The Extra 10 Percent: XSEED Succeeds in the Age of Digital Distribution

Plus: XSEED announces three new games for Steam, including Little King's Story.

Article by Kat Bailey. Published 15th October 2015 23:00PM

XSEED was never going to get rich off its offerings. Founded back in 2004, they focused on the Japanese games that had been neglected by other publishers. Games like Little King's Story and Retro Game Challenge brought them a fanbase, but comparatively modest returns.

"Ten years ago, we were either barely breaking even or operating at a loss," XSEED's executive vice president Ken Berry told me. "I said, 'If we could just get 10 percent more in sales, we would be fine.' Now we have them."

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XSEED can thank the PlayStation Store, Nintendo's eShop, and digital platforms like Steam for the extra exposure. Though they aren't quite the wild frontiers that they used to be - Steam in particular has been flooded with the sort of niche anime offerings that XSEED has specialized in for years - they still offer smaller publishers a greater degree of visibility that they might have had in traditional outlets. For XSEED, that extra bit of visibility has been very helpful.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky

XSEED's online presence stretches back to at least 2009, when they released Half-Minute Hero on the PlayStation Store. They followed up Half-Minute Hero with Ys Seven and Ys: Oath in Felghana in 2010, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky in 2011, and a handful of other games. Oath in Felghana arrived on Steam in early 2012, and while it wasn't the first JRPG on the service, it did its part to help break the seal. Final Fantasy VII arrived the following year, then the floodgates really opened in 2014.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is one example of a game that has proven to be a gift that keeps on giving for XSEED. Originally released on the PlayStation Portable, which was a dead to dying platform in 2011, it earned a following thanks to a vocal group of Japanese RPG fans. As a PlayStation Store release, it became available on the PlayStation Vita, putting it squarely in the crosshairs of the JRPG fans who came to comprise its most vocal fanbase. Finally, it was released again on Steam in 2014. What might have been a one and done for XSEED instead managed to jump to two more platforms with little in the way of additional overhead.

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These additional revenue streams have done their part to boost XSEED. Berry told me that the past two years have been XSEED's best ever, with Story of Seasons for the Nintendo 3DS, available both via retail and the eShop, being XSEED's fastest game to 100,000 units sold - no small feat for such a niche game.

Berry is only sad that former XSEED president Jun Iwasaki, who helped to found the company alongside Berry and others in 2004, isn't around to see XSEED's success for himself. Iwasaki departed for GungHo Online Entertainment in 2012. Even from a distance, though, he's probably happy to know that his original startup is doing just fine.

Doubling Down

In light of its succcess with digital distribution, XSEED is doubling down on Steam. Today they announced that they will be making three more games available on Windows PC: Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus, Xanadu Next, and Little King's Story.

Of them all, Little King's Story is probably the most intriguing. Originally released on the Wii back in 2008, it garnered positive reviews but modest sales. The original game was billed as "real-time strategy life simulation RPG," tasking the main character with building up a kingdom while questing, taking on bounties, and conquering other kingdoms (the little king is also a little warlord, it seems). Its unique concept has helped it remain popular with a certain segment of gamers, but with the Wii now long gone, not many have had a chance to play it (the Vita version was... not that great). Hopefully a Steam release will get it back into the public eye.

XSEED's other two planned releases for Steam encompass gaming's past and present. Shinovi Versus is the third game in the Senran Kagura series, which is basically a cel-shaded Dynasty Warriors game loaded with lurid panty shots. Originally released in 2014 for the Vita, it appears set for a nice graphical bump in getting ported to PC. Xanadu Next, meanwhile, is a spinoff of 1985's Dragon Slayer II: Xanadu, having been released for the PC and the N-Gage (!) in 2005. It still looks pretty good for a game released a decade ago. (Note: It was not released originally on the N-Gage as was first noted).

With these three released, XSEED will be added quite a bit more diversity to their existing Steam catalogue. To this point, they've mostly focused on Ys releases on the platform, with Trails in the Sky and May's Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed being the lone exceptions. As time goes on, that catalogue figures to keep growing. XSEED, it seems, has carved out a very nice niche for itself in the digital age.

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