Translation: An Interview with Keiko Erikawa, the Pioneer of Games Marketed Toward Women

Keiko Erikawa

Keiko Erikawa has one of the longest careers in video gaming, having been around since its early inception and is still active today. She’s done many, many interviews, but I thought this one by Famitsu done on June 29th of 2015 asking about the Angelique series and her neologistic Neo Romance genre, which many overseas gamers are not aware of, would be of most interest. So brew up whatever drink you prefer, settle down in your favorite sitting device and learn how one of gaming’s pioneers pretty much single-handedly created the otome genre of romance games about pretty guys marketed toward women, as I translate the Famitsu interview in its entirety below.

An Interview with Keiko Erikawa, the Pioneer of Games Marketed Toward Women, Is There Going to Be “Surprising Announcement” Sometime This Year!?

Last year Koei Tecmo Games’ “Neo Romance” brand faced its 20th anniversary. We had Keiko Erikawa talk to us about the path from the birth of its first game Angelique to today and the future developments of Neo Romance.

Talking about the trails that lead to cultivating a new genre and the development from here on

Angelique, Harukanaru Toki no Naka De (Amidst Faraway Times), La Corda D’oro … … the series of women-marketed games that Koei prides itself on is called Neo Romance. The Ruby Party, or the development team where the female staff of the same company gather, has worked on these games and they’ve been known, with their high quality and media mix features, for capturing the hearts of many fans and developing from there. In September of 2014, it faced its 20th anniversary.

Games marketed toward women didn’t exist 20 years ago. What kind of work and struggles were there in creating a new genre and continuing to work in it? On top of that, what kind of new development are they thinking of from now on? We asked Ms. Keiko Erikawa of Koei Tecmo Games.

*This interview was published in the 2015 June 25th edition (on sale June 11th) of Weekly Famitsu Magazine.

Koei Tecmo Games CEO and Honorary President Keiko Erikawa

A business woman who supported Koei Tecmo Games and it’s predecessor Koei from the time they were founded. The woman who gave birth to New Romance and started up the Ruby Party development team at Koei Tecmo games. Currently, while she is involved in management on one side, she’s also deeply taking part in game making.

She Had Held onto the Concept of Games Marketed Toward from 30 Years Ago

――Congratulations on 20 years of Neo Romance. Today I think I’d like to inquire about all sorts of stories to you, Ms. Erikawa, as someone who was able to see the birth of games marketed toward women from then until today. To begin, please tell us what you think the impetus was to create the first Neo Romance, Angelique, around 20 years ago.

Keiko Erikawa (below, Erikawa)  Angelique went on sale in September of 1994, but the impetus was well before that. It was over 30 years ago that I developed The Investment Game and Combat together with Erikawa (Yoichi, also CEO and Honorary President of Koei Tecmo Games), but at that time all the customers were men.

Games were seen through men’s eyes. That’s when I came to think, “I’d like to create games marketed toward women” for women.

――Well before Angeliqe went on sale, you had the plans in mind for games targeting women then.

Erikawa Yes. At that time, in the development offices, there was only one woman, so I thought first we’ve got to hire more women. So then around the time right after we had released Nobunaga’s Ambition in 1983, we began looking for female developers. At the time there were only a few women who who were learning programing in the sciences, so we hired women from the humanities. Of course, we left up the scenarios to women.

――So you’re saying 10 years past since you started hiring women to the time that Angelique was finished?

Erikawa It took some time for the female staff to get used to making games. Because at the time it was common place for everyone you hired to have never developed a game before. So it took quite some time from the place where we started hiring women to the time when we could start up the Ruby Party development team.

――Certainly just because you’ve hired women doesn’t mean you can expect them to immediately take on the development of an unknown genre. As you continued to feel your way along, how did you come to develop Angelique?

Erikawa At first I thought if we’re going to make a game marketed toward women, we’d better put our whole weight into making it for women. The protagonist had to be a cute girl and her clothes had to be red. The interiors should be girly and pink. I myself actually don’t really like pink, but my daughter absolutely loved it. Then, because we wanted to have all sorts of lovely men appear in the game, we set the theme as Greek myth and created male characters with a ton of individuality. But it wasn’t much of a game. It had become something that wasn’t very fun if you looked at it as a game. (laughs)

――And why was that?

Erikawa Even though we were finished with the scenario, it wasn’t a romance game. We had done a weak job of creating gameplay where you achieved goals and compete. From there on it was time for Erikawa the game-making pro to make her entrance. I had them decide on a game system, and Angeliqe became a game where you could enjoy romance by competing with your rivals while you gained the cooperation of the guardian saints.

――What kind of reaction was there to Angelique when it went on sale back then?

Erikawa  Because as a game, there had been nothing like it before, it’s not like it sold like gangbusters. But from all around us, the praise was amazing. Saying, “There’s finally a game for women!” we were taken up by all sorts of media. “This is a great job you’ve done here for us,” we received a lot of letters from female users like that. I was glad we had piqued the interest of a lot of people. Except, like I said before, it didn’t become a big hit like the stuff for guys. But because I had understood it would be that way, that’s why I thought it should have a media mix from the very beginning.

――Before you even released the game?

Erikawa Yes. I thought that we couldn’t express everything in this setting we had gone through so much work to create in just a game. We released a drama CD around the same time that the game went on sale. Moreover, we thought around that period that we wanted to do anime and events too.

――You had thought to awaken female users to the new genre for them by preparing all sorts of content.

Erikawa That’s right, even if just a little of them were there, I wanted all of the female players to have fun. Within the company, there were opinions like, “The market is small and therefore even if we created games marketed toward women, they wouldn’t sell,” but I thought, “There is a market.” I’m glad that I kept holding on to that thought till it got through.

