The Business Of Bringing Western Games To Japan

By Spencer . November 30, 2009 . 7:38pm

imageWe often talk about the opposite, that is bringing Japanese games to the West, but what about moving in the other direction?


Gamasutra has an enlightening interview with Tetsu Takahashi that discusses the process, rating issues, and how to expand the market for Western developed games in Japan. In Takahashi’s eyes, investing more on localization and marketing helps.


As a counter-example, that’s a picture from the Xbox World Collection, a series of Western games published by Microsoft Japan with no localization whatsoever. Voice acting and text were left in English – for a Japanese game. Users only had a Japanese instruction manual and a series of web lessons to navigate through games like Simpsons Hit & Run and Counterstrike. That… didn’t work so well.


Anyway, read the interview, think about Takahashi’s points, and discuss if companies bringing Japanese games to the West should utilize similar strategies to expand the market here.

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  • Huh. Very interesting read, Spencer! I never thought about the localization process in reverse… I suppose Microsoft didn’t, either. For people in the US learning Japanese, that’s probably a decent job market to get into… so long as they’re cool with moving across the globe.

  • JeremyR

    Heh, sounds like the Michael Wong approach. He’s an Asian-American actor that has done a lot of movies in Hong Kong. The catch is, he doesn’t speak Chinese. So he just says his lines in English, except maybe the occasional short phrase.

  • Aoshi00

    Ratchet’s Jpn giant eyebrows are funny. I have a Jpn copy of Tools of Destruction and if I set the PS3’s language setting in Eng. then Ratchet’s brows are normal, when I switch to Japanese he becomes Rock Lee lol. Also Ratchet is voiced by a guy in Eng. but by a woman in Jpn which I’m not really used to.It’s definitely a must to dub a Western game in Jpn and not simply subtitle it in order for Jpn gamers to get the same experience, like the recent Uncharted 2 which did rather well. I know people would say go for the original language, but honestly the majority of Japanese’s English skills are spotty at best and they could never understand the spoken dialogue in all the cutscenes w/o Jpn subtitles. If they don’t put effort into the localization like GTA4, w/ only Eng. dialogue and Jpn sub, Jpn gamers would have a hard time juggling between the frantic action and reading subtitles (even though story is not that important).I thought of getting a Jpn copy of Uncharted 2 for dual track since it has so many seiyuu I like. I always think of any game having dual track as a perfect copy (like the Jpn RE Degeneration Blu-ray). Alas I can’t resist the US copy on sale for $40, I think I wouldn’t mind forgoing the Jpn track to save $20. While an addt’l Jpn dub is fun to have (like Shadow Complex of XBLA), I don’t see myself playing the single player campaign twice.. Believe me, it was a very hard decision, I kept going back and forth which cover looks better, the US one looks crappy w/ Nathan Drake dangling off the train, looks even crappier when you hold the actual box in hand (…), and the Jpn one looks cool but kind of campy (…). Also I can’t seem to bring myself to like the title “Uncharted” written in Jpn, I know I’m picky w/ the smallest thing, so I chose the canon.. So cover arts make a difference too, like Crackdown/Riot Act.Also I agree w/ the interview that Jpn gamers, while FPS still isn’t their favorite genre, have definitely opened up more to Western games, instead of calling them “You-gee” (foreign games) w/ a negative connation, i.e, all action and shooting and no story. I too think many western games’ narrative surpass Jpn games. That’s why you get all these developers like Kojima or Inafune frantically trying to learn and take what’s good from Western games, which could be arguably good or bad.Interesting that part got cut from Fallout 3, maybe it’s because of Jpn’s memories of the bomb? Actually I just started the game finally, I was curious what would happen if you set off the atom bomb and blow the town up, but I’m being such a goody two shoes and don’t want to harm the townfolks.. I killed the Vault Overseer during my escape though :(… And for Z ratings being bad influence to youths, most dating sims were watered down on the Saturn and only had green labels (recommended to those over 18), instead of the red labels (must be over 18) reserved for mostly nudie mahjong games..

