The fan-favorite Japanese free-roaming crime-based game series might be in jeopardy. According to Bloomberg’s report, Chinese gaming giant NetEase Inc. is already in “final negotiations” to poach Yakuza series creator Toshihiro Nagoshi from SEGA. Anonymous sources familiar with the deal said that Nagoshi hasn’t signed a final contract and his duties have yet to be finalized, but he is expected to be able to build his own semi-independent team to create new titles for the company.
Outside of China, NetEase itself is mostly known as the Chinese side partner of Blizzard Entertainment. Their relationship started in 2008 when the company launches and operate the Chinese release of World of Warcraft. Later, the publishing agreement expanded in 2019 to include StarCraft II, Overwatch, Hearthstone, and Diablo III. Both companies work together in developing the mobile spin-off Diablo Immortal (the announcement of which became an instant PR nightmare). It also invested $100 million into Bungie for a minority stake in 2018.
On one hand, NetEase’s bold move to nab a key figure from a high-profile company and IP like SEGA and Yakuza is a huge sign that Chinese gaming companies are trying their hardest to expand their business out of the country’s harsh restrictions. Especially since just before the news broke out, the Chinese government has passed a law that aims to limit gaming time for minors to just three hours a week.
On the other hand, this news could also spell another nail in the whole Yakuza series’ coffin. This July, SEGA and developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio were butting heads with the Johnny’s & Associates talent agency because of actor Takuya Kimura’s likeness as the Judgment spin-off main character, Takayuki Yagami. Right now, all SEGA can do is postpone and/or outright cancel the Steam release. If SEGA, Takuya, and Johnny’s & Associates can’t reach an agreement on how to proceed with the series, coupled with Nagoshi actually leaving Yakuza for the Chinese company, then you can be sure that the franchise will be in jeopardy going forward.
Toshihiro Nagoshi won’t be the first Japanese developer the Huangzhou-based company recruited. In June 2020, NetEase created a Japanese-based studio Sakura Studio and employed industry veteran Tetsuya Akatsuka (Soulcalibur: Legends) from Bandai Namco as its head. Niko Partners analyst Daniel Ahmad also added in a tweet that NetEase has been hiring a lot of staff from Japanese studios, like Capcom and Konami, among others. Let’s hope Ichiban Kasuga’s first console appearance in Yakuza: Like a Dragon won’t be his last. Stay tuned at The Nerd Stash for more nerd and gaming updates.