Siliconera Sounds Off: Why Is The Western DS JRPG Market In Decline?

0 of us at Siliconera are fans of RPGs. In Japan, the DS and PSP are the primary gaming devices and have been home to a broad variety of RPGs. The problem is, we’ve also been hearing from publishers that it’s hard to make money in the portable RPG market in the West, which would explain why some games like 7th Dragon or Tales of Innocence haven’t been tossed onto the localization belt yet.


Naturally, this is a cause for concern, both at present and for the future, and something we very much wanted to discuss with site readers. And so, this week’s SSO topic is:


Publishers have been complaining that the DS RPG market is in decline in the West. Why do you think this is?




Script Editor, NIS America – Nick Doerr

Siliconera – Ishaan Sahdev

Siliconera – Spencer Yip Publishers are saying this, eh? I don’t think it’s actually the market that’s in decline, but that there’s an oversaturation of RPGs on the DS, splitting sales in an already pretty small niche. It’s like the go-to platform for new, "too traditional," risky, or low-budget RPGs that would otherwise never see the light of day. In a sense, it’s fantastic for taking the reins and letting more ideas and games get made that wouldn’t even get past pre-production concept brainstorm napkin-drawing sessions. I think that’s the first step, anyway.


But if publishers are saying this because they aren’t quite seeing the profits from a handheld with a userbase of 110+ million, it’s probably due to the pricing structure implemented by Nintendo and retailers. It seems like the "king" of any console generation has the most unfriendly pricing structure; meaning they ask for a fairly significant monetary percentage of each game sold. It would be rude to discuss specifics, but depending on the type of cartridge/disc you need, and how many units you feel you can sell or order, and the retailers you’re trying to get to carry any particular game… it’s not uncommon for the "king" platforms to absorb quite a chunk of potential profit, under the assumption their more vast userbase will lead to more vast sales. Which, coupled with my previous comment on oversaturation, makes it increasingly difficult to do. That’s a great point and one I’m inclined to agree with. There’s definitely been a steady stream of RPGs on the DS in the past three years. It’s become a platform for both old and new, and anyone that’s a fan of Japanese games likely owns one. As you pointed out, a plethora of any genre results in oversaturation of the market, which probably means the publishers seeing the most success are the ones with the most loyal fans. Then again, even Atlus only expected 25,000 sold for Devil Survivor


Pricing structure is, unfortunately, something not many people on the consumer side ever get to hear about, which means you see a lot of people demanding to know why game X isn’t being published outside of Japan. I’ve done it, too, being particularly hard on Namco Bandai who seemingly neglect to publish every Japanese game of theirs that catches my interest (although I’m convinced that they’re partly to blame, at least with regard to Tales). It’s times like these that I’m glad for fan-translations and for publishers like Xseed who pick up what no one else will, although, it’s pretty apparent by now that this is far from an easy way to make a living. And yet, somebody has to do it if we want to keep these games alive. I wish there were a way to make the publishing process a little more transparent in cases like these. The kind of games we enjoy would benefit from an understanding between the producer and consumer more than any other.


I would imagine digital distribution on PSP is something that you guys plan to take full advantage of at NISA, Nick?


Nick: Naturally. Not just NISA, but I think any publishers working with the PSP platform are going to slap up a digital copy of their game on the PlayStation Store. On a personal level, I’m not exactly enthralled that digital copies tend to cost the same as physical units, but each version has its fans. Some like actually having something in their hands (*waves) but some like the decreased load times and instant access. Heck, digitally purchasing Class of Heroes, for instance, is about the only way to get it. Atlus apparently couldn’t get GameStop to carry it, so few copies were sold or produced. For that, digital distribution is great, especially for smaller publishers who tend to release "hard-to-find" games.


Spencer: Speaking of Class of Heroes on PSN, the English version got re-released as a PlayStation Store exclusive in Hong Kong. Digital distribution can also help publishers bring their games to other countries.


I’ve heard the similar comments about DS carts costing a bundle, but publishers still seem or seemed eager to localize Nintendo DS games. Perhaps, because they don’t contain any or as much voice acting. Compared to a console game, they cost less to localize. Tales of Hearts has voice acting. Couple that with cartridge prices and… well, you get the idea. Seventh Dragon… it hasn’t been announced yet, but I wouldn’t give up hope on it.

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.