CIRCLE Entertainment and Flyhigh Works have been on a roll, releasing several games on Nintendo Switch (most of which we’ve reviewed!), so I got in touch with Thomas Whitehead to talk a bit about his new role at both companies and what is in store for 2018 and beyond.
PS4B: Hi! Good to have you with us today. Could you please help us start this one by introducing yourself to our readers and telling them a bit about your work?
Hi! My name’s Thomas Whitehead, and I’m a Product Manager for CIRCLE Entertainment and Flyhigh Works; though they’re separate companies, in theory, it’s very much a ‘publishing duo’. My previous gaming-related role was as the editor of Nintendo Life.
My role is to help manage our releases on the Switch eShop and Steam in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. It’s another team that handles our publishing in Asia and the Japanese eShop in particular, and we’ve released various high profile games in that market. Of course, we release some games globally or only in the “West,” which is where I come in.
I’m slowly building up our social media and keeping it active, but more of my work is the boring stuff that happens behind the scenes to bring a game to the eShop. There are all sorts of requirements for releasing a game on the eShop, and I work on the store-front side of things. I also liaise with developers and of course work with our teams to put together trailers and so on. Another part of the job is looking out for enticing new projects and, in some cases, reaching out to developers to discuss potential publishing with CIRCLE / Flyhigh Works.
I’m fresh in the job having started in January, but I’m trying to learn quickly!
PS4B: On that note, now that you’ve been at CIRCLE Entertainment and Flyhigh Works for a few months now, how have things been so far? How have you adjusted to the considerable change going from working at Nintendo Life to handling all communications for both companies?
I was ready for the change, it must be said. I was with Nintendo Life for nearly seven years, about four years full time, and it was all-encompassing and at times tough (especially in the later Wii U years). It was also fantastic and fun, but I wanted to get on the other side of the curtain, as it were, and now I have that chance.
It’s been great so far. I’ve quickly learned a lot, and still have to improve and get better in various areas, but it’s all one step at a time. I’m working with awesome people in a very 21st Century setup. I work in Scotland, and our team is spread through Hong Kong, China, Japan and more besides, but we all communicate online, and I’ve had lots of support. I’ve even been to my first event (GDC) and got to soak that in, and I’m enjoying the change in dynamic from being press to now working for a publisher.
The best change, personally, has been an improved work/life balance. With Nintendo Life I self-imposed a lot of pressure to keep the site ticking, avoiding ‘dead time,’ so I’d often work very long days or silly hours. I still cater my hours a little to enable communication with my colleagues around the world, but I have more downtime now – more like an actual 9 to 5! After years of not having that I’m relishing the fact I can unwind more; it’s been a healthy change.
The only downside that I’ve had to learn to live with having less control. There are so many moving parts with a game release, on our part, the developer’s and the platform holders (Steam or Nintendo, for example), and sometimes things go wrong, and I can’t do anything but wait for fixes. I’m learning not to stress out over things I can’t control.
PS4B: CIRCLE and Flyhigh have previously focused on the Nintendo 3DS, with Witch and Hero 3 as its latest portable release, but so far there’s definitely been a considerable worldwide push on the Nintendo Switch. What is the plan for 2018 and beyond? Are there any Nintendo 3DS releases still left for Nintendo’s portable console or has now the focus shifted entirely to Nintendo’s new hybrid hardware?
I can’t say “no more 3DS,” as I don’t know 100%, but there won’t be much more if any. It really is all about the Switch now, and the reality is that most – albeit not all – of the eShop audience has also moved onto the Switch. 3DS still has legs for big Nintendo retail games, I think, but its eShop is very quiet now.
For us the Nintendo Switch is the main platform, so we have lots lined up. In Japan, we publish all sorts of things like SteamWorld Dig 2 and Golf Story, but more of those developers self-publish in the West. We have some cool stuff lined up for Europe, Australia / New Zealand and North America, though, so we’ll always be busy!
We also have a small number of releases also coming to Steam, which is a bit of a Wild West but we’re giving it a try. Beyond that, we have also teamed up on some upcoming physical releases (VOEZ and Mercenaries Saga Chronicles are announced on that side of things), and we’ll be trying to expand our horizons.
PS4B: We’ve seen both companies not only take quirky and fun games that would have remained as “only in Japan” games so that they can be made available in the Americas and Europe, but also the other way around with games from western indie studios that have seen a big push in Japan, such as World to the West, Rive, SteamWorld Dig 2, Neurovoider, Guns, Gore & Cannoli and more. What motivated CIRCLE and Flyhigh to give Japanese audiences a localized release for these types of games?
The Directors and teams for CIRCLE and Flyhigh Works have spent years learning what works in the Japanese market, so they have great instincts. It was part of what attracted me to apply for a job, that they achieve such success for ‘Western’ games in Japan and also bring cool games the other way as well.
When it comes to those releases in Japan, I know a lot of thought goes into it, identifying games with the potential to connect with that market. The art style, gameplay, genre – all are important when considering whether a game can do well on the eShop. With so much competition you have to try and pick the right games, and the team has done that to great effect!
PS4B: And that’s all the time we have for today. Is there something else you’d like to add before we end this one?
Thanks for your time and inviting me along. For anyone reading this I just say keep an eye on our Twitter accounts for Flyhigh Works and for CIRCLE Entertainment, because we have some really cool stuff on the way in 2018!