Creating A Bridge From Japan To The Overseas Games Audience

By Ishaan . April 13, 2011 . 1:35pm

Japanese developers face many challenges in today’s games industry, perhaps more so than ever. Cultural differences largely dictate what games are and aren’t localized, and in many cases, interesting games are passed over because the developer is told they won’t sell.


We asked localization firm in Japan, Active Gaming Media, how they view the situation with Japanese developers finding it hard to make some of their games viable for an overseas release. Localization manager, Justin Potts, gave us his thoughts on the subject.


“It’s on everybody’s mind, everyone wants to do something about it, but very few are taking real action,” Potts theorized, “largely (I think) because very few feel that they are in a position where they have the resources needed in order to be an agent of change.” 


He continued: “As budgets are cut and small to mid-sized developers are often being told that certain types of products don’t/won’t/can’t sell, I think that a really negative message is being sent.  When you have a large group of individuals all being sent a similar doom-and-gloom message repeatedly over time, I think it kind of turns into an issue of some sort of learned helplessness.  There exists a great deal of talent in Japan, it’s just that many seem to either be in, or at least feel that they’re in, a situation that’s far from being conducive to promoting healthy change.”


As a localization firm, Active Gaming Media try to play their part in helping bridge the cultural divide between Japanese developers and the western market.


“Another thing that we try to point out to developers,” Potts revealed, “is that when thinking about where Japanese games were 5 years ago compared to where they are now, people tend to focus on one very specific type of game — the big budget, character-focused, heavily story-driven game. But when you think about it, there are a LOT of other types of games out there, many of which have more opportunity to succeed now than any time in the medium’s history thanks to user and market growth and diversification and the number of accessible gaming platforms on the market.”


Potts believes that quirky Japanese-style games are still very much in demand; the problem is bringing the games to their appropriate audience.


“Many of the bestselling titles on PSN and XBLA are either, 1. Japan-developed classics, or 2.  Western-developed titles heavily rooted in core design styles/mechanics which were established by games developed in Japan 10-20 years ago,” he feels.  “We’re confident that there’s still a great deal of demand out there for the kinds of experiences that Japanese developers excel at creating, it’s just a matter of getting the games to the audience, which is harder than it sounds in the current market.”

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  • WonderSteve

    Sometimes there are just too many middleman in the process.

    I am surprised to see how many Visual Novels (the niche of the niche) are localized to different languages on the iOS platform. Probably because you just need a Mac, get someone to translate, then submit for Apple’s approval. Then you are done.

    Perhaps Japanese publisher should consider a unified digital platform for their niche PC games that will sell their games in different languages. Smaller companies like Falcom can benefit from it. Also try to leverage XBLA and PSN more for global release for console games. You don’t have to worry about printing too many copies or stores don’t want to carry your game.

    • godmars

      The right kind of middlemen you mean. People both into what they’re doing yet still able to distance themselves. Who are able to make changes, yet leave the soul of what they’re changing intact.

      Of course on the other hand you have cases of the source itself being flawed. Of companies like Square both thinking they can do no wrong, but that they have to dumb down and commonize their product. Who are unwilling to listen to the middlemen they hire who might know better. Much less the fanbase.

  • city_debut

    Recettear. Steam. That is all.

  • doubletaco

    Using 7th Dragon as the article picture.

    That stings.

    • Zenkito

      Yeah it did ¬.¬ I saw the title, then the picture and thought “no way” …..

    • Tricks. I want that game so badly, too bad I can’t understand Japanese.

      • buy it anyway. it’s great :D

        There’s a wiki and some FAQs to help you, as well.

        • Zenkito

          I try to find it last night to buy, but had no luck what so ever :(

  • kroufonz

    here i am still dreaming the day certain publisher will finally able to release japanese voiced, english subtitled Visual Novel for PS3, PSP (retail release) or Steam


  • Jirin

    The problem with the ‘Try to appeal to Western gamer’ mentality is that the ‘Mainstream Western gamers’ aren’t going to be open minded about Japanese games anyway. When they change their games for the Western audience, they alienate the Western niche gamers who want Japanese style games, and don’t even win over any mainstream Western gamers.

    Then when their games don’t sell overseas, they say “It wasn’t Western enough!”

  • d19xx

    – Ditch the cutesy graphics. No more little big headed people in a serious story.
    – Choices that works. Not select the second option only to read that you really need to choose the first one.
    – For f*** sake if you’re in a party of 3 or four, show in the game that you have a damn party and not cut scene, party member 2, 3, 4 coming out of your character’s ass.

    If Japanese developers can do at least one of the above, I say it’s a good start…

    • or show how u respawn and how your body disappears after getting shot in the head

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