A Storm of Controversy From Fans in the First Held Event

――Speaking of the media mix in Neo Romance games, the events with the voice actors holds a special impression.

Erikawa The first event we held was in 1995. It was at a hall in Roppongi called Velfarre and was graciously sponsored by NEC. It was pretty nuts on the day of the event.  Customers were lined up in looooooong lines and even the police had to come.

――It was a time when even the management of such events was something you were feeling out.

Erikawa We thought of doing all sorts of things for the content of the event, but decided on a good atmosphere of combining ballet and music. The opinions from customers were split.  Some said, “It was totally great!” Others said, “This is totally different from what I expected!” The latter thought that it was different from the hardened image they of Angelique they had developed in their minds. So then our staff got scared away. They said, “There’s so many opinions against it, let’s not do another event.”

――What, they said to just limit it to one event?

Erikawa  There were some who said, “I want to do another event,” and even though it might need a little brushing up, it was said that “the customers will get angry with us.” Nobody would address a plan and I pushed it forward with an order from the top. I thought it’s quite difficult to create content marketed toward women when there’s no previous example.

――However, with you as the pioneer of Neo Romance, there has been a great deal of events with the voice actors until now.

Erikawa At the time, nobody had ever heard of the idea of doing a media mix among other game makers. The troubles of that time spur our liveliness now, I think.

Female Game Developers Increase from the Opportunities Brought by Neo Romance

――It’s been 20 years since you started up Neo Romance games, but how do you think the situation of female users changed since then?

Erikawa  Now with consoles and smart phone games, there’s lots of games aimed toward women and we have made a place for women to enjoy games. To the same extent, the way we look at games for women has improved, I think. The hurdle for male voice actors has risen and I think it’s rather tough for the voice actors.

――Because it’s an age where they’re expected to have presentation skills, sing and perform.

Erikawa It really is tough! But when I see voice actors splendidly rise to my expectations, I feel like I’ve seen the possibilities of voice actors in a whole new way.

――From the perspective of a creator, how has the situation for women changed?

Erikawa It’s really changed for female creators. Perhaps it’s best to say it has the feel of a generational leap? There are many people for whom Neo Romance was the impetus for them to enter engineering departments and many who aimed to enter the industry because they liked Angelique, and they come to try out for our entry tests. It’s a story that makes me grateful.

――You’re saying that Neo Romance became a motivating factor for women developers in the gaming industry to increase.

Erikawa Yes, it’s quite a happy thing.

――Ms. Erikawa, you’ve said for a while, that you “want to support women in their progress in wider society,” did you mean that among the backdrop of making games marketed toward women, you wanted to urge the hiring of women?

Erikawa  That’s true. Among the world, when it comes to how much women are venturing out into wider society, Japan is one of the countries that is very late. If women work well with men in their jobs, 1+1 can become not just 2, but 3. There are a lot of Japanese women who hesitate a lot, and there some men who aren’t good at working under women, but if women contribute more to society, it can become a nice society. I do want to create more managerial roles for women in our company. I want the women reading this article to be active, whether they’re doing jobs or raising children. In order to do that, I want them to learn more about their bodies and think hard about how they want to live their lives. I’ll be supporting them.

Aiming For Even More Accomplishments At the Crossroads of 20 Years

――From here on out, I’d like to ask more about Neo Romance games in the future. After facing a 20 year anniversary, what do you think you’d like to challenge yourself on in terms of plans from now on?

Erikawa Not long ago, we held an orchestral concert to commemorate the 20 year anniversary. We prepared videos related to the titles, called the voice actors and meticulously prepared every part and the reception was absolutely amazing.  I thought these events really have been accepted. From now on, at the crossroads of 20 years, I’d like to open up a new avenue for events and hold those. I want to try plans like traveling around the holy places in La Corda D’oro or Harukanaru Toki no Naka De (Amidst Far Away Times) where you can have a real experience. I want to create content that both men and women can enjoy.

――You’ve been planning Angelique Retour as a 20th Anniversary title, tell us about what this is.

Erikawa It’s a remake of the first Angelique. I’ve been creating it, thinking I want to fly to ever greater heights without betraying the setting.

――It looks like there are characters who didn’t appear in Angelique.

Erikawa Please look forward to it, because I want people who are touching Angelique for the first time and those who have long enjoyed it to have fun.

――Other than Angelique Retour, there are some expecting a new Neo Romance title, thinking it’s about time, how about it?

Erikawa I want to create new IPs. Because our company’s mission is to always keep creating new things. We’re continuing our plans for it, but because we’re trying all sorts of things, it will take 2 or 3 years. Even though it only takes other makers about a year to create them.

――But I think it’s because you put that amount of effort in making them well that the Neo Romance series has continued for 20 years.

Erikawa Thank you. There truly is so much I want to create. But because there is a limit to how many employees we have, I can’t do it all at once. Of course, I’d like to develop Angelique and comparatively new IPs like FabStyle and Geten no Hana (Flowers Under Heaven).

――It looks like there’s various plans in progress, so we’ll look forward to it. What is it that you want to especially pour your strength into?

Erikawa For me, it’s the progress of Geten no Hana (Flowers Under Heaven). I’ve been thinking I definitely want to do this. Then next, a new collaboration. I think I might be able to guide us to some projects that will surprise everyone. Please do look forward to them.

Erikawa is always interesting to listen to. As one of the people who’s been around since the dawn of the gaming industry, there’s a lot more she’s been involved in and has had an important role in, but those interviews will have to come at a later date.

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