Creating A Bridge From Japan To The Overseas Games Audience

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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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Image of Ishaan Sahdev
Ishaan Sahdev
Ishaan specializes in game design/sales analysis. He's the former managing editor of Siliconera and wrote the book "The Legend of Zelda - A Complete Development History". He also used to moonlight as a professional manga editor. These days, his day job has nothing to do with games, but the two inform each other nonetheless.