kitsunebi77

Western games in Japan

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It's commonly said that Western games don't appeal to Japanese gamers and therefore sell poorly.  But what I'm wondering is: how many Western games actually get a Japanese release?  Everyone knows that the vast majority of Japanese games never get a Western release, so is the reverse also true? 

Looking at game sales across all platforms in 2017 thus far, 40 of the top 100 best selling games in the USA were developed in Japan.  Meanwhile 9 of the top 100 best selling games in Japan were developed in the West.  But that doesn't necessarily mean that Western games aren't being released - they might just all sell poorly.

If anyone knows of a comprehensive list of Western titles that receive a Japanese release, for any platform, I'd be curious to see it.

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Side question I want to ask: Since you live in Japan, what is your opinion on the difficulty with western games penetrating the market? Is it xenophobia or specific design elements that are a turn-off?

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3 hours ago, Ethereal Dragonz said:

Side question I want to ask: Since you live in Japan, what is your opinion on the difficulty with western games penetrating the market? Is it xenophobia or specific design elements that are a turn-off?

Oh, man, I could write a book about it, but it would mostly be opinion and speculation.  There's definitely a mix of both xenophobia and unappealing design elements at work, and the amount of each in play depends on what era of gaming you're talking about.

I think one important fact that can be added to the discussion is that Western games (for the most part) are not advertised or promoted in Japan.  I just took another look at the Dengeki Playstation issue I just uploaded, and in the entire mag, the only appearances of a non-Japanese game are a one-page preview of NBA Street and a tiny review of Woody Woodpecker Racing. 

I work with elementary-aged kids, and I can pretty much guarantee that the only Western game any of them has ever played is Minecraft, and some of them with older brothers may have heard of Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty.  But that's about the extent of it. 

So no matter how much truth there may be in pointing out factors like xenophobia and culturally unappealing design, I think there is also simply a huge lack of awareness regarding Western games.

One last point - In Japan, there is a cultural propensity for desiring things because they are popular.  We have it in the West as well, but it's much more extreme here.  In the West, there is often a feeling of "oh, so this thing is popular, eh?  Well I'll just have to judge for myself."  And there is certainly no shame in liking or making things that aren't super popular, which is why things like "indie" bands/films/games are seen as just as artistically valid (sometimes moreso) than their mainstream counterparts.

But in Japan, this isn't really the case.  Popularity is everything.  If the masses have decided something is good, then there's no need to judge it for yourself, because it must be good.  If it doesn't sell well or is on an indie label, it isn't because it might be something of excellent quality albeit with a more niche appeal, it's because it isn't good enough to be popular and put out by a major corporation.  One of the things that constantly pisses me off here is that Western movies I want to see come out in theaters months later than - quite literally - the rest of the world.  The reason is that Japan likes to wait until those films have completely run their course at the worldwide box office before they release them so that their advertising campaigns can tout how "this movie was #1 at the box office worldwide for X weeks and made X million dollars so you know IT MUST BE GOOD!!"   That's the general way of thinking here.  So then it becomes a case of chicken and the egg.  Western games won't sell until they become popular, and they won't become popular until they sell.

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Interesting topic here... I'd be curious of examples as well. Looking at my own collection, the vast majority of my games from the PS1/2 era are from Japanese developers. There are definitely some really solid and fun games that are western developed, but I wonder, are there really any genres that are missing from Japanese developer portfolios that western developers have filled in the gap?

 

Only thing that MIGHT come to mind would be sports games, at least in the US, sports are quite huge here.

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7 hours ago, te72 said:

Interesting topic here... I'd be curious of examples as well. Looking at my own collection, the vast majority of my games from the PS1/2 era are from Japanese developers. There are definitely some really solid and fun games that are western developed, but I wonder, are there really any genres that are missing from Japanese developer portfolios that western developers have filled in the gap?

 

Only thing that MIGHT come to mind would be sports games, at least in the US, sports are quite huge here.

