Japanese video games rarely make it to North America or Europe. The reason: Many developer companies see the foreign market as inappropriate, since the contents of the games are exclusively aimed at the Japanese user. Today, however, there is a contrasting trend: There is now a huge fan base abroad that loves the Japanese video game culture – and the industry is slowly giving way to the demand.
Even if it is still a niche market: Japanese video games are also becoming more popular outside the country. For many developer studios, however, this is new territory, because:
- Most Japanese video games do not go beyond national borders.
- Players outside of Japan can only enjoy the titles as an import.
- Localizations (if any) are only “half-hearted”.
In particular, the last point is annoying for many customers from abroad, because even if the Japanese game culture is very special, a localized version should at least provide the content. But often this is not the case.
The typical “mistakes” of localized Japanese video games
Japanese game developers underestimated the popularity of their titles abroad. Often, these games have a close relationship with Japanese society and culture, so it was assumed that the Japanese market alone is the target. Localizations of Japanese video games were therefore only half-hearted (if at all). The result was anything but satisfactory:
- Spoken text of the protagonists was not translated, but merely provided with subtitles.
- Whole scenes and sequences were cut out because the producer decided that they were aimed at cultural peculiarities of Japan – foreign players would not understand that.
However, due to globalization and global networking, Japanese culture is no longer as foreign to consumers abroad as it was.
On the contrary, there is a huge fan base, which particularly likes Japanese titles such as “Yakuza“, “God Eater” or the many so-called “Visual Novels” (a kind of text adventure in manga style). This means for the developers that a localization of their games in a professional way is a must, in order to serve this growing market abroad.
Foreign countries are demanding more Japanese games – the industry is reacting
Many major developer companies in Japan have recognized the growing demand and are also offering localized titles for foreign countries. In most cases, however, German-speaking players must be content with the English language. However, Capcom , one of Japan’s largest developers , offers much more than enough:
- Up to 15 different text languages per title.
- Particularly popular titles such as Monster Hunter , the fourth part of which was released in 2014, play a particularly important role here – the localized versions are improved from version to version (the Japanese game industry learns from errors, thanks to community feedback).
The nature of many Japanese titles does not make the developers’ job easy, but the will to use the market is there. And if the game companies themselves fail, the gaming community takes the helm itself: A kickstarter campaign for the localization of CLANNAD, a popular Visual Novel, required 140,000 US dollars. It later reached more than 540,000 US dollars. This shows once again how much demand is actually.