[As you may know, our own Brandon Sheffield has a little crush on Tose, as evidenced by his multiple interviews with the secretive Japan-based game outsourcer. And his latest talks about their Starfy platformer, finally debuting in the West courtesy of publisher Nintendo.]

Tose, possibly the game industry's first outsource-only company, started making games -- and not taking credit for them -- in 1979.

While eschewing the spotlight is the company's MO, Tose has one original IP to its name - the Nintendo-published Starfy, a long-running Game Boy Advance and now DS mascot-based platform game series in Japan.

The title is finally coming to the U.S., and Gamasutra was given the opportunity to talk to Tose heads about the game's release and their feelings on the game industry climate, both for outsourcers and developers.

As with our last Tose interview, the Kyoto-office exec spoke under the condition of anonymity, but also featured here are Masa Agarida, VP of Tose U.S., and Koichi Sawada, director of China sales for the U.S. office.

Now that Starfy is finally announced for the U.S., what does this mean for Tose, and how did you finally make that happen?

Mr. X: It's a very good thing for us. We have been working with Nintendo to push that product outside of Japan since back in the Game Boy Advance era, but Nintendo said Starfy didn't stand out as well as other characters in the Game Boy Advance era.

But right now with DS, it's going very well, so they decided to have it in the U.S., where the product is still new. So, of course, it's a really good product, but Starfy is a very nice character as well, we felt it should be brought over here.

Do you think there is a chance for the previous titles to come out as well, or will it just be from here on out maybe?

Mr. X: If the new Starfy sells well in the States, maybe Nintendo will have all products in the states, going forward. But those older ones, like on the GBA, we don't think they will be sold in the States.

Do you think that having Starfy out will have to kind of get more people to know the Tose name here?

Mr. X: Yes, it will help our exposure in the states, but it's not a main goal for us. It's just selling Starfy through Nintendo, but it may help us with selling [our name] to publishers. That's good, that will help us.

Yeah, it does seem like it may help for U.S. publishers to realize more clearly that TOSE can do full development products because so many of the other ones are sort of more hidden.

Mr. X: We are always underneath. [laughs]

How has the economy affected Tose right now as far as doing stealth development? A lot of people are having to cut back. Last year, you said it was potentially an opportunity. Have you found that to be true, that more people are coming to you now, or is Tose having tough times too?

Mr. X: Do you mean in Japan or worldwide?


Mr. X: We think it's a good opportunity for us to get more projects, because we've had the same experience in the Japanese economic crash [in the late 90s]. We expect that kind of thing will happen again for Tose, but...

You mean like Tose having trouble as well?

Mr. X: Oh, no, no, I mean...

Or you mean more people coming to you?

Mr. X: Yes, yes. Because we are a big company so other small developers have difficulty in cash flow, but we don't have those kinds of difficulties.

In this sad economy, it's not good, but not many publishers are going to merge, like D3 and Namco Bandai, so there are fewer publishers... With that in mind, we may have some difficulty getting projects from publishers as well.

Does Tose have a plan in case there are fewer publishers coming to you with ideas?

Mr. X: Even though there are fewer publishers, we, unlike other developers are working with other companies like karaoke boxes, or something like that, so we can pitch ideas not only to game publishers but also other companies. We can work for both of them to get ideas realized for the product, so that's kind of one way we can keep business up.

This year, how have you felt in terms of what companies want more from you, in terms of development work? What consoles are people coming to you for assets or full development the most from Japan and here in the U.S.?

Mr. X: In Japan, it's still alright to get DS and Wii projects, and the PS3 is getting better in Japan, so we have one PS3 project. From the U.S. publishers, I am still trying to get more projects, but in this kind of economy, it's getting tougher than last year, but many developers are also trying to get projects from them. But for outsourcing stuff...

Koichi Sawada: In terms of outsourcing, lots of companies are downsizing internally. We are trying to develop relationships with outsourcing companies, and fortunately, Tose has been working with several publishers already, and they have a trust in our team skills and quality, so they're now trying to send more work to us.

Everybody is cutting down everything now, they're downsizing and cutting their projects, but at the end, they need products. The only way is to outsource, sometimes full game development. At this point on, outsourcing is increasing. We're getting more inquiries. So, it's good.

Masa Agarida: The most difficult thing is that many publishers take a longer time to make final decisions. We make a bid, let's say, today. Last year it would take a company two weeks to make a decision.

This year, after three weeks, nothing. I'm ask them, "What's going on?" They're still thinking and planning, and it turned out they just canceled. It's really tough.

Yeah. I guess it's tough for everybody.

Mr. X: Yes.