Look for core values for the brand!
“Things we should keep” and “things we will need for the future” that have been identified by the cognitive interview
Capcom Co., Ltd.
Mr. Kazuyuki Takano,
Manager, R&D Service Planning section Consumer Games Production Division
Mr. Tsuyoshi Otani,
Producer, Department 1 Consumer Games Development Division 1
Resident Evil (Biohazard) is a game that originated in Japan and now has a 23-year history since the release of the first version of the series, and with an enthusiastic fan base throughout the world. Its “infectiousness” is widespread across the boundary of games, for example, Hollywood movies and Universal Studios attractions. It seems that the fact that they have been releasing sequels over a long period of time is also causing a sense of crisis concerning how to deal with new challenges appearing along with the change in environment and the change in users. Mr. Takano and Mr. Otani of Capcom Co., Ltd. (‘Capcom’ hereafter), who are dealing with this challenge front-on, say that they were able to obtain significant inspiration for the further development of the brand for the future thanks to a method called cognitive interview provided by INTAGE Inc. (‘INTAGE’ hereafter) and Access JP Inc. (‘AJP’ hereafter). We talked with Mr. Takano and Mr. Otani about that experience.
From left: Mr. Otani of Capcom, Mr. Takano of Capcom, and Mr. Kikuchi of AJP (research manager/moderator)
As it has been 20 years since the release of Biohazard 2, what are the current challenges?
Otani: Actually, I entered Capcom only last year. However, frankly I was surprised to find that Biohazard has been around for over 20 years as a brand and supported and loved by so many fans all over the world. On the other hand, I also thought that, for exactly the same reason, we must create a new group of fans if we, as Capcom, are serious about letting the Biohazard brand grow further in the next 20-year period.
I always feel a sense of crisis that, far from grow, the Biohazard brand might even diminish if we keep focusing on just existing fans. For that reason, it has been a challenge for me to clarify what kind of values we should deliver to the younger generation of game users who have never played Biohazard before and what should be the focus of attention for us to strive for.
When you try to enhance the value of the brand, it is possible that the culture which has been there for a long time could become a barrier for a new thing to happen, isn’t it?
Takano: In my opinion, a brand is one of those things that is renewed all the time; and, it is a kind of history of which users and creators are woven together through interaction. There are long-time fans who are proud of the brand as it has been. On the other hand, when you look at the market, the way marketing and promotion is being carried out has changed along with the change in users. Now, with respect to the Biohazard brand, I wonder how and to what extent it has been embracing such change. I feel sense of crisis here, too.
When you say that the users and the way marketing is being carried out have changed, what sort of things you are talking about?
Otani: When we were university students, in terms of how we spent our spare time, we went to see movies, played 9-pin bowling, and went to karaoke; or, stayed at home and watched TV or played computer games. That was all we had at that time, wasn’t it? But, nowadays entertainment has diversified, hasn’t it? Talking about computer games, there are all kinds of games starting from those you can play on Smartphones to online games where you can play with other players all over the world; and, you can watch movies and drama series via Netflix or Hulu, watch videos of the YouTuber you like via YouTube, tweet on Twitter, watch live-streaming video, make a community and exchange information using Line, so there is an endless list of things you can do. For this reason, competition has become extremely tight because our disposable time is limited. I feel that the views and values users have in relation to computer games have changed.
Takano: As I am a head of the technical department as well, in many cases, I feel the changes that are happening to users through what our competitors or business partners are doing. While it is very useful to see those examples where our competitor companies roll out their business in a speedy and technology-based data marketing driven manner, conversely, in case of Capcom, I think we could make a mistake if we try to understand the market from the perspective of existing users. I think the characteristics of Capcom brands lie in the fact that creators and users are both focused and they are really synchronized there. While it is good that the extent to which they resonate in harmony is large, on the other hand, there is a danger that we could make a mistake if we just look at the market from such a perspective. Therefore, while we maintain our stance of looking at the market from a broad perspective, we must be careful not to spoil the more focused parts either. In my view, that’s where our difficulty lies.
Just a moment ago, you said that, for you to find new fans, it is also necessary to look at younger generations. Does that mean the level of recognition among younger people has not been very high?