Oh there are tons of missing gaps.  Japanese and Western game design are so different, an argument about which is better is a waste of time.  It's apples and oranges, for the most part.  Which doesn't mean one can't prefer apples to oranges or vice versa, of course.

I wasn't suggesting that Japan doesn't buy Western games because Japanese games are better (although that was probably true of console games back in the NES days for the most part, and is perhaps why even today there is a misinformed opinion among some Japanese gamers that all Western games are kusoge (shit games).  Nor was I suggesting that Japan doesn't play Western games because there are plenty of homegrown Japanese games that cover all of the same bases (this is patently untrue - as I said earlier, we're talking about apples and oranges.)

In truth, I wasn't even wondering WHY things are the way they are.  I really was just curious about the numbers -- how many Western games actually get a Japanese release.  Finding a list of Japanese games released in the US is pretty easy.  Even finding lists of Japanese games NOT released in the US is pretty easy (fun fact - there are more Japanese-exclusive PS2 games than there are total games in the entire US PS2 library).  But finding a list of Western games available in Japan isn't easy.  From looking at Japanese magazine coverage, it would seem that the percentage of Western games released in Japan is incredibly small, but that could simply be a bias of the magazine, and not actually representative of the games being sold.

It might also be interesting to see a list that showed how many Western games released in Japan have been localized, and how many are simply released as is (i.e. in English).  I know on the PC side of things, the Japanese PC gaming market for actual games (i.e. not pornographic visual novels) is so small, that almost all of the "real" games that get  released for PCs are of Western design.  However, due again to the tiny nature of the market, the companies that license those games will often release them without localization, and it's up to the gamer to try to figure out how to play in a language they barely understand.

 

BTW, this is irrelevant to the original point of this thread, but you brought up genres that the West does well that are missing in Japan and mentioned sports.  There are actually tons of Japanese sports games, it's just that we haven't bothered bringing any of them over to the West since the 8/16-bit days.  Granted, if you want to play a football or basketball game, you're probably not going to find many options in Japan, but there are plenty of baseball/soccer/golf/tennis/horse racing (that's sort of a sport, right?) games to choose from.

Popular Western genres I'd say are mostly missing from the Japanese design esthetic are first-person shooters (which are famously disliked by Japanese gamers), and open world games like GTA (Japan favors more structured game design for the most part).  Perhaps due to their PC heritage, grand strategy/4x strategy games are also largely missing.  Other genres are present but so different as to almost not count.  RPGs, for instance.  Although early Japanese RPGs were influenced by Western PC RPGs, Japan quickly latched onto the Dragon Quest format of having a character or characters follow a mostly linear path from start to finish, often with a complicated storyline that doesn't allow for much in the way of actual role-playing, since characters have pre-scripted abilities and personalities and will be forced to complete most of their goals in the order that the story demands.  So in my opinion, RPGs (or Western RPGs, if you will) and JRPGs are not actually the same genre.

And of course, the biggest gap in Japanese game design (in my opinion) isn't a genre at all - it's indie games.  Yes, they exist, but the indie game market in Japan is miniscule compared to that of the West.  This is a potential problem for the future of Japanese gaming as I see it, since many new and innovative ideas come from indie developers who have the freedom to experiment and try new things.

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I don't know that you'd ever find the info you're looking for here bud. Sounds to me like a niche subject of a niche role of the available entertainment in Japan? Not that I don't find it an interesting concept, I just wouldn't know where to even begin looking. I wonder if it wasn't largely due to a lack of marketing, as I believe you mentioned. I mean, a western developer makes a game, with US sensibilities in mind, why bother trying to sell it across the ocean, if your target audience is right there? Might have been difficult to convince management of the value of exporting games to Japan.

 

Didn't know that Japan still did sports games, or at least I never really thought about it. Not my favorite genre, but I do remember some of the sports titles from Japan back in the SNES / Genesis era.

 

Are there any big western titles that have done well in Japan? Perhaps we could start a list here...

