NewsHiroyuki Kobayashi & Yosuke Saito (Square Enix)




Hiroyuki Kobayashi & Game Producers Interview Part 1

Hiroyuki Kobayashi, producer who has worked on many hit titles and is currently the president of GPTRACK50. Kobayashi and creators active on the front lines of the game industry discuss “game development from the producer’s point of view” in a new series of articles. The first interview features Yosuke Saito from Square Enix, who discusses the joys and challenges of game development.”

Hiroyuki Kobayashi
President, GPTRACK50
He has been involved in numerous popular series such as “Resident Evil” at Capcom. In 2022, he founded the game studio “GPTRACK50” and is currently in the process of developing a completely new title.

Yosuke Saito
Member of the Board, Executive Officer, and Executive Producer, Square Enix
As an Executive Officer and Executive Producer, he has worked on various popular titles such as “Dragon Quest X Online” and the “NieR” series.

Their relationship and producing style

Kobayashi: While we’ve been together at meetings and such, this is actually our first time having a conversation like this.

Saito: I’ve known about Kobayashi-san since his time at Capcom, of course. At Capcom, there weren’t too many producers who were prominently featured, but Kobayashi-san firmly delivered results and made his presence. So, even back then, he left the impression of being a capable producer. On the other hand, at our company, it was more common to appoint producers and then outsource the development to external companies. So, Kobayashi-san and I might indeed have quite different producing styles.

Kobayashi: The first game I was involved in at Capcom was “Resident Evil” for PlayStation, and at that time, as Saito-san said, we were mostly developing the game as an in-house team. However, since I became a producer, I have experienced the most minimalistic development situation, where all the staff other than myself and the director were outside staff. Both approaches have their challenges rather than one being easier than the other. Is there anything specific you pay attention to in team building?

Saito: When we were developing “Dragon Quest X Online,” it was the first time we primarily focused on team building within the company, and it was really tough. We had to pull in talented people from other departments, but it was a painstaking process to coordinate them.

Kobayashi: How did you gather people at that time?

Saito: At that time, there was a gathering called “Job Category Association” for engineers, artists, and game designers who worked on each title, such as “Final Fantasy” and “Kingdom Hearts”. I showed up there and said, “We are going to create “Dragon Quest X Online” from now on. Would you be willing to send someone from your department to help us?” and made requests like that. That was where we started.

Kobayashi: It is not as if you can just call out and get people from every position right away.

Saito: We gathered people from various departments internally and also brought in experts from each field externally. That’s how we managed to somehow shape things into one cohesive team. It took a long time anyway because we talked to each one of them individually. How many people are currently working at GPTRACK50?

Kobayashi: We have a policy of limiting the number of core members within the company to about 20 people, and we rely on the cooperation of outside companies that have the skills to help us carry out the work. In my previous job, I once led a team of over 200 people, but I’m not considering replicating that in the current environment. When the team becomes too large, it’s inevitable that individual faces become less visible, and in reality, it tends to be around 10 people with whom I actually meet and work closely. But that would be kind of sad, even though we are making a game with the same team. Because of these experiences, I decided that if I were to start a new company, it would be on a smaller scale. I wanted to create an environment where all team members could see each other’s faces, talk easily, and exchange opinions. That’s why I’m currently maintaining the current scale.

Producer’s duties and stance

――The roles of producers can vary greatly from person to person, I believe. How do both of you approach your work?

Kobayashi: In my case, I don’t start a project just by myself and say, “Everyone follow me!” I try not to do things like that. I always make sure to appoint a director who will always move forward with me, and we establish a framework together through discussions to drive the project forward. I believe that by prioritizing what the director wants to do over what I want to do, we can stimulate their desire to create, which in turn can lead us in a better direction. My role is to steer while adjusting the direction towards the optimal path.
The biggest challenge for a producer is “recouping the investment,” above all else. It is natural that I have to guide the team to ensure that it generates profit. I would not say “I want to make tons of money!”, but I often say, “Let’s make sure at least we can recoup the investment.” However, it would be meaningless if we put too much priority on it and end up making something boring. I try to think in the order of how to create a work that users will enjoy, and then how to recoup the investment on top of that.

――Saito-san, what do you think of the roles and differences between the tasks of a producer and a director?

Saito: Everyone interprets things differently, so this is just my personal view, but I believe that the director is responsible for the game as a “work of art” and the producer is responsible for the game as a “product”. The “game as a work of art” here means a game in which the entire development team works together and pours their heart and soul to make it more interesting, and I believe that the director is responsible for the efforts of the entire staff. On the other hand, as Kobayashi-san also mentioned, the producer’s role is to consider the game as a commercial product, sell it, and maximize profits, and take responsibility for these aspects.

