Chorus Worldwide have one golden rule when it comes to publishing video games, they like working with good people on titles they love. This I was told by the company’s CEO and founder Shintaro Kanaoya, when I was fortunate enough to sit down and chat with him during the recent London event W.A.S.D.. At the convention, Chorus was showing off some of their upcoming titles, which included the wonderful Frank and Drake, a dual protagonist mystery game with a strong focus on narrative (developed by Appnormals Team) and the spooky choose your own adventure visual novel Mothmen 1966 (developed by LCB Game Studio). It is Chorus’ sheer number of unique, genre disparate titles that immediately caught my attention and I was intrigued by the difference between experiences like Coffee Talk and Star Hunter DX (a visual novel and a SHMUP, respectively) — I was eager to find the connective thread that would link Chorus’ game library. On the short walk to the industry lounge with Shin, he asked me If I had the chance to play any of the demos available at the booth. I took this opportunity to express my enthusiasm for Frank and Drake in particular, and my love for old-school point and click games in general, especially anything developed by LucasArts. Clearly a fan, Shin mentioned the upcoming Return to Monkey Island, which is helmed by series creator Ron Gilbert; a triumphant return for the designer after not having worked on a Monkey Island games since LeChuck’s Revenge (not counting minor contributions to Telltale Games’ Tales of Monkey Island). Even in this first, brief meeting, I began to form an idea of the connections that existed between Chorus Worldwide’s published games, and the following interview helped to further illuminate my understanding.
There are so many different games that Chorus Worldwide publishes in so many different genres. What defining features do you look for when publishing games? And is there a unifying thread between all your titles?
Honestly, no. I started Chorus Worldwide eight years ago, after having been in the industry since 1996 — even before that, I was a games journalist. I’ve been playing games all my life, my first system being the Spectrum, closely followed by the Famicom. I’ve personally played a lot of games over all sorts of genres as well, and really seen the industry grow up. A lot of us within the team are of a similar age and mindset, what we really look for collectively is games that offer something different. That is not to say that the game must be completely unique, after all, nothing really is, but to take Frank and Drake as an example, it has that fantastic rotoscoped art. Coffee Talk drew inspiration from a TV series called Midnight Diner, which I am a massive fan of, so we bonded with the developer over that. A similar story with Starhunter DX, I love old-school SHMUPS and the fact there was a team that also loved to make very good games in that genre was great — we like that. That’s one half of the equation, the other half is working with teams that we really like and feel like we can get on with; teams that we can bring something to. And that’s, hopefully, part of the reason we keep working with the same developers and they keep choosing us because, at the end of the day, I like working with good people. It doesn’t matter if a team is making an amazing game, if I feel like the relationship wouldn’t be there, then I think life’s too short.
I know we have touched upon it briefly already, but I understand you have worked in the industry for a long time now. Could you possibly expand on how your time working for other game companies has helped inform Chorus Worldwide’s ethos? As well as the way you choose to run your publishing house?
To give a potted history of my time in the industry, I started off doing some games journalism as a kid — I used to write a column called ‘Our Man in Japan’ for the now-defunct multi-format magazine The Games Machine. I was fourteen or fifteen at the time and I wrote to them about some Japanese stuff. I was living in the UK but would get Japanese magazines sent over to me from my grandparents. They liked what I sent in, and I ended up working in games journalism for about three years, before deciding that I needed to finish up school and head to university. After that, I ended up coming back to the industry, joining as a tester for Bullfrog Productions in 1996. I did that for two or three months before being moved on to level design, something, along with production, that I ended up doing for 7–8 years. Then I switched to, what we in dev would have called ‘the dark side’, which was marketing. After a few years of that, I moved over to Xbox — I was the Head of Business for Rare and transferred to Vancouver. Couple more years after that and I decided to start my own business publishing indie games: first we were focused on getting them out to Japan but moved more broadly towards Asia, and as of the last three years or so we’ve gone fully global. So now we’re signing titles from all over the world that we think are interesting, ideally from people we like to work with, as well as those from diverse backgrounds. From what we have here at W.A.S.D., MidBoss is based in America, Appnormals is from Spain, Coffee Talk is from Indonesia and Mothmen 1966 is from Argentina. We also have a game coming up that was developed in Malaysia. We do like to find games from backgrounds you wouldn’t normally expect because even if they’re telling a story about a coffee shop in Seattle, they have a different perspective on it. We like to promote diverse voices where we can.
Just to touch more upon Chorus Worldwide’s initial objective of finding a route for indie developers in Asian markets, could you tell me a bit more about how you achieved that goal? Were there any particular challenges you faced? Or were parts of it easier than expected?