Otani: Although the word Biohazard itself is widely known, it is not known as “Biohazard game”. The thing is, when I speak to young people in their 20s, they say, “It’s a movie, isn’t it?” or in case of Osaka, “It’s the one in Universal Studio Japan, isn’t it?”, i.e. they don’t even know it is a computer game or they think it originated from a movie. The aim of the project this time is to find out what the core proposition of Biohazard is and where we should put our efforts and energy in relation to those groups of people whom we might not have been able to convince to play our computer games.
Originally you had persona for Biohazard, didn’t you? Do you think that has changed?
Takano: It is not that the persona has changed, but its variations have been multiplied. Biohazard can be broadly categorized into three stages. Whereas with Biohazard ① to ③, the element of survival horror is emphasized, with ④ to ⑥, element of action is emphasized. And, ⑦ is a return to the origins and similar to the initial sequel. We interacted with different kinds of users whenever there was a change of emphasis or change was made along with the development of the series. Therefore, the communication paths with the users have become increasingly multiplied. I think this project is about going back to our starting point, in view of such circumstances, to identify the core values of the Biohazard brand. Take soy sauce for example, whereas there was only one type of soy sauce in the old days, nowadays we have a wide variety of soy sauce such as a low-salt type, the one for side dishes, and Tamari and so on. Maybe the development of variation was necessary in the course of the history of soy sauce; however, ultimately we need to reassess the core value of soy sauce. This is what we are doing now.
So, you asked INTAGE to conduct a survey, on the one hand, to deepen the tie with existing users, but on the other hand, to identify the core value of the brand for the purpose of finding new users. Am I right?
Takano: When you proposed the cognitive interview method, we thought that was spot on, that it was exactly what we needed. Because, although when I first heard “We will use tarot cards as well”, I thought it is a bit fishy (laugh), we thought that as long as we have identified the things that have been supported regardless of the change of time, it is possible for us to flexibly change the way we sell or the way we appeal.
Otani: I think the most important thing in business is to have a clear purpose, target, and strategy. For the purpose, we decided to try the cognitive interview approach you proposed because we thought, first of all, what is required is to identify on what foundation Biohazard is built and what sort of values Biohazard needs to spin now and in the future, in other words, to identify the core values of the brand on which we should concentrate our resources.
This time we had interviews with mainly males who are the main users of Biohazard. In many cases, it is more difficult than one expects for them to put their thoughts into words and the things deep in their mind are hard to extract. However, using cognitive interview, these thoughts are progressively identified and put into words: which part of Biohazard they are interested in or love, for example. Sometimes they suddenly remember an episode while they are talking about the history between them and Biohazard starting from the first encounter to the present, time and time again from different perspectives. I thought it was good that we decided to try cognitive interview to identify the core value.
I think, for the project to succeed, it is very important to share common objectives between parties; how did you manage to do that?
Takano: We asked INTAGE to come and discuss the project until we were perfectly satisfied before we entered into the contract. We had so many discussions that we even felt sorry for them.
Otani: When it comes to research, unless you share detailed understanding in advance, verification of a hypothesis cannot be made in a satisfactory manner. For this reason, it ended up that we had a number of in-advance meetings. As I am, in nature, very fussy, I feel sorry for Mr. Kikuchi and Mr. Tanaka and Mr. Takahashi of the marketing department.
During the course of discussions with INTAGE, for example, coming and going between Tokyo and Osaka, attending video conferences, and having detailed discussions on survey designs one by one, a number of proposals were made based on the knowhow of INTAGE as if they were our business consultant. Probably because we had detailed discussions in advance, it seems that the point I was looking at had been communicated to Mr. Kikuchi, the moderator; and, Mr. Kikuchi, who has detailed knowledge of Biohazard more than anyone else, asked the interviewee a few additional questions after the interview, questions I myself would have liked to ask. I didn’t have to say anything as he said it for me. It was like telepathy. As he continued to ask the interviewee things we were talking about in the back room, I even thought “Is there a microphone or something in this room?” (laugh)
Kikuchi: I think our side was able to make all sort of plans fundamentally because we had a number of detailed discussions and were able to hear what the producers in Osaka were thinking. As our thoughts were in mutual accordance, I was able to think “These things are the sort of things they would like to ask” and asked the very questions you would like to ask as if by telepathy.
Then, after having conducted cognitive interviews, were you actually able to identify core values of Biohazard?
