While poor Nick takes some well-deserved time off to reclaim the pieces of his soul that we devoured (he’s probably out questing for the sacred tears of light that will enable his enchanted sword to seize them from our clutches at this very moment), we caught hold of Ken Berry from Xseed — keep your pants on, people — for a nice, long chat about bringing Japanese games over to the West and working with developers to increase their global appeal.
It was fairly long and we covered a lot of ground, so we’re splitting it up by topic. This week: What most influences how a Japanese game will perform in the west?
Director of Publishing, Xseed – Ken Berry
Siliconera – Spencer Yip
Siliconera – Ishaan Sahdev
Ken: Really hard to put a finger on any one aspect of what makes a Japanese game popular in the west. There will always be a small core group of gamers that like anything from Japan, but there’s definitely a couple factors that can limit the wide appeal in the west; the artstyle (too anime-ish or too cute), and the battle system (turn-based).
The main difference in the US market over the last few years has been the abundance of new titles across various platforms. In the late nineties you may have been looking at a couple new RPGs released per month on the original PlayStation, but now you could be looking at over 20 RPGs being released in a single month across multiple platforms like Wii, Xbox 360, PS3, plus the handhelds of Nintendo DS and PSP. It is much harder to get a game noticed and stocked on store shelves these days, especially if it’s tagged as being "too Japanese" and "too niche."
Ishaan: It’s interesting that you mention RPGs being available across such a wide variety of platforms nowadays. As you said, back in the PS1 (and even more so in the PS2) days, role-playing games were associated with Sony’s consoles and the fanbase was concentrated largely around those systems. Once this generation kicked off, it seemed like it wasn’t easy for Japanese developers to settle on a [home] console to publish their RPGs on for a while, which led to a degree of segmentation, what with them being scattered across five systems.
Now, it seems like the PS3 could very well be the go-to home console for those kinds of games in 2010 and beyond. It’ll be interesting to see if having the majority of these games on a single console creates some sort of synergy that boosts demand for them in the West, especially considering that a lot of them don’t seem excessively moe. Ken, I’m curious; which Xseed game has performed best out of all the ones you’ve published in recent times, and what do you think set it apart?
Ken: Of our recent titles, I would say that Rune Factory: Frontier (which we published together with Marvelous Entertainment USA) has done fairly well. It being an offshoot of the popular Harvest Moon series, and already being an established franchise in its own right on the DS, had a lot to do with it. Little King’s Story, despite being a Game of the Year contender on Wii, hasn’t performed up to expectations. I think the "cute" factor really hurt it as uninformed gamers could write it off as looking too "kiddie", while younger gamers may not catch all the references and humor that earned it its "Teen" ESRB rating.
The PS3 does seem like a natural fit for where many RPGs may land given how the PS2 dominated the genre, but even the Japanese RPGs on there will likely evolve to a certain extent. Demon’s Souls is a great example of a Japanese RPG that incorporated a lot of Western-style elements such as action-based fighting, medieval (non-anime) artstyle, and great online gameplay, and it’s experiencing a lot of success in the US market because of it.
Spencer: Artstyle sounds like a critical factor since it’s the first thing people see and will judge a game by. A few years ago anime was growing in mainstream popularity, but now it seems to have gone into its own niche again. Perhaps, that blunted general appeal of anime-style games too. Maybe not established franchises, but for new IPs someone outside of the core audience may think, “oh, another anime RPG.”
I like the “cute” look in Little King’s Story, it made the game charming. I also agree that it was a reason why Little King’s Story was overlooked. When I tried to explain why it Little King’s Story was unique I typically heard comments like “this is too cute.” The title with “Little King” in it sounds like it’s geared towards a younger audience too, even though it’s not. (No spoilers!)
Next week: Working with developers and translators to make the investment worth it.