    • Haha wow, I had no idea the JPN release had both versions of his character model. That’s awesome! It’ll be hilarious if we start to see a reverse trend where western games end up with better versions with more content in Japan, just like our “international editions” of their games tend to be more bug-free and balanced.

  • Ereek

    Interesting read. That whole “Japan not liking Western games” is something I’ve begun seeing over here now. Except in the west it is “The west not liking Japanese games,” with things like “WRPG” and “JRPG” both being a rather recent phenomenon. why should we separate them in the first place? Where is the line drawn? Not all Japanese RPGs are that different from Western RPGs and some western-made RPGs try to emulate Japanese-made RPGs.

    • We separate them for a good reason. They are vastly different types of games.

      And I’ve been using the term JRPG at least since the late 90’s and I know I’m far from the only one who did the same.

      • Ereek

        I’ve been discussing games online for over 10 years now and the term has only become mainstream within the last year and a half, despite how long you may or may not have been using it. Before that, they were simply “RPGs,” and subgenres like SRPG and ARPG.

        The problem with separating them is that there’s a fine line of where and how to do it. What about games like Growlanser II that are non-linear, have free choices that heavily affect the story and the way characters react to you, and multiple endings, like in a “WRPG?” Everything else in the game would “define” it as a JRPG, such as style decisions and a RTS-SRPG hybrid. Langrisser is similar, to an extent. Under which “genre” do they fall?

        Or what about Wizardry? It’s practically D&D embodied, just in a different way than something like DA. But is it a JRPG or a WRPG?

        If you’re going to separate WRPGs and JRPGs, you’d best separate games like Borderlands and make them “Shooter-RPGs” or something silly.

        • I’m not sure what I’d call Borderlands, but straight up RPG it certainly isn’t. So, maybe Shooter-RPG is a perfect name for it.

          And I will correct myself. You’re right, JRPG is a more recent term (but I’d still say much much older than a year or so, and I’ve been online since ’96 talking about games on Gaming Age back before it was known as a forum and Sam Kennedy was running it).

          We did still have a distinct name for it that more or less had the same connotation though. We called them console RPG’s vs. PC RPG’s. with console RPG’s being more or less synonymous with JRPG and PC RPG being with WRPGs.

          I don’t understand the desire to not label. Labeling gives you a very good idea what you can expect the game to be like. It’s the same reason ratings exist, to give you an idea of what is inside. Calling a game a JRPG or a WRPG does the same thing. Sure, not everything is exactly the same from JRPG to JRPG (or WRPG), but I have a basic understanding on what I’m getting myself into.

          • Ereek

            I can understand wanting to label them in that way simply to understand what you’re getting into, as with ARPGs and SRPGs over, say, a turn-based system. But the way I’ve seen the terms thrown around it’s as if some gamers are defining the whole genre and are therefore assuming every game in said genre is bad simply because they didn’t enjoy one or two of them. As an example: “I don’t like Persona and Final Fantasy, therefore I don’t like JRPGs.” For that matter, if I enjoy JRPGs, that doesn’t always mean I prefer Japanese voice acting and am in love with Japanese culture. The same can be said of WRPGs and their stigmas.My main problem is at this point it’s less of a genre and more of a generalization about the games. You don’t see arguments on why “SRPGs are terrible, ARPGs only!” I don’t know about you, but I see a lot of JRPG vs WRPG.And yes, Console vs PC RPG is definitely something I’m more familiar with.

    • Joanna

      Yeah, I never got the separation either. I haven’t been involved in online gaming culture as long as both of you, but I do recall only seeing the term come up recently. I myself rarely use the term JRPG or WRPG, to me, both are essentially RPGs and that’s what I call them. If there is a menu-driven battle system(as opposed to ARPGs) and it isn’t on a grid with all enemies visible (as opposed to SRPG), then it’s a RPG.

  • Yeah, I remember it used to be a little bit of Crash Bandicoot, and the odd other game that would sell alright in Japan, and that’s about it, but it does appear that Western games are slowly developing a better presence there.

