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.