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1 hour ago, te72 said:

I don't know that you'd ever find the info you're looking for here bud. Sounds to me like a niche subject of a niche role of the available entertainment in Japan? Not that I don't find it an interesting concept, I just wouldn't know where to even begin looking. I wonder if it wasn't largely due to a lack of marketing, as I believe you mentioned. I mean, a western developer makes a game, with US sensibilities in mind, why bother trying to sell it across the ocean, if your target audience is right there? Might have been difficult to convince management of the value of exporting games to Japan.

Well, of course the place to find such information would have to be a Japanese website.  But I've never come across such a list anywhere, probably because no one in Japan is interested enough in non-Japanese games to make a list of them.

I do find it interesting that people can so readily accept the idea that almost all Western games are somehow inherently unappealing to Japanese sensibilities.  Hell, it may even be true, which is even more interesting.  Because while it's true that some of the most popular Japanese genres like dating sims and visual novels are never going to penetrate Western markets as anything more than niche titles, we obviously DO import quite a few Japanese games with great success.  Are Westerners just more open to different types of games?

1 hour ago, te72 said:

Are there any big western titles that have done well in Japan? Perhaps we could start a list here...

For the longest time, just about the only success story I can recall were the PS1 Crash Bandicoot games.  I was never a fan, but they sold really well in Japan for some reason.  Recently Minecraft has done very well and is without a doubt the most popular Western game (of the top 25 best selling games in Japan from 2016, only 2 were non-Japanese, and both were Minecraft.)  Other recent games targeting older audiences like GTA 5 and Call of Duty (fill-in-the-blank) have done respectably, if nowhere near the level of success they have elsewhere in the world.  The best-selling non-Japanese game of 2017 thus far is Ghost Recon Wildlands which has sold 209,000 copies in 30 weeks (#1 overall is Dragon Quest XI with 1,762,000 copies in 10 weeks).

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I'm open to playing just about anything if it has one or more of the following:

-Unique art style

-Great writing

-Atmosphere that pulls you into the game world

-Great controls

-A fun sense of humor

 

Really, my requirements aren't many, so long as it does at least one of those things well, I'm more than willing to check a game out. I'm a little disconnected from the modern gaming scene, and honestly, I'd have trouble naming you a list of big games in the last, oh, I dunno, 5 years over here?

 

As far as western games over there, I can see Crash Bandicoot having appeal. It was a great platformer, and had fun characters. Everything about those games just focused on the player having fun... even if it was frustrating at times, it was a motivational frustration, something that challenged you to do better next time.

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I guess one other point worth considering is that Japan makes so many games of its own, their market might not be able to support competing against foreign titles as well, so they choose not to release too many of them.

Beginning with the NES, America heavily relied upon Japanese games to fill out its console libraries, while Western developers preferred to focus their efforts on the PC.  As consoles became more PC-like in architecture, more and more Western developers made console development a priority, and the amount of imported Japanese games began to decline (somewhat), but there is so much console gaming history tied to beloved Japanese franchises that it seems unlikely that Japanese games will ever lose their strong presence in Western markets.

But Japan has never had a history of importing Western games.  Japan didn't even have a viable console market until the launch of the Famicom, by which time the US video game industry had already collapsed under Atari's excess.  There WEREN'T any US-made games to import.  And once the NES became successful and certain Western developers tried cashing in by churning out quick and easy garbage, the opinion in Japan that Western games were crap was quickly solidified (and since all serious game development in the West was happening on PCs, hardly anyone in Japan was aware of it, since the PC gaming scene there was so small).

So Japan made enough games to satisfy its own market to the fullest.  Importing lots of Western titles could have possibly hurt the sales of their domestic product.

