Earlier this week, Kobojo announced that its Western made JRPG Zodiac: Orcanon Odyssey will no longer be released as a free-to-play format mobile game.
Instead, Kobojo intends to release it as a one-time purchase premium title in North America and Europe.
In an exclusive comment to CGM, Mario Rizzo, CEO at Kobojo had this to say about the rationale behind this drastic shift:
“The reception we got from GDC and E3 was great, but a lot of the feedback we received were requests to make the game a premium title – just like the classic JRPGs of the 1990s and 2000s that we’d all go out and buy at the store for an up-front price, rather than with microtransactions. This feedback was a big part of our decision. For me, the focus of Zodiac was always to return to delivering the highest quality JRPG's we grew up playing, with iconic characters and an original Nojima-san story. The business model for Zodiac was intended to serve the game and once I saw free-to-play was not going to work well with our target audience, we made the switch.
As for the post-launch content updates, we’ll be talking more about them in the near future - but they are definitely coming. Like we discussed at E3, we have Nojima-san on a rolling contract to help us continue to write additional content post-launch, to flesh out the characters and world with more quests and more story.
The shift doesn’t really affect the rest of the game at all – our content development team has been focused on adding and polishing characters, combat, quests and loot nonstop and the change hasn’t affected their schedules one bit. If anything, focussing on the story / content of Zodiac is much easier for the team to develop technically, as opposed to the complicated micro-transaction and tracking systems we would need to develop and build for an online free-to-play Zodiac.”
Zodiac, a major passion project of Kobojo, is the first Western made JRPG, which combines the talents of veterans of the genre, Kazushige Nojima (writer of Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy X) and Hitoshi Sakimoto (composer of Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy XII), and former Studio Ghibli artists. This stunning hand-drawn game that is reminiscent of influences from Dragon’s Crown, and Final Fantasy, features an extensive world to explore, action-packed battles, weapon and armour crafting, and on the fly, in-battle job changing system. It is set to be released later this year first for iOs and later for Sony and PC platforms. CGM had a look at Zodiac during E3. You can find out more here.
Throughout their whole process, Kobojo has been strict in keeping themselves in line with Japanese RPG development. The initial idea to release Zodiac as free-to-play simply followed the preferred Japanese business model. According to Rizzo, “premium games on mobile phones in Japan do not seem to do well at all, or so all of our partners tell us. The premium version of Zodiac is primarily targeted at Western JRPG fans and we'll likely need to make a serious adaptation of the game for the Japanese mobile audience. This is why the original target of the game was free-to-play on mobile devices, making it easier to launch and target the game for Japan. Once we had the final scenario from Nojima-san, it was clear that the game would be much more content heavy than we originally planned, and this is when we started to consider other platforms.”
This makes sense considering that there is still a bit of a stigma attached to most free-to-play games in North America. Gamers are reluctant to pay for a mobile download as a result. Releasing Zodiac as a premium game, coupled with the fact that it will also be available on PS Vita, should give the title a lot more prestige in the eyes of Western gamers. As it should, considering the high-level talent working on it. In the end, only time will tell if this is the right move at the right time.