A bit of both. We originally started focused on mobile games in the early 2010s, primarily premium titles that we were taking out to Japan, China, Korea, etc. It was relatively straightforward, as long as you knew what you were doing, there weren’t any big technical, or business-related issues. This was fine for a few years, but I think the mobile market for premium games dropped off massively. It became all about free-to-play, and in order to keep up with and be a free-to-play publisher, you need a huge amount of money for user acquisition and to keep the live service running. Also, we weren’t particularly interested in that kind of thing, because I’m more of an old-school gamer. Our other concern was related to the Chinese market, which was our biggest and became harder and harder to deal with due to factors like government ratings, making it a lot more challenging to do business. This resulted in us looking around and asking ourselves how we diversify. Eventually, we did get approached by Nintendo regarding a game we were showing and getting it on Switch. We thought this was amazing and it worked really well, so after that, we pivoted quite hard to the console market. A lot of that was still West to East, but then gradually we started doing all the console platforms and more global titles. In the last couple of years that’s certainly become our central focus; still with the selfish, kind of stupid attitude that we like this team, we like this game, let’s get it done — a feeling that I can’t necessarily articulate.
Just on a slightly different note, and purely out of personal interest, I’d love to know what your favourite games were growing up? Especially since it’s clear that your love of SHMUPS and other genres has influenced the kind of games you like to publish.
Oh wow, you’re really asking me that? That’s awful! The first game that really blew me away was Jetpac on the Spectrum by Ultimate Play the Game in 1983. I remember playing it and immediately wanting to call my mum at work, despite the fact that she wouldn’t have cared at all. It was the first time I felt that rush. The first game I actually played was a Game & Watch my dad had brought back from Japan, Manhole, or something similar. Super Mario 64 was also a big deal for me, again, someone had brought back a Nintendo 64 from Japan to the Bullfrog offices with Mario — we had a couple of friends at the studio who hadn’t worked out the NTSC PAL thing, so we were playing it in black and white. That game was mind-blowing when it came out. The SHMUP game for me was Star Soldier on the Famicom — I’m really old! Recently I’ve been playing nothing but Elden Ring like half the rest of the world. I also played a lot of point and clicks growing up: we published a game called The Adventures of Bertram Fiddle, which is a very old-school kind of adventure game and that really reminded me of titles like Monkey Island, Full Throttle and the other LucasArts games, which I love.
At this point in the interview, Shin very kindly asked me what my favourite games were in return. Empowered by endless list-making and Discord debating I was able to real off my top three as Secret of Mana, Skies of Arcadia and Final Fantasy VII (every single one a JRPG).
You can tell the time period I started playing games from those releases alone.
And that’s just it, your favourite games are from when you were a certain age, and they leave an impression on you.
Just for a final wrap-up style question, I’d love to know what we can look forward to in the future from Chorus Worldwide? Outside of, obviously, all the amazing games you already have in the pipeline.
This year we have a lot of narrative games coming out, which is more by accident than design if I’m being honest. I was looking at each one and noticing how they came through a different sort of route. One we found through Twitter, and one was through an existing relationship and so on and so on. All of them just happen to be really great narrative titles that we love and are doing something unique within their genre. Next year is going to look slightly different with some titles that we’re working on but haven’t announced yet. Towards the end of this year, we have another strong story-driven title that also mixes in a lot of action, coming from a developer from another part of the world that you wouldn’t necessarily see a lot of games from. I wish I could say ‘we are this kind of publisher’, but we are a publisher made up of people who love games and have loved games for decades. If it grabs our fancy and we like the people, then that’s what we publish, even if it’s a bit unpredictable.
If this interview didn’t make it clear enough, Chorus Worldwide truly embodies the ethos of games published by gamers, for gamers. The two members of the team I had the pleasure of talking to, Shin and Jez Harris (the Publishing Director), were friendly, passionate and clearly had a lot of expertise within the realm of the video game industry. This is reflected in the diverse, ambitious and inclusive titles that Chorus Worldwide has published and continues to publish; games from all over the world, from all sorts of backgrounds and nationalities. I cannot wait to see what they come out with next.
I have included some relevant links to game pages and socials below if anybody wants to keep up to date with any of the titles talked about.
Twitter – @ChorusWorldwide
I should also mention that, tragically, the main creator and developer of Coffee Talk, Mohammad Fahmi, passed away earlier this year. Coffee Talk is a fantastic game and more than deserving of your time, please consider buying and playing through it and experiencing a great artist’s work.