Indie Interview: Asian Magic With CIRCLE Entertainment

Chilia, the mascot of Circle.
Chilia, the mascot of Circle.

It is pretty hard to not know who CIRCLE Entertainment is. In the past few years they have developed and published many games for both the Nintendo 3DS eShop and the DSi Ware. But that’s just part of their story, which is actually a much larger scale movement in the indie scene.

As one of the first Chinese console game publishers on the market, they didn’t just bring games from Asia to the Western market: they also give the chance for indie developers to bring their games to the Eastern market. Games like Gunman Clive 2, Armillo, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams and Knytt Underground are just some examples of games that were brought to Japan by CIRCLE Entertainment, making them the only company bringing North American eShop games to Japan.

If you don’t know what games they did or released on the Western market, some of their projects latest releases includes Adventure Bar Story, Kami, The Legend of Dark Witch, Fairune and Quell Memento.

As one of the most active indie supporters of the Nintendo eShop, we got our chance to interview the Shanghai studio behind many titles on the Nintendo’s digital store. With us here is Chris Chau, the SEO of CIRCLE Entertainment, which gladly answered our questions via email.

NE: Thanks for taking your time for this interview. I will start asking about you: what is CIRCLE Entertainment.?

Chris Chau: Thanks Eric, CIRCLE is a circle, when we create our company, its a small circle with 3 persons. We want to put fun into our circle, and expanding this circle to let more people who can join us.

NE: You have almost reached nine years in the market, which is quite impressive. Did you have a hard start back in 2006?

Chris Chau: When we created the company in 2006, we ere very young. We just wanted to focus on how to create our own games. But Hong Kong has a limited amount of people to hire, and also we were lacking others resource such as publisher network and funds.

The Castle Conqueror series already feature six games and a remake.

NE: How was your experience when you started doing games for the Nintendo DSi?

Chris Chau: Well, in 2006, there has no concept called “Indie”, Casual games started being popular because iPhone released.

After that, DSiware came out, we put some simple games on Japan DSi Store, and got great marketing feedback.
And then we want to develop a casual game with more complicate gameplay, the market already changed, and many games with complicate gameplay already came to the DSi store.

And then we want to try something different, but the 3DS was just released, and DSi ware was fading out.

It seems we want to capture something more advanced on the market, but our timing was always incorrect.

That experience taught us that when making games we must consider market changes/timing, because games can become outdated in just a year.

NE: Did the 3DS, with the Nintendo eShop, offer new possibilities?

Chris Chau: Yes, the 3DS eShop offered a lot of convenience to players, this place allows for both casual games and retail games readily available for download.
You know, retail game always have to consider  package cost, but for eShop, its really good to use the savings from not having packaging to reduct the game price.

NE: I read before you are a really ambitious company, even considering the small amount of employees. In the process of making a new game, how do you aim in order to make them?

Chris Chau: A new company without IPs, networks and resources takes a lot of time to build anything.
Therefore we need to have a big vision first, and then focus on a particular part then make it to be professional.
As long as we are working, this is what we need to be professional.

Urban Trial Freestyle recently reached 100K downloads after being released 15 months ago.
Urban Trial Freestyle recently reached 100K downloads after being released 15 months ago on Japan.

NE: When dp you consider a game successful after being released? And what makes you want to develop more games?

Chris Chau: Actually we shrunk our development team, and moved more to the publishing area.
Clearly, if a game successful released, it means the developer has being identify with players, they would love to make more games and we can’t stop it. 🙂

NE: You are well known for localizing Japanese games in the West, but you also give the chance to western indie developers to publish their games on Japan. What made you decide to be a world-wide publisher?

Chris Chau: I think this is a marketing requirement for regional restriction. At the first, some developers contacted us that they seeking help for Eastern publishing, and then it was natural we became a helper to bring their games to Eastern market.

However, some Eastern developers noticed we have released a lot of excellent games to a global market, and they would like to working for Western publishing.

NE: So far you have only developed DSi Ware and 3DS eShop games (in terms of Nintendo’s consoles), but have published Wii U games before in Japan. Are you planning to develop Wii U games in the future?

Chris Chau: I have to say, personally I am quite interested with the WiiU. The WiiU is a match for Indies.
Unfortunately, the Japanese WiiU market is not impressive, which made us focus on our current direction.
But for an excellent WiiU title, we still want to give it a shot.

NE: One of your 2015 goals is to donate 1% of your yearly profits to support charities. Can you tell us a little more about this?

Chris Chau: We are not targeting Red-Cross or anything charity foundation with commission system. Personally, I can’t accept their commission system in China.

In our city, we have a Christian church. A lot of despairing family  seeking help from the church, the biggest reason is one of their family members has an illness . And sad to say, most are children.

Members of church united everyone to help those families, and donated resource including money to help them pay hospital bills.

Sometimes its a huge amount because a child may need some surgeries for cure, otherwise their life possibly will end before 10, probably much younger. We thought this is reality and it can be hard, and instead of just donating resources anywhere, we prefer to helping a sick child face by face.

1% is what we want to try, maybe the future we will adjust the amount to be more.

NE: You also aim to use 10% of your yearly profit to help indie projects. Can you also tell us a little more about this?

Chris Chau: We have provided a minimum guarantee/development fee to smaller developers. Those capitals can help boost their development work. But we want to set an amount for this year, which will give us a range that we can work effectively. A little more capitals means alot for smaller developers.

Fairune 2 has been confirmed to be in development.
Fairune 2 has been confirmed to be in development.

NE: Another of your goals was to publish over 30 games on Nintendo’s systems world-wide. Can you tell us a little about them?

Chris Chau: For right now we have 10 developers working with us, some games you already know, some making a sequel or new titles. We think 30 are a decent number.

NE: One of the 3DS’ recent features was the inclusion of Home themes, which can be also used to promote a game or even incentivate to buy one (for example, offering a theme with the game). Are you interested to release Home Themes on the West?

Chris Chau: Yes, we have a few in the works, and plan to released in Western Markets. So far, Japan eShop has already released a few.

NE: As a way to end this interview, is there something you want to say to your followers?

Chris Chau: Everyone who trusted us or supported us, although we are not perfect,  we will be better in future. Our goal is to create more excellent games for everyone. And we will definitely support Nintendo platforms, indies and charity without hesitation.

Be sure to follow CIRCLE Entertainment on Twitter and Facebook to keep up to date with their content. As always, stick with Nintendo Enthusiast for all your comprehensive indie coverage as well.

Eric Weichhart
When it comes to gaming, I don't choose a side nor the budget, but how much fun I will get from playing.