Panel de Pon Developer Roundtable (1)

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 – Does anyone have any thoughts to share about the two-year anniversary of the game’s release?

Hitoshi: Of course I do. Why isn’t the game selling better?

Toshitaka: Huh. I was wondering the same thing. (laughs)

Hitoshi: Since I’m over at Nintendo I get information coming in from all over, and Panel de Pon is really popular with the development staff of game companies all over the place. When I ask people at different companies which games are the biggest hits at the office, the answer I hear the most is Virtua Fighter, with Panel de Pon coming in second. Even when Virtua Fighter takes a dip in popularity, Panel de Pon stays strong.

Toshitaka: Is that right?

Hitoshi: Is it really all right to complain about how poorly it sold, though? (laughs)

 – I think it’s selling pretty well.

Hitoshi: Puzzle games don’t sell all that well in general, so in that respect I do think it did better than most. I thought it would sell more than it did, though. When I tried thinking about why the game didn’t do better than it did… the graphics were good, and while we didn’t have commercials airing for very long they were pretty interesting, so the biggest reason must have been that it didn’t make a great first impression. Puzzles games being difficult to approach is definitely a factor whenever a new one comes out, and I think our inability to overcome that was probably our downfall.

Toshitaka: If you’re aiming for perfection, that’s definitely an important part.

Hitoshi: I think we did all we could to explain everything within the confines of the game itself, so everything beyond that would have needed to happen on the business side. Things like holding events, or showing it on television. However, I feel like we did everything possible on that front too, but it just wasn’t on the same level as what other companies were doing. That said, we probably shouldn’t have stopped where we did. If at all possible, I don’t want to let it end here, though.

Toshitaka: People keep telling me that we should have put it in arcades if we wanted to appeal to the hardcore crowd.

Hitoshi: That’s a pretty good idea. I wonder if we can’t make that happen.

Toshitaka: You can’t play it without a d-pad, after all. (laughs)

Hitoshi: An arcade stick would work just fine, wouldn’t it? (laughs)

Toshihiro: I would advise against it. (laughs) There’s a lot of movement, so things would get pretty noisy. (all laugh)

“The player thinking [Panel de Pon] is fun depends on them being able to do a '5x chain'."
“The player thinking [Panel de Pon] is fun depends on them being able to do a x5 chain.”
 – Are there any other reasons why it didn’t sell?

Yumiko: I think it was because we didn’t advertise it for very long, and because we launched alongside other games. It may have sold a bit more if we had waited until May of the following year. That’s just my opinion, though.

Toshitaka: No, that’s definitely true. Puyo Puyo 21 came out on the same day, Terranigma2 came out the previous week, and Tactics Ogre3 and Dragon Quest 64 came out around the same time as well. Competition was fierce.

1 Puyo Puyo 2 - Sega's flagship puzzle franchise. The PC98, DOS/V and Sega Saturn versions released on October 27th, 1995.

 2 Terranigma - An action RPG developed by Quintet and published by Enix for the SNES. Released in Japan on October 20th, 1995.

 3 Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together - Tactical RPG developed by Quest and published by Enix. The SNES version was released on October 6th, 1995.

 4 Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation - RPG developed by Heartbeat and published by Enix for the SNES. Released on December 9th, 1995.

Hitoshi: It was October, right? October is something like an off-season for games, and nothing really sells all that well. During that late-Autumn, early-Winter season games tend to sell the most from mid-November onwards, so it’s unfortunate that we put it out before then. We kind of had our hands tied, though, as putting it out any later would have had us competing against all the products that are put out to meet the Christmas rush.

Toshihiro: Returning to the question of approachability: Your enjoyment of the game changes entirely depending on whether or not you know about Active Chains. Most people know nothing about them, so they might just play it once, think it’s boring and move on with their lives.

Hitoshi: That’s absolutely right. One might think we went about advertising it the wrong way, but that isn’t really the case here. The player thinking the game is fun depends on them being able to do a x5 chain. A x3 chain can sometimes happen completely coincidentally, leaving the player thinking “Huh. I guess the blocks disappeared,” but you’re never going to see anything about an x4 chain without really thinking about it. You only realize how much fun the game is once you’re able to do x5 chains, but most people quit before they make it that far. That’s not to say there’s only one way to enjoy the game, though. Some people might think “I managed to beat Phoenix today, so tomorrow I’ll try to take down Dragon!” and have fun that way, which is why we have a story mode. But we may have made the threshold for enjoying it purely as a puzzle game too high, and the lack of word of mouth surrounding the game may have been why sales plateaued.

Toshihiro: I bet some pretty skilled players would have come out of the woodwork if we had it in arcades.

Hitoshi: That’s why I wanted to show it off on TV. It’s a lot of fun if you can do chains!

Toshitaka: Showing how a good player does it at an event or on television might have been the best way to showcase the game’s good points.

Hitoshi: But most people wouldn’t be able to do chains right away even if you showed them how, huh?

 – I really enjoyed myself the day I bought it. I got a x5 chain by accident, too.


Part 2