  • ihatenoobs

    No everyone who has even just a little sense knows Western games suck ass, the japanese and the japaanese only should be the only ones allowed to make games.

    • bubbba123


    • Just… shush. Thank you.

  • last time i was in japan i saw guitar hero 3 on xbox360 in one of those gamestop-looking kiosks. and yes the whole thing was in english yet it was region coded for japan.

  • malek86

    Do we know what’s the highest-selling western game of all time in Japan?

  • I’d love to hear some sales figures for Mass Effect in Japan. I heard the Japanese adored the game to the point that they begged for a release. I want to know how it did!

    @Aoshi: Did you ever hear whether they dubbed the game or not? I’ve heard mixed rumors and can’t find a solid fact anywhere. I’d buy it again just to hear the Japanese dub (I’d play that game in any language to hear the different voice actors).

    • It’s around 24-25k by now, which isn’t really among the higher-selling western-developed games over there. For comparison with other 360 releases: (approx.):

      Gears of War: 68,270
      Gears of War 2: 61,860
      GTA4: 59,893
      Assassin’s Creed: 55,261
      Modern Warfare: 54,752
      Fallout 3: 49,543
      Fable 2: 43,682

      (Might want to note that these are all probably a little higher since Enterbrain last released numbers for them)

      • Hahaha. I’m convinced all of SE is a large calculating robot that crunches numbers and can spit them out upon key words being entered in a “Reply.”

        Oh, and thanks! It’s a bit sad that ME didn’t do better. I know quite a few Japanese and there IS a Market for Western games there, but it almost reminds me of the 90’s when the Eastern Market was laughed at by many gamers over here.

        • No problem. I wasn’t a huge fan of numbers (HATED maths), but since we DO try to spread awareness of the market/business side of things, it’s a necessary evil. Plus it’s…kind of fun. :P

          Maybe we’re going through some kind of weird loop where we’ve essentially “rebooted” market trends back to the early days when more people were making games to appeal to a wider audience etc. Slowly, the awareness of Japanese games will rise, and before you know it, there’ll be another boom just as developers in Japan stabilize themselves. :D

          (One can always dream)

          • malek86

            Yes, but will the awareness of western games in Japan ever rise?

          • I’m certain it will as it becomes more and more apparent that that’s where Japanese developers are looking to for inspiration in certain ways. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you’ll suddenly see Western games explode in popularity, but I can see them being more accepted in the market than they were in previous years.

    • Aoshi00

      Actually I don’t know about Mass Effect, was the first game dubbed in Japanese before? I know both Gears of War 1 & 2 have been dubbed in Jpn, and I was very doubtful about Gears 2 because they’ve shown nothing but English trailers subtitled in Jpn up until a week before the game’s release. So I assume it would follow the first ME’s format? ME 2 dubbed in Jpn would be so cool since it has a ridiculous amount of dialogue, but I always like to play Sci-Fi games in Eng. I imported Gears 1 w/ dual track but only got the US version for Gears 2 because I couldn’t wait one year to play it. BTW, I cancelled my Amazon order and imported Uncharted 2 instead, just couldn’t resist the Jpn cover and dual track. People thought Drake’s voice is too deep and funny in Jpn, you know the manager w/ the afro and suglasses in that bread anime “Yakitate! Japan”, yep, that’s him voicing Drake. And Tsunade from Naruto is voicing that other girl (not the blond), hot!

      • Oops. Forgot to be more specific. I actually can’t find if the 1st ME was dubbed in Japanese or not. I’ve seen video’s on NicoNico in English with Japanese subtitles but I don’t know if they have an option or not for a dub. I’d get the game in any other language if they dubbed it, just for the sheer interest of hearing that entire game spoken from other voice actors. What can I say, when you’ve played a game that many times, it’s fun to change it up. Yes, I agree that it would be cool to have ME2 in Japanese and English. I’ll always take the English first for that game but still be curious how they voice it.

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