You can learn a lot about Yoshiki Okamoto by looking at his business card.
The former Capcom executive producer (pictured above right), who had a hand in the creation of Street Fighter 2, Resident Evil and many others, recently visited San Francisco on a press tour for the mobile game Monster Strike. The game fuses the mechanics of pool, pinball, Pokémon and others into an app that has exploded in popularity in Japan. It's been downloaded more than 15 million times and is constantly fighting with Puzzle & Dragons for the top slot on mobile charts.
For Okamoto, it's a redemption story.
After overseeing most of Capcom's games in the '90s and early 2000s, he founded one of the industry's largest independent game studios, Game Republic, which struggled with making console game economics work and went out of business. Okamoto took the brunt of this failure, shutting down his blog and initially staying out of the public eye.
So, it's with a mix of modesty and humor that the title on his business card reads "junior planner," the equivalent of a junior game designer in the U.S. It's a title usually given to someone fresh out of college, rather than someone who's been around for 20+ years and run a company with hundreds of employees.
Okamoto says that's the point. "It's a position that I gave myself because I knew I hit rock bottom and I basically had to start all over again," he says.
Just below his job title, the business card also reveals a new company name: Deluxe Games Inc.
Okamoto says that in the wake of Game Republic, he wanted to try a different business model, where rather than employing hundreds of employees on an ongoing basis, he would take inspiration from Hollywood.
"I learned from my past and how things were at my previous company, where I carried so many people — so many bodies and headcount," he says. "So the concept of the company is that it works more like what they do in Hollywood. You have a producing company that works with various companies that come together for a specific project."
His first attempt at this was through a company called 394, where he helped design a mobile game called Dragon Hunter that ran on the Mixi social network service in Japan. It was a modest success, but for Okamoto one of its biggest achievements was that it introduced him to Koki Kimura (pictured above left), a Mixi employee who handled the Dragon Hunter account.
Kimura, it turned out, was looking to create Mixi's fist internally-developed game, and was a fan of Okamoto's from growing up as a fan of Street Fighter. So after getting to know Okamoto on Dragon Hunter, Kimura reached out in February 2013 asking Okamoto to work on a new project, which would become Monster Strike.
Kimura, coming from a social networking background, had three goals for the project. It needed simple controls, real-time co-op rather than asynchronous play and a competitive atmosphere. He says he gave these directives to Okamoto, who came back with the Monster Strike concept, and the team grew from there.
By November 2013, the game was out in Japan.
All told, between Mixi staff and contracting companies like Deluxe Games, Kimura says approximately 160 people have worked together to develop, market and support the game — a substantial number, many of which have worked on creating daily in-game events and regular online video shows to promote the game. But Okamoto says only nine of those 160 work for Deluxe Games, allowing him to keep costs in line. And in fact, 394 is also still around, having evolved and working on programming for the game, with both companies working within Mixi's office space.
For Okamoto, that the game has been successful enough to support a team of this size is what makes him happiest. "It's quite emotional," he says. "It's very deep for me. If this opportunity didn't come around, if I didn't grab this chance — which I kind of saw as my last chance — I would today probably be in the fields planting rice. That could have been me."
A few weeks ago, Monster Strike made its debut in North America on iOS and Android. It's too early to tell if the game will be a success worldwide, but it's already a success for Okamoto, who recently started a new Twitter account to replace the blog he shut down in 2011.
And, he jokes, if he continues to make another mobile game with Mixi down the line, he'll form a new company to help produce it. "Deluxe Games 2: Champion Edition," he says.