The Complications Of Publishing Your Game On The Nintendo eShop In Japan

By Ishaan . May 22, 2013 . 2:30pm

Western developers that release games for the Nintendo eShop on Nintendo 3DS often self-publish their games in both the U.S. and Europe—but not in Japan. Why? Simple. Because Nintendo Co., Ltd., which is Nintendo’s Japanese headquarters, requires that any games published on the eShop in Japan are handled by a local company.


Circle Entertainment are lucky in that they have offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai, as well as a branch in Japan, which means they’re capable of publishing Nintendo eShop games in both the West as well as in Japan. In fact, they’ve taken on publishing duties for Gunman Clive, which they’re releasing in Japan this week. Going forward, they hope they’ll be able to do the same with other games and are actively looking out for Western partners that would like to release their games on the Japanese eShop.


Speaking with Siliconera, Circle Entertainment CEO Chris Chau shared a few insights as to why Nintendo require a Japanese publisher to handle releases on the local eShop.


“I understand a lot of Western publishers feel the rule is unfair, but Japan is a special market, so I understand why Nintendo would want to control the quality of content and require a local publisher to handle publishing duties,” Chau explained. “One of the important reasons for this is for support issues following a game’s release. Japanese players e-mail publishers for support or make phone call inquiries, so you need a native Japanese speaker to answer their questions. You can’t really expect Japanese players to speak to you in English, so a local company is a necessity.”


The complications go beyond just support, issues, though. Simply getting your game on the eShop requires a few familiar formalities, such as getting it through quality assurance and acquiring an age rating from the CERO, Japan’s ratings board.


“In Japan, these steps are quite a bit more complicated than they are in the U.S. and Europe in our experience,” Chau says. “Nintendo also provides comments to publishers, after receiving a new game proposal, regarding content, price and so on. There’s a master submission date that you need to adhere to, as well as make all of the necessary modifications required for a Japanese release, even if you’ve already released a U.S. version of your game. You can’t just translate your game into Japanese and call it a day.”


All of this communication and follow-up work requires a firm grasp of the Japanese language, and that’s why these rules are in place. While they may seem harsh, it’s a matter of professionalism, Chau feels, and in some cases, going to the trouble of putting your game on the Japanese eShop can be well worth the effort.


“As far as we can tell, the right kind of game can generate greater revenue in Japan than even the U.S. and European markets combined,” Chau expains.


Witch & Hero is 50-50 in the Western market. Some people like it and some don’t. In Japan, though, we estimate about 90% of our players are happy to have played the game. Castle Conqueror is the opposite. It’s a DSiWare game, and it scored well in the Western market, but in Japan, DSiWare has faded out, so even though the game has a good score on the Japanese eShop, its sales still look frustrating.”


So, why did Witch & Hero do well, where Castle Conqueror didn’t?


“Internally, we have two general suggestions we follow for the Japanese market,” says Chau. “Firstly, the art style is important. Character designs need to catch the eyes of Japanese players. Look around at famous games in Japan to get an idea of what they like. The second is a story mode. This can help boost your game. Some games offer Quick Play modes, but even things like puzzle games can benefit from different modes and multiple challenge levels.”


Going forward, Circle hope to bring more Western games to the Japanese eShop, as well as to try and publish more Japanese games in the West, if possible. In a lot of cases, the latter isn’t possible simply because several Japanese publishers are already self-publishing games in the West, like Arc System Works and Agatsuma Entertainment. However, there’s another reason, too.


“Japanese companies care very much about the reputations of companies that they partner with, and it seems like Chinese companies don’t really have the best reputations in a lot of industries all over the world,” Chau tells us.


“This can be frustrating for Chinese companies that have a genuine passion and put effort into their work. That said, we’re going to try bringing Western games to the Japanese eShop, and while we aren’t perfect, we believe our prospective partners will see our dedication to game development and understand they can trust us.”


Circle are optimistic that they’ll make progress as time goes by, and are encouraging both fans and potential development partners to get in touch with them. Chau asked us to share the following message with anyone reading:


I’d like to say, if anyone has any suggestions and comments, or would like Circle to bring any particular games to 3DS, please send your valuable comments to our mailbox at [email protected]. We check each and every e-mail, and we’re truly thankful for the comments we receive. They help us get better and better.


Read more stories about & on Siliconera.

  • MrSirFeatherFang

    Very informational. Good read!

  • LunarKnite

    I always found games from Circle pretty mediocre up until recently (Publisher Dream and Witch & Hero were great timesinks). But they’ve certainly gained my respect as a company and I only wish them more success in the future.

