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Midlife Gamer Meets: John Greiner

June 14th, 2010 by

Former CEO and president of Hudson Entertainment and industry stalwart of 20 years, John Greiner, recently announced his new studio MonkeyPaw Games – intent on delivering “real Japanese games to the Western market”. Once tasked with the launch of the TurboGrafx-16 / PC-Engine in the States, and bringing over classic titles such as Military Madness and Bomberman, John is adamant that there are an abundance of quality games that never made it to Western shores, something he wishes to put right in the near future.

We spoke to John about his involvement in founding MonkeyPaw, what he hopes to achieve with the formation, discuss the divide between Western and Eastern markets and look ahead toward the future of retail.

Richard Birkett: First of all, could you introduce yourself to the readers of Midlife Gamer, who are you and what do you do?

John Greiner: I’ve been in the game business about 22 years now. After graduating from college, I travelled the world in search of adventure- I never quite made it home. Instead, my travels took me to Japan, where luck would introduce me to the founder of Hudson Soft in Sapporo, Japan. We quickly hit it off, and I spent the next 20 years working for him in various roles. I was the only foreigner in management and so handled every aspect of spreading Hudson’s games across the globe.

RB: The second question we always ask is very important to us here at MLG; what is your favourite beverage and biscuit of choice (or cookie- for non-UK residents)?

JG: Favourite beverage would be..ale- an Anchor Steam from San Francisco comes to mind first. The cookie question is a bit trickier [although] since living in Japan doesn’t offer a lot of sweet treats or biscuits, I’ll have to go with a local speciality- fermented squid guts. Just like Mama used to make.

RB: So you’ve recently just established your own company, MonkeyPaw Games, was there a particular reason why you felt now was the right time to move back into the games industry?

JG: Two words describe the opportunity: digital download. It’s been a long time since the game business offered consumers such a value proposition. Digital downloads are the future of how we’ll get our games. At this stage, there’s an opportunity to put game play over graphics. A lot of gamers don’t have 60 hours and $60 to dish out on a game, but still, we want the game play. So now, for the same $60, you can get 6 games and never have to leave your living room.

RB: What were your reasons for leaving Hudson? Do you have any particular highlights or lowlights from working with the group?

JG: Leaving Hudson was purely timing. The company had been my home for over 20 years, I worked with an incredible group of clever, playful and eccentric people. Hudson was like a 500-person family, all under the roof of the Kudo brothers. The company was unique in that they had middle-ware, hardware and software divisions. That gave them a unique position in the industry and sparked innovations, such as the PC Engine (TurboGrafx-16 in the US) game system and the first CD-ROM game platform.

But success breeds suitors and the company was eventually bought by Konami. The founders left the company, and the culture shifted toward a more corporate atmosphere- all very good for the company, but it was also a time of change for me.

The highlight was the opportunity in itself. It is unusual to work in a foreign company in such close proximity to top management. I learned a great deal from an Eastern perspective that’s helped in both life and business. There really weren’t any lowlights, people who know me know my first rule, “No Bitching!”. But really, there wasn’t anything to bitch about, just a great overall experience.

RB: Could you tell us a little about what you hope MonkeyPaw can achieve? What makes it different, and why should gamers be excited?

JG: As you know, we are very passionate about games, especially Japanese games. Japan seems to have been left in the dust as the industry has moved toward more intense graphics, bigger brands and a [focus] on violence- these are not Japanese fortes. Japan’s culture lends itself toward a more eccentric or quirky level of content creation. Sometimes their meaning is lost on foreign audiences, but a growing percentage of users have come to see the beauty in the layers of perfection that their art form inspires.

MonkeyPaw would like to form a community of gamers, those that know and want the best of what they can’t get from Japan. We want to provide not only great games, but also a virtual meeting place of like-minded users so that we can interact and react to those desires. We’d like to be the name that people associate with Japanese games.

RB: Any hints on what gamers can expect to see from you coming out of E3?

JG: We’ll certainly have an announcement around E3 that will give you a good example of the games we’re bringing to market. I think anyone with a fair understanding of East/West games will understand completely.

RB: Focusing on “real Japanese games” for the Western market must be a tricky strategy in some instances. Do you find much disparity between the tastes of East and West or do you see this gap closing as the industry moves forward?

JG: That’s a great question. Our strategy in picking games has a number of criteria but one of the highest is the “weirdness” factor- the weirder the better! We’ll bring some games over as-is [since] in some games, any attempt to translate ruins the flavour that the creators were attempting to achieve. We feel our customers are willing to experiment with the natural state of the game and we’re going to be available and responsive to help users navigate their way through.

In other games, we’ll take an original Japanese concept and create an expanded canvas so that a core mechanic can be enjoyed at today’s levels of intensity and graphics. Our audience will not be the masses, but rather a select group of “Japanophiles” that can appreciate the delicacies that the culture has to offer.

RB: How big is the market that you wish to tap into over here in the West? Is there a real appetite for these classic Japanese games?

JG: We know there is a strong following for all things Japanese. We think that our core market is roughly 500,000 in size and very dedicated. We hope that by bringing more games, we’ll continue to expand the market to include another half a million of very interested customers. We’ll be much different than a lot of the usual Japanese companies in our space. We understand what Western gamers want from Japanese games. We won’t force really hardcore animé down people’s throats, we’re more interested in bringing games that compliment Japanese uniqueness with Western tastes.

RB: In terms of your role as a publisher, are you looking to deliver all your games on the downloadable market or do your see viability in producing boxed titles? Are we heading to an all digital future or will retail always have its place?

JG: Retail will always have a place although I think we have already entered the digital age. When was the last time you bought a CD? In five year’s time, we’ll be asking the same question about games. Yes, some people like the look and collectability of a boxed product, but most gamers just want the game.

MonkeyPaw Games can be found online at www.monkeypawgames.com.

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