A concept image from Bandai Namco's Gundam metaverse. The Japanese video game and toy company is turning to the platform to boost business. (Photo courtesy of Bandai Namco)
TOKYO -- Japanese video game and toy company Bandai Namco Holdings is spending 15 billion yen ($130 million) to develop a "metaverse" featuring fearsome battle robots and other characters from its flagship Gundam franchise.
The move, announced in February, comes as businesses ranging from tech giants to automakers increasingly turn to virtual platforms to boost revenue, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic fired up demand for people to connect remotely.
The "Mobile Suit Gundam Metaverse" is set to incorporate games, videos, live music and other content, and will link with physical sites operated by the Bandai Namco group of companies such as gaming arcades and plastic model shops.
A concept video shows users' avatars enjoying concerts, communicating with each other via automatic translation and purchasing Gundam plastic models to be delivered to their real homes.
Since debuting as a television series in Japan over four decades, Gundam's tales of space-faring, sword-fighting robots have gone on to captivate new generations of fans worldwide.
"[The Gundam Metaverse will be] a mechanism for us to be more deeply connected with fans," said Bandai Namco President Masaru Kawaguchi, adding that the company plans to create metaverses for its other franchises down the road.
"It will become possible to connect intellectual property-specific metaverses in the future," Kawaguchi said.
Bandai Namco Entertainment (BNE), responsible for the group's digital businesses, will run the metaverse project. The unit has been pushing to improve its computer graphic technology and data analysis as it develops video games.
BNE Managing Director Koji Fujiwara is also known within the group as its "chief Gundam officer" due to his long experience in the business of producing plastic Gundam models. He will be responsible for consolidating manpower and commercial resources from across the group to promote the project.
Computer games have cemented their role as a "place" for people to connect amid the COVID crisis, in turn driving up interest in virtual reality and metaverse platforms. The company has been promoting its business in the virtual space. BNE invested in U.S. avatar creation startup Genies in 2020 as it looked to learn about the space, as well as producing a series of non-fungible tokens of its popular Pac-Man game character in 2021.
Bandai Namco has not given specific forecasts on how far it expects the metaverse project to boost customer numbers or lift average revenue per user in its Gundam franchise.
The company's medium-term management plan touts an operating profit of 125 billion yen on sales of 1.1 trillion yen on a consolidated basis in the 2024 financial year, up more than 30% in both categories from projections for fiscal 2021. The metaverse will begin to contribute to Bandai Namco's earnings in fiscal 2025, the company said.
The 15 billion yen metaverse investment will also cover the creation of a database to consolidate Bandai Namco's groupwide customer data.