With "Infinite Arms", Jumo hopes to be mobile gaming's next big thing

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For industry veterans, the three members of development studio Jumo seem nervous.


Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder at a long conference table, they make friendly, eager introductions; they hop up as soon as we enter the room and wait for us to take a seat opposite them.


There's a black sheet covering ... something at the end of the table, sitting in front of a projection screen. It's clear that the three men behind Jumo — chief executive officer Keiichi Yano (Elite Beat Agents, Gitaroo Man), chief creative officer Chris Esaki (Gears of War) and chief strategy officer Akio Fujii (former president, Namco Entertainment) — are anxious to unveil it, to reveal what the studio has in development.


Despite their list of credits and combined years in the industry, it's understandable why the team at Jumo would be palpably nervous to reveal their first project. Jumo is a brand new start-up of a studio, with the team splitting time between Tokyo and Seattle to oversee that title's production.


Not only is there an unease inherent in that — being a young and unproven studio, despite its members' individually impressive track records — but the slideshow presentation that Yano initiates once we're all settled is all about how Jumo, this green developer, is wading into similarly unseen territory.


"Toys have evolved," Yano says after clicking ahead to a slide bearing the phrase "games-to-life."


"And gaming has evolved, too," he continues. "New types of genres, like virtual reality and augmented reality are coming into play. Toys-to-life didn't even exist five years ago, and now is a major part of a gaming segment."


Yet despite the proliferation of games that use action figures or other toys as a core gameplay mechanic, Yano explains, the collaborators that went on to form Jumo felt that the industry had yet to combine these two genres in a meaningful fashion, or even a compelling one for those who fancy themselves both gamers and collectors.


That's how Jumo sees itself, Yano says: adult gamers who also appreciate a well-made, collectible figure. As games like the Disney Infinity and Skylanders series cropped up, they pushed figures into the market that were, as Yano explains it, not compelling playthings in their own right. These toys didn't offer any articulation; they weren't like the action figures that he, Esaki and Fujii had been longtime fans of.


The three — who'd met while collaborating on various projects, like the Microsoft-published and iNiS-developed Lips series — reflected on their collective backgrounds in both game and toy design, then assessed how the toy companies who were entering the gaming sphere with their toys-to-life brands seemed to conceive their products.


"Traditional toy companies don't understand gaming," Yano says. "[They] don't know how to make games.


"It's that the process of creating toys and developing games are 180 degrees from opposite ends."


But Jumo's members, based on their long careers at companies like Electronic Arts, Bandai Namco and Microsoft, felt like they were different — that they had a chance to transition toys-to-life games from something ephemeral, which they saw as just a genre meant to push products, and create something substantial as both game and action figure line.


"This is an opportunity to kind of disrupt how toys are not only played but how they're developed and distributed," Yano says.


"We wanted to create this new reality in gaming, so we coined the term 'games to life'."


Yano was determined to crack what he saw as a genre with a lot of potential, and concocting this new "games-to-life" category was the first step. Bringing on Esaki and Fujii was easy enough; both shared his desire to combine toys and gaming in a more mutually beneficial fashion. But convincing others of their idea on how to improve this toys-to-life trend was more difficult.


It's at this point that Esaki steps in to sing the praises of another crucial team member: chief toy officer Yaso Takahama, whose design career includes major hits like Transformers and Tamagotchi.


"When Keiichi was forming the team he went and talked to pretty much every toy and game developer that he could find," Esaki says. "Takahama was the only one after a year of searching who understood what we were trying to do and said, ‘I think that's possible.'"


So Jumo brought another well-weathered professional onto their team. Despite difficulties in getting people on board with their idea, Takahama's involvement with the project made things all the more realistic, their goal more achievable.


So what, exactly, is this project? The black tarp covering the fruits of the team's labors remains on the table. Yano, Esaki and Fujii have offered enough hints at this point, however; it's time to convince another person that Jumo's games-to-life project is a meaningful distinction in a competitive field.














Read the rest: http://www.polygon.com/features/2016/3/23/11287412/infinite-arms-jumo-games-to-life-preview

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