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That is a much more informed and eloquent way of saying what I mentioned (well, touched on, anyway,) that they covered their bases in Japan. :)

 

I know it was largely a PC game franchise, but has somewhat come into its own in the PS3 / 360 generation, but how well did the Worms franchise do over there? It is easily one of my favorite western games. Hmm... this makes me realize something. You've mentioned how western development was mainly focused on PC games back in the day, and you know... most any good game I can think of that was made by a western developer HAS been for the PC. Doom, Diablo, Monkey Island (really, any of those Lucasarts adventure games), Worms, Wing Commander, Thief...

 

Perhaps the lack of western game proliferation in Japan is due to the hardware our best offerings were made for not being very popular in Japan at the time. Maybe it really is that simple... Much like we would have had to import and figure out how to play certain types of games back in the 90's, they would have had to do the same in Japan.

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Well, I wasn't trying so much to say their bases were covered (which implies they have domestic games that run the gamut of gaming experiences) as I was simply saying their market had no need/desire for even more games competing with their own.  I feel that there were plenty of Western-developed titles far more deserving of being played than certain Japanese titles, many of which offered different types of gaming experiences than what was commonly available in Japan.  But the only way to get those titles onto shelves would have been to displace Japanese titles, which they perhaps weren't willing to do.

As far as I can tell, the only Worms game ever released in Japan was the original, which was available on the Saturn as well as PlayStation.  I can only assume sales weren't amazing since no further games in the series were brought over (to my knowledge).

And yes, for anyone who grew up playing only console games, it may come as a surprise to learn that there was a whole other world of excellent gaming happening on the PC.  Until the Xbox (with honorable mention to the Windows CE-operated Dreamcast), consoles were Japanese products with ridiculously complicated hardware that was difficult to program for and required investing in expensive development kits and catering to the whims of Nintendo/Sega/Sony to get your game approved.  They were also technically inferior to computers in most ways, so Western developers focused on the hardware that allowed them to create the best games they could - the PC.  Consoles were viewed as toys for children for the most part, and most Western console titles of the 8/16bit eras were created as such, with little effort given to making quality games so long as they could sucker uninformed kids into buying whatever crap they churned out based on the colorful mascot character or movie license prominently displayed on the game box.  Thus, there was practically no overlap between PC and console game development.

These days, consoles have pretty much caught up to PCs, gaming wise.  They're still not as technically powerful, but the difference between a PC game and its PS4/XB1 port isn't so extreme as to affect the gameplay in most cases.  The modern landscape of Western console gaming is almost like looking at PC gaming, with a healthy smattering of Japanese titles added to the mix.  There are very few modern console titles developed in the West that can't trace their pedigree to PC gaming.  Which is why we gratefully import Japanese titles, since they come from a different pedigree exclusive to consoles and offer a unique experience.  It's just curious that Japan doesn't seem to share the same level of appreciation for the different experiences offered by foreign titles.

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Given how many names I see in Hiragana or Katakana online, playing multiplayer games, I'd say the digital age is closing the gap somewhat. You're right that there were some excellent western games over the years, and it would have been unfortunate to have not been able to experience them. It goes both ways as well... I recall how disappointed a lot of folks in my group were that we wouldn't be able to play Dragonball GT unless we shelled out a TON of money for it since it was such a small release here... That, and what I wouldn't have done to play a Rurouni Kenshin or Cowboy Bebop game back in the day! Knew about them, but unfortunately never got the chance.

 

Japan had similar measures of protectionism in regards to their auto industry back in the day, so perhaps they stuck to their "Made in Japan" attitude toward gaming as well. Nothing wrong with a little bit of nationalistic pride when it comes to art and production. The car subject is a topic I could discuss in another thread though, so I'll not clutter this one up. :)

 

Shame about Worms though, the early console ports were embarrassingly slow to play compared to the PC version. Not like you needed a super powerful PC to play it even, it was likely just porting issues causing the slowdown.

 

Consoles definitely had their place though... both from a budget and accessibility standpoint. So I'm grateful for the massive variety of games that we got to experience thanks to the Japanese development side of gaming. I mean, I could start listing off some of my favorite console exclusives, but we'd be here all day!

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