Kobayashi: So, it’s about the director managing the creative aspects while the producer handles the sales aspects, with each being responsible in their respective roles.

Saito: That is correct. People often misunderstand that the producer is above the director, but it is just the order in which information is conveyed, and there is no hierarchy based on position. However, it gets a bit complicated here. Just because someone is a director doesn’t mean they should treat the game as art and approach the development process as if it were an artistic endeavor. Ultimately, if we’re going to release it as a product, then about 30% of the passion invested should also be directed towards considering sales figures. On the flip side, producers shouldn’t just have the mindset of “as long as it’s profitable.” If they’re going to take responsibility, they need to thoroughly understand the information about the game as well. Otherwise, as Kobayashi-san mentioned, without doing so, we won’t be able to steer the project in the right direction. While delegating creative aspects to the director, it’s also crucial for producers to be prepared to confidently guide the team when members come seeking direction with questions like “What should we do here?”

Information about titles in preparation
Deep dive into project progress

――We would like to hear about the progress of your ongoing projects to the extent that it can be made public.

Saito: We haven’t made any official announcements, but in areas where people might be interested, I have been discussing with YOKO TARO-san (*1) and Keiichi Okabe-san (*2), saying, “We want to do something new.” In the not-too-distant future, I think we’ll be able to share some more concrete details, so please look forward to it. It might be “NieR,” or it might not be “NieR” (laughs). I guess that’s all I can say at this point.

Kobayashi: Oh, that sounds exciting!

Saito: Also, there’s one more thing. While I’m not directly producing it myself, I would like to continue to take on new challenges, and there is another project that is being worked on by a different team than the one I mentioned earlier. Since we’re doing it anyway, I want to create something that hasn’t been seen before in the world… That’s the feeling I have, so I’m trying various things. I can’t devote all my time to it, so I leave it almost entirely to the staff, but I think it’s turning out to be quite interesting. I’m looking forward to the day when we can announce it.

――What is your situation, Kobayashi-san?

Kobayashi: We’re making good progress on the action RPG, but the development environment for GPTRACK50 is still evolving. Due to the small team size, we often hit roadblocks like “How should we develop this?” or “Is there an external company we can entrust with this task?”. We are really making progress little by little, solving each problem one by one. Just when I thought things were going smoothly, we hit a snag over something minor. Each time, we find a solution and share it with the whole team… It’s a process of constantly repeating this.

Saito: I see. It is even more challenging when you consider managing a company in addition to producing.

Kobayashi: I also mentioned earlier that we would like to keep the core members to a small number, but if we add outside staff, the project itself is likely to develop on a scale of more than 100 people. Moreover, the number of NetEase members cooperating with us is increasing, so the scale of the project is shifting from our initial idea, but the development environment itself is slowly but surely being put in place.

Saito: Will it be playable in the next year or so?

Kobayashi: No, no, I can’t say anything (laughs).

Abilities required of producers

――In today’s era, what skills do you think are required of producers?

Saito: It’s difficult, but I think decisiveness is crucial. I think a person who can clearly say, “Let’s go with this,” when faced with a decision, is suited to be a producer.

──Even if you didn’t know at the time if the decision you made was really the right one?

Saito: If a producer responds with ‘I’m not sure…’ when asked for an opinion, they might end up dragging the team in a negative direction by continually wavering and considering various possibilities. You need to be able to muster the courage to make decisions when necessary. In today’s challenging game industry, you won’t survive otherwise.

Kobayashi: “I myself started my career by working directly on game development in the field. Even after I became a producer, whenever I needed knowledge about sales or promotion, I asked for lessons from people in various departments, and continued to learn relentlessly while focusing on producing. But nowadays, it seems like even as a producer, there’s more demand for people who specialize in specific skills rather than being all-arounders. In any field, including the game industry, even if you’ve gained experience and know-how, some people may struggle to succeed in producing. In such cases, it’s important to reassess oneself and focus on developing skills where you believe “I won’t be surpassed by anyone else.” This can be a crucial starting point for success as a producer.

(*1) YOKO TARO : President of BUKKORO. He has served as director for titles such as “Drakengard” and the “NieR” series.

(*2) Keiichi Okabe: President of MONACA, a creative studio engaged in music production. He is the composer for the “NieR” series.