Otani: I had a hypothesis that the point of differentiation and the point we need to fight for in relation to Biohazard are the stories and worlds that are knotted together in the series evolving around characters. This hypothesis was perfectly confirmed.
Takano: On the other hand, with respect to Biohazard series, although there is a common word “horror”, it is also true that words that are further connected to “horror” are all different from person to person. If you put everything together and call it a “horror game”, then you cannot see the true picture. This time, we were able to see this difference very clearly.
Are you saying that the unique value of Biohazard is, although it is based on horror, people are able to feel all sorts of added-values depending on the individual?
Takano: Yes, there are a few points that enable people to feel that way.
Otani: Yes, that’s right. There were a wide variety of people; some of them very much liked action-filled ⑤ and there were others who enjoyed playing survival horror while solving problems. Nevertheless, everyone said that the good thing is the fact that there is a common world throughout the Biohazard series. That made us convinced that that is the core value of Biohazard.
Since core values are the main focus point that we need to strive for, it has become a prerequisite for our promotion activities and ideas. Therefore, we consider that those core values we were able to identify this time should be the starting point for any ideas related to the Biohazard series.
Takanao: For one, although there are some differences, it was reassuring for us, in this way, to find out that there are still users who strongly support a few values we have been providing. However, if we put too much emphasis on such ideas as “We and users are strongly bonded” with a firm worldview, that could become a barrier for the new users to enter.
On the other hand, we feel that this survey identified a challenge for us in terms of how to deal with those people who used to have a strong communication with us, but not now or who started to come in contact with us, but the relationship never became very intimate. It is highly likely that those who have a strong identification with us stay with us and buy the new sequel as soon as they know it is going to be released. This is very good for us. However, we shouldn’t put too much emphasis on those people alone; instead, we need to know how to make those who used to be with us but left come back again; or, how to make those who have just come gradually have sense of allegiance with us. We confirmed again that, although it is not easy, we need to find a fine way to satisfy both requirements I mentioned above.
You say that the survey clearly supported the hypothesis “The core strength of Biohazard is the stories and worlds that are knotted together”; but, didn’t you have other hypotheses?
Otani: This time one of the values we identified was “impressive creatures” which is as important as “knotted world”. Although I anticipated some people would say this because creatures such as the zombies in the game are very important in terms of formulating the worldview of the game, as I had an idea personally that, when it comes to values, it is the value the player him/herself feels through their own experience, I never thought that they would mention enemy characters as such an important value. So, this was a new discovery.
Kikuchi: Regardless of the series they liked, they always mentioned such and such character was scary, impressive, and so on, didn’t they?
How about you Mr. Takano?
Takano: I was able to confirm that our creators are really good in terms of the way they identify the critical and focal point. This time by conducting the cognitive interviews, I was made to re-confirm how extraordinary they are.
Kikuchi: At the time of initial planning, we talked about how there might be a discrepancy between what users want and what creators want, and I think one of the objectives this time was to confirm that. However, after the survey, we found that was not the case, i.e. they are looking at pretty much the same things.
Takano: Even for the group of focused creators such as those of Capcom, it is not like “I am 100% sure!”, but they also want to know if they are right. They hardly have an opportunity to know how people have accepted what they have believed in. I think it was a rare opportunity for us to have a dialogue with users while feeling a kind of sympathy. We also identified a number of challenges in terms of, while fully trusting our creators, how to make the project a successful business.
It is a great achievement that you were able to reconfirm a hypothesis or find it was wrong, in positive sense, isn’t it? So, did you make any new discoveries?
Otani: I felt that a significant generational change had been created concerning the sense of value regarding online games at a certain age. In the old days, users loved games as entertainment; they enjoyed the game in itself and the online aspect was purely one of the functions of the game. However, what we found this time was that, for younger generations under a certain age, it is community that forms the basis for them; and, the game is a thing where they can share/empathize their experience in that community. If I could put a name to it, I would say that they are “community native” or something like that; in other words, I felt that they have a sense of value of which, in their daily life, community is so important that they are not interested in any experiences that cannot be shared or empathized.
When Mr. Kikuchi asked one of the subjects, a university student, “If all your friends stopped playing computer games, what would you do?”, he became hesitant, saying “Really? Urn, maybe I’d quit, too”. This time, all subjects we selected were people who love games and Biohazard is one of their favorite games. You would expect that, if they are a gamer, they would say “I will still play games”, wouldn’t you? It struck me. Probably, to this generation, if you try to sell games, the game in itself is not so important. I thought that it will become important for us to provide experiences that can be shared and empathized with among users via online games.
