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Atlus Acts as Smelling Salts for Sega

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By Nelson Schneider - 07/12/15 at 04:20 PM CT

Way back in 2013, Sammy, the parent company of Sega, purchased Index Digital Media, the parent company of Atlus, for $140 million. This merger of two generally half-assed Japanese game developers/publishers made me quite happy, as it gave the two the opportunity to merge their respective halves into a competent whole. Now, as if embodying the subtitle of the upcoming “South Park” RPG sequel, “The Fractured, But Whole,” Sega’s CEO, Naoki Satomi, has revealed that the company has indeed learned things from Atlus and will make another push into the console space after announcing their abandonment of consoles for smartphones not so long ago.

Apparently, Atlus taught Sega that creating quality games and releasing them when they are ready instead of when they are due is a great way to win new fans and keep existing fans happy. In my eyes, it looks like Atlus simply slapped Sega across the face with the not-so-secret revelation that smaller Japanese companies can’t get away with the same amounts of hubris and excess as the Big 3 Evil Western Developers.

This is a lesson that most other long-time Japanese devs/pubs have failed to learn (or remember, for those who learned it long ago). Producing quality games with reasonable budgets and expecting a reasonable number of sales can lead to significant profits. Much to the detriment of Japan’s game development reputation, companies such as Idea Factory have learned this and have been behaving accordingly since the start of the 7th Generation, with the creation of the offshoot company, Compile Heart. As a result, these low-budget upstarts have been flooding the market with consistent, profitable experiences while the one-time titans have struggled to produce anything meaningful in their quest to emulate Western PC development.

Idea Factory and Compile Heart may only make niche games that appeal to the terminal otaku, but it is impossible to argue against the fact that these games, despite how awful they appear to anyone outside of their target demographic, do sell enough copies to remain profitable and guarantee more and more sequels or similar products as time goes on. While so many once-great Japanese developers have been closing the doors of their Western branch offices, Idea Factory recently opened a Western branch to ensure that all (two) of their fans outside of Akihabara can keep track of everything the company is up to.

As the spiritual successor to Working Designs, Atlus stands astride the gap between core gamers and Idea Factory’s niche. While the company is really only known for developing the ‘Shin Megami Tensei’ and ‘Persona’ franchises (which are niche even among the niche that is turn-based RPGs), Atlus has served as the publisher for a wide variety of Japanese titles that would have otherwise remained locked away behind a barrier of Moonspeak. They have experience with the Western market that will benefit Sega in the long run.

I’m optimistic that Atlus’ simple (one might even say, OBVIOUS) business philosophies can lead Sega back to greatness. While the company may never produce hardware again, the fact that they have a renewed focus on quality instead of deadlines means that whatever hardware their games appear on can count those titles as a selling point instead of a point of ridicule. It would be fantastic if more Japanese gaming companies were willing and able to return to the common sense practices that built them instead of chasing the almighty Yen and the unsustainable Western “AAA” development model off a cliff.

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