Continuing our casual chat with Ken, this week, we talk about working with developers to give games a more global appeal and touch upon the possibility of fan-translators playing a bigger role in the future of the Japanese games niche. Also, Ken offers some interesting insight as to why Dragon Ball Z might have gained popularity in the west.
Director of Publishing, Xseed – Ken Berry
Siliconera – Spencer Yip
Siliconera – Ishaan Sahdev
Spencer: So, what do you do to boost general appeal of Japanese games here? Do you work with developers from the start and try to Westernize art? Would going back to the Working Designs era localizations help instead of direct translations?
Ken: Anime was indeed growing in mainstream popularity, causing more and more obscure series with limited mainstream appeal to be brought over, which eventually saturated the market and caused it to crash. I think we’re in a similar situation right now with videogames — there’s just too many games being released while the market, especially retail store shelves, isn’t growing fast enough to keep pace in order to support all the new titles. Even though the videogame industry is still growing in mainstream popularity, that is very skewed towards the cream of the crop titles like Modern Warfare 2 which even non-gamers know about, while the tons of smaller releases are getting drowned out as there’s too many titles competing for the same hardcore gamer audience.
Working with Japanese developers as they finalize the initial artstyle of a new project could help ensure more mainstream appeal in the West. I’ve talked to a Japanese person in the industry that was convinced that the reason Dragon Ball Z has been so successful over here is because the characters’ hair turns blonde, while other anime where all the characters have black hair have not been nearly as successful. I’m not sure if I agree with this conclusion, but it does show that Japanese developers do at least think about what it takes to succeed in the West quite a bit.
I don’t think being more creative with the text during localization is the answer to increase the general appeal. Working Designs was way ahead of their time, pioneering great English scripts from the Japanese source while taking creative liberties wherever they thought they were improving the experience, but it’s not as unique an idea or as big of a selling point today. The quality of localizations has gone up tremendously since the ’90s so users now expect a great English experience out of all their games, regardless of the country of origin or publisher. I mentioned before about games evolving, that could definitely help with their appeal. It used to be Japan was known for RPGs while the US was known for first-person shooters, but a lot of FPS games now incorporate much more story and character growth aspects which have traditionally been associated with RPGs. As the US games incorporate a lot of the best aspects of the RPG genre, Japanese RPGs will have to start incorporating more aspects from the FPS genre such as action-based gameplay and co-op play if they want to appeal to a wider audience.
Ishaan: Speaking of Working Designs, there are a few publishers of Japanese games — mostly bishoujo game publishers like NitroPlus — that are experimenting with the concept of working with fan-translators to help speed up the localization process and reduce costs, which makes it easier in some cases to justify taking on certain projects.
The other day, we posted a link on our Facebook group where [Tokyopop founder] Stuart Levy said they were considering doing the same with manga series that had gone on hiatus due to slow sales. Do you think this is something we could ever see becoming more common in the case of videogames? Do you think the potential is there for Xseed to ever try something like that at some point?
Ken: That is definitely a thought that’s crossed my mind. Some of the fan translations I’ve seen are very good, so why not use them within anime and games? I’m not sure of the full legal ramifications behind that and if and what consents and compensation are required, but it does seem like a waste when a perfectly good English translation is available somewhere and not being used.
But I would also think that perhaps this is a way for someone to get into the industry, that it’s a good stepping stone as they transition from fan to industry insider. Funny that you’re the one to bring this up, Ishaan, because I remember when you would write into us here at XSEED and I would correspond with you as any other gamer that wrote in, but then one day you suddenly informed me that you became a part of Siliconera. People may start off doing something as a hobby, but there’s a chance they may take on a more full-time role so not sure what kind of long-term stability is there if you depend on fan translators all the time.
Spencer: That’s outside of the box thinking! Fan translated games could be fantastic as digital downloads, but if they are in stores with other games wouldn’t that further complicate the oversaturation problem? I see that as a big issue, especially for RPG publishers. There was a time when it took maybe a weekend to beat a game. Now most retail titles take dozens of hours to complete, not even counting online play or achievement hunting. RPGs, especially, are time sinks and perhaps with so much choice and so little time gamers aren’t buying as many of them?