Article first published in Forbes Monaco September/October 2020 issue.
Shibuya Productions brought out the first Monegasque language video game and the first ever Made in Monaco manga. Now cofounder Cédric Biscay sets his sights on the $17 billion gamification market.
Like countless events worldwide, the 6th edition of the Monaco Anime Game International Conference (MAGIC) was a casualty of the Covid pandemic. The free two-day convention held every February at the Grimaldi Forum typically draws 3,000 fans of manga, comic books, animation, video games and pop culture, with headlining talent like Wesley Snipes, Frank Miller and Mark Millar.
“The cancellation of the 2020 edition was a big blow for us both financially and morally,” admits Cédric Biscay, who cofounded Monaco-based Shibuya Productions in 2014 with Kosta Yanev.
The entertainment company has positioned itself in markets that generate high turnover but also require high levels of investment. “To take the example of a video game, some of our titles cost more than $15 million to produce and yet we are very far from the biggest productions that can reach ten times this amount,” says Biscay, who studied law and economics.
The 40-year-old says Shibuya Production’s real challenge is human. “We are modest in size, a small set- up of five, but have international projects so it is impossible for a colleague to slack off.”
The Monaco team must be doing something right. With the release of the video game Shenmue 3 last November, the company set three Guinness World Records—Fastest Video Game To Raise $1 Million —and $2 Million—In Pledges Via A Crowdfunding Platform, and Most Funded Video Game Via A Crowdfunding Platform, raising $6,333,295.
During lockdown, Shibuya Productions offered 500 free copies of their new Swap Tales: Leon!, the first ever video game programmed in the Monegasque language (in addition to English, French, German, Italian and Spanish). “It was not a simple translation. We worked on a real adaptation and are particularly proud because the Monegasque language is available all over the world,” beams Biscay.
In February of this year, Shibuya Productions brought out Blitz, the first manga ever created in Monaco, and a collaboration with chess legend Garry Kasparov. “France has the second largest market for manga, representing €150 million in turnover compared to €1.2 billion in Japan,” Biscay reveals, adding that they just signed an agreement with SBM to feature the Monte Carlo Casino in Blitz.
For Biscay, the French market took a gamble with the launch of a non-Japanese manga. The bet paid off because Blitz “sells well” and was the first foreign manga to appear in the magazine Shonen Jump Plus, which is read weekly by 4 million fans in Japan.
Biscay’s fascination with Japan started as a child with the Japanese animation’s Dragon Ball and Cobra. “When I was finally able to go there, I discovered that the Japanese didn’t understand the French way of thinking and vice versa.”
In 2002 he set up Shibuya International in Nice to offer French businesses access to Japan. Having consulted companies in many fields, such as fashion, aeronautics and chemistry, the Ministry of Economy and Finance appointed him the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) representative for Monaco and the PACA region in 2004. “Needless to say, I was often the only one who did not speak Japanese.”
He helped organize the successful 2010 Kyoto-Tokyo: From Samurais To Manga exhibition at the Grimaldi Forum and Guimet Museum, with a Monaco-Japan economic seminar in parallel. “There was a real demand from Monaco companies for more economic cooperation but Japan is a complex country with a great culture, and it is necessary to take the time to know how it works. Ultimately, it is like Monaco, you have to want to understand and be motivated enough to demonstrate your expertise,” Biscay imparts.
He eventually received an award of recognition from the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan. “When I see the pictures of prestigious ceremonies it makes me laugh. I had to wear my only suit, bought at Carrefour for a reasonable price. It was actually kind of like my own cosplay!”
Shibuya Productions is now setting its sights on sustainable entertainment, which brings science, education and entertainment together to generate a positive impact on society and the environment. The company is currently working on Activ5, a “portable gym” device invented in Monaco and used by pro athletes, including the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers and the All Blacks rugby team. “We develop specific video games so that users can take care of their bodies while having fun.
“It is what I call a useful distraction,” Cédric Biscay says.