  • Purple3DSXL

    This was indeed very educational. I sent Circle a comment one time just thanking them for a game they published (Castle Conqueror Heroes I think it was). They invited me to post that on their forum, but I didn’t. I still look forward to their games though.

  • Prungy

    Honestly, this restriction on Japanese eShop titles sounds to me like it’s more about protecting domestic publishers from foreign competition than any kind of quality control issue.

    • I kind of doubt that. There aren’t that many domestic publishers on the eShop in Japan in the first place. We have a far wider selection in the West than Japan does.

      • DiosFancifulRomp

        That doesn’t change that Japanese gaming companies have been known to harbor very unfair and xenophobic tendencies. It’s not necessarily the case here, but given what we know, it’d say that it’s a little more likely than others might suggest.

        • $2445837

          Watching Sony’s turn around in this regard has been immensely refreshing. Very multinational currently. Although, of course, I’d like if theyd drop a few more big budget JP productions lately on PS3/4

        • PPWANNGA

          So by that logic, we don’t get japanese games in the west because we are also xenophobic of the weird japanese way they make games?

          • DiosFancifulRomp

            No. Japanese business has been about Japanese superiority for a long time running, and while they’re very open to dominating worldwide markets, there’s this weird high rate of distaste for any foreign competition. I believe Sega and Square Enix both had huge tendencies to push incredible expectations upon Wester developers, just to prove superiority.

            Also, human tendencies don’t really work with logic. I get what you’re saying there, but just because a group of people act in one manner in one place, doesn’t mean they’ll act consistently. We’re a weird animal.

          • PPWANNGA

            Business in general is about superiority, its like a live game of monopoly. In order to enter a market in your area takes almost no research compared to entering a market in another country. You call it distaste for foreign competition, i call it cost & development research.

            Human tenancies work extremely well with logic, this is how we get people (group of animals) buying the same crap every year. It has to do with how you get people to do what you want with as little resistance as possible. Our higher intelligence does not take away the pack/herd mentality that is hard wired into our brains and is how you see friends/family get something you find interesting and then go get it yourself, especially after you see other people you dont know do it too.

          • DiosFancifulRomp

            I don’t think I put across what I was trying to say there well. What I meant to say is that humans tend to be very hypocritical, suspending logic for survival reasons.

            I see what you’re saying about it just being marketing, but I don’t think you really understand the market. Compare the US and Europe to the Japanese markets, and you’ll typically see a lot more buyer enthusiasm toward “home developed” games, but you compare “import” games (games from other countries) and you’ll see that Europe and US are much more enthusiastic over titles coming over from Japan than Japan is about games coming over from the US and Europe. Call of Duty seems to be the rare beast that defies this, as it does extremely well in Japan.

            You’re totally right that cost and development research goes into decisions, but the question is whether or not the business and cultural climates are unfairly biased (xenophobic), and if so, whether this bias is corporate generated or ingrained within culture. I think given the fact that there have been individuals within the industry in Japan who have confirmed these thoughts, Yoichi Wada comes to mind, so does Keiji Inafune, it seems the more likely case. You can disagree, and that’s fine, but there’s a bigger case for xenophobia. You could come and say that any culture is inherently xenophobic (and I would agree with you) but again, sales numbers would suggest there’s SOMETHING afoot, and it’s most likely xenophobia against the West.

  • Aristides

    Well PSM doesn’t have that problem. We can publish games international from here without any issues. But anyways, I Circle, I think they’re cool and I dig the artstyle in their games (Dust was pretty cool too, and I recently bought Witch and hero) hope you guys keep up the awesome localizations :P

  • Lumi

    Oh, they are a Chinese company? Didn’t know that, and good for them.

  • Ni

    this sound more like market protection than quality control to me

  • Ferofax

    Guys, guys! Look! They’re actually taking game suggestions!

    I’ve never had much love for Chinese stuff (aside from Fan Bingbing, lol), but Circle? They’re awesome by me. :)

  • Mrgrgr and Unacceptable World

    A really good read here. While i can see some people saying that Japanese gamer being xenophobic here, i feel that the main reason why Japanese market is so different is simply because they have different needs and culture. If Japan really hated western game, we will not be able to see Call of Duty do quite well there right?
    As just mention above, witch and heroes does well in Japan because the aesthetic looks a lot like old classic NES, Master System era which will of course attract Japanese gamers who still love old classic titles.
    In the end, if the western developers wanted to tap on Japanese market, they should make sure that they develop that is in the line with Japanese gamer needs.

Video game stories from other sites on the web. These links leave Siliconera.

Siliconera Tests
Siliconera Videos