCO facilities.
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In addition to rolling out these types of new formats, we are also taking on the challenge of implementing new initiatives at game centers and other existing amusement facilities. One of those initiatives was the BANNAM Banpaku, which opened in August in conjunction with the release of ONE PIECE STAMPEDE, the new ONE PIECE film. With the cooperation of rights holders, this project was conducted on a Groupwide basis, centered on BANDAI NAMCO Amusement Inc. We are implemented a range of initiatives, such as offering film-related figures (a total of eight varieties) as prizes available only at NAMCO facilities. We have a large number of facilities in large-scale shopping centers that also house movie theaters, and accordingly the exhibition of the film has a major influence on sales at our facilities. The entire Group is working to create further buzz for the ONE PIECE film, which is highly popular among a wide range of customers, and as a result we expect sales at our facilities to benefit from synergy effects.
▲ONE PIECE STAMPEDE Theatrical Version, World Collectible Figures – SPECIAL – vol. 1, Vol. 2 (Prizes limited to NAMCO facilities)
Aiming for growth and evolution for the entire Unit by taking on the challenge of new initiatives while valuing individuality
What is the situation in amusement machines?
Hagiwara: In FY2019.3, Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs. 2, a new amusement machine, recorded favorable results. Following Sword Art Online Arcade: Deep Explorer, which has been in operation since March, this fiscal year we will roll out titles that aggressively leverage the IP that is the Group’s strength. These will include JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Last Survivor, which is scheduled to be launched this winter.
▲Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Last Survivor
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©LUCKY LAND COMMUNICATIONS/集英社･ジョジョの奇妙な冒険DU製作委員会
©LUCKY LAND COMMUNICATIONS/集英社･ジョジョの奇妙な冒険GW製作委員会
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What kind of progress is being made with overseas initiatives?
Hagiwara: In March 2019, we established BANDAI NAMCO Amusement (SHANGHAI) CO., LTD., which handles planning and management of amusement facilities in China. Moving forward, we will start to implement full-blown initiatives, and we will advance business development measures in the Chinese market with a sense of urgency, with local operations taking the lead.
In the North America market, the environment remains challenging, but there is no doubt that the U.S. is a promising market, and therefore we will need to move forward in a resolute, strategic manner. Furthermore, we will continue to take on challenges in India, where we have already started to roll out facilities. Middle-class incomes are increasing in India, and in 10 years India is expected to have the world’s third largest economy, after China and the U.S. As a market with considerable growth potential, we will implement initiatives with a focus on the future.
Would you discuss the activities at other companies?
Hagiwara: Each of the Unit’s business companies has its own individual character. For example, Asakusa Hanayashiki, which is operated by Hanayashiki Co., Ltd., has built a brand as the oldest amusement park in Japan. We recently opened Asakusa Kagekijo, a multipurpose hall, at Asakusa Hanayashiki. At this facility, in addition to Hanayashiki Professional Wrestling, which has been in operation for many years, we will offer events and performances, such as HANA FURISODE NO MAI. In this way, we will take on the challenge of new initiatives while valuing the brand image cultivated by each company, and we will aim for growth and evolution for the entire Unit.
What are your policies toward work?
Hagiwara: I strive to talk to employees as individuals, rather than as members of a particular organizational unit or people in a certain position. Including partner employees and part-time workers, the Unit has a total of more than 6,000 employees. For customers, however, an employee’s unit or position does not matter. I have stressed that I want all of our staff members to share the same goal of delighting customers, and to work together on that basis. No matter how much progress is made by digitalization, the importance of the value created through human interaction will never change. In work related to amusement facilities, including amusement machines, it goes without saying that the content that we provide is important. In addition, we will also continue working to address the needs of customers while emphasizing the added value created by human interaction.
This article is an extract from the Newsletter, BANDAI NAMCO News, which was published in September 2019 and partially re-edited.