In addition, I really felt the importance of the synergy effect between the game business and license business as, when the subjects try to remember the history of interaction between Biohazard and them, it seems that their feelings towards Biohazard are greatly influenced by the part they have contact with in their daily life beyond computer games, including movies or attractions of the theme park. They all say that, although they have become not so enthusiastic about Biohazard for various reasons such as university entrance exams, becoming a member of society, marriage and parenting after graduation, they became enthusiastic and wanted to play the computer games again after a long time by being exposed to Biohazard by something other than the computer game, such as when going to see a movie with a girl friend or enjoying attractions at Universal Studios as a part of a family trip.
How are you using the outputs of the customer journey?
Otani: We were able to identify a variety of things in terms of general strategy, such as promotion. Although, when we engage in promotional activities we consider persona, persona is just the point at that time. While we often think about how it is now, we rarely go so far as to think about how it has been since the beginning. That is why we were able to identify new perspectives this time. When those users who used to become hooked by Biohazard have got married and have kids, they hardly have time to play computer games, let alone play a game like Biohazard, do they? The scariest thing is my tyrant at home, something like that (laugh). However, on the other hand, the opportunity to get in touch with Amazon Prime has naturally increased as they need to buy nappies and video content for kinds. It was such things that are identified when you looked at a number of people’s customer journey. I was made to realize that these kinds of things are one of the points we have been failing to see in terms of how to make an effective approach to those who have left us.
Kikuchi: The finding that digital natives very much care about community was made partly because we asked them to talk about their journey. I think, when we carry out usual interviews, we just keep asking questions like “What do you think about Biohazard?” and never get that far; however, thanks to cognitive interview, we were able to extract such anecdotes as “What is important is community” or “I stopped playing” for such and such reasons.
It seems that, thanks to this survey, you were able to obtain important information that is useful for the future development of Biohazard. Do you think so?
Takano: Although we were able to reconfirm that the quality of Biohazard as a material is first-class, we must also understand how to show that quality. It was also very helpful that we found out that there is plenty of room for future growth as, in addition to the fact that we came up with new ideas, we found a variety of things that have evaded our eyes or things that have been hidden.
Otani: The survey this time was very useful because, although, since the members of the development team are a group of professionals who have been accumulating successful experiences, they create a really first-class product for us, before we develop a computer game and before we think about the concept, we want to first of all analyze the market to have a clear idea about for what purpose, targeting whom, and using what kind of strategy.
How was the reaction of the other people in the company to the survey result and suggestions obtained from it?
Otani: Immediately, communications like “I would like to use the survey result for different areas” have started to come in. In addition, the director also got interested in this survey and sent me inquiries such as “I would like to look at the result as soon as possible”.
Takano: There are a fair number of creators who have not been satisfied with quantitative surveys alone. Instead, they’ve never seen such a far-reaching interview which goes deep into the individual’s life. When they kept reading it while relating the story to their own experience one way or another, it seems that they felt sympathy in such way as “Oh, yes, that happened to me, too!” So, although you might think that it is the interview of only 11 people, as 11 interviews present 11 different stories, I guess it is worthwhile to read, really.
Otani: All we need to do now is to use it to achieve a good result. Anybody can say things and make a proposal. What is required is to work out a strategy for the brand as a whole on the basis of these core values; and, eventually cascade down it to the site-level strategy in relation to individual titles. Although I feel pressure, I would like to show other people the importance of such kind of survey by letting them see the results.
In the future, what sort of things would you expect from INTAGE and AJP?
Takano: There are too many things (laugh). As there is plenty of room for improvement in Capcom in relation to a project like this, I would like you to keep putting forward a variety of proposals as we will make steady efforts while letting other people who have gained an interest in this project get involved. In addition, as we are behind in terms of fusion with digital things, this is an area we should pay further attention to. So, we have plenty of things to expect from you.
Otani: I believe that INTAGE’s marketing related knowhow and the quality and quantity of the panel is first class. I feel it would be good if we could keep working together in the future as an important partner transcending the framework of a research company.
Thank you for being with us today.
February 2019 At Capcom Tokyo Branch
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