Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The West Fall From Grace With Japanese Imports

At some point in the past, we at the west were having a blast with Japanese imports. Most games had their version for the west be it with subs, dubs or even the all powerful multi-language feature that has become basically extinct in these days and the only games that were kept in Japan where the ones that were extremely strange in nature and had no market over here. It was an era where censors and marketing people were a little looser they are now. At the time, the market was more open in terms of risk taking and companies were all into been the most "bad-ass" rather than the extra profits and austerity that they show at our present time. At that point in gaming history we used to be showered with cool Japanese games that complemented our own locally made games.

So...What Happened?
Well, if you grew up with the previous scenario you may have noticed that we have become kind of secluded in terms of imported video games. Yeah, we have a local video game market that is quite strong, but that doesn't mean that we are not going to support games from the other side of the world. On this day and age, any Japanese publisher thinks about it like 1,000.000.000 times before making a simple localization that on the past would had been a no brainer. Just to give you an example, approximately 10 years ago, we got 3 Fatal Frame games, while today as of October 2014, people at Koei Tecmo said that they think that the new Fatal Frame game (Wii U) will be a Japan only release. All of this while survival horror is making a big comeback into the west market which makes this all to be painfully ironic.

Sega Yakuza
If we talk about Japanese franchises that vanished from the west, Yakuza is a big one.

The problem with all this situation is that we are been starved of a lot of awesome games and nice things because of some really dumb misconceptions like:

1) Japanese games wont sell well in the west.
Answer to that: Nonsense! Just because one game of the series flopped in the past (for a plethora of other reasons) it doesn't mean that all of them will do so too. Most of the time some imports fail in the west because of bad marketing and the lack of advertising efforts. That notion that the west generally see Japanese games as weird is a dumb generalization that must stop. The really weird aspect of this misconception is that some Japanese games have a great chance of success because they resemble games that are popular on our side of the planet, but many publishers still refuse to localize them.

2) Japanese cultural references will not fit with the west.
Answer to that: Are you kidding me? I think that Japanese marketers need to take a look on how popular anime has become in the west, especially within North American and Latin American Audiences. Many series are huge in the west and many aspects of the Japanese/Korean cultures are revered on this side of the world, not only as video games, but television series, music and movies. You don't need to "predict" how are we going to react. If the game is fun or at least interesting then we will be able to handle it.

3) Their business models don't fit with the west.
Answer to that: This one looks as if it is enough reason to keep a game out of our turf, but if you see it from a deeper point of view you will notice that the whole gaming market presents different types of opportunities that are not limited to one type of consumer. There are several business practices available including platform exclusivity, extra deals favorable to the players or even the creation of extra content and/or game elements. It is understandable that their business model may differ with the popular ones on our side, but they can re-shape their current ones into something that can help them profit from releasing the game overseas instead of succumbing to their lack of faith in the occidental gamer.

So you want to play PS VITA games on your TV set? Nope, only in Japan.
O.k, but who's to blame then?
If we are going to point fingers the first ones to blame would be Japanese publishers themselves. In the last 10 years, many Japanese gaming companies began to radically change their games instead of evolving them into modern versions of their winning formula. This gave the false impression that we were just not interested in Japanese games anymore while the truth was that those erratic experiments they made were the ones that pushed the fans off some franchises that used to be quite popular. All of this just because they wanted their games to have an American feeling which is a complete betrayal of their original style and the wrong thing to do, as imitation meets failure more often that you may think.

Other ones that are to blame are the marketing people for these Japanese companies that have the mistaken notion that the west hate their games and the third and final piece of the blame game belongs to us, the western gamers. Why? because when one of the few Japanese imports actually reaches our shores, we cheer and all but still ignore it or just wait too much time to get it. Its like we like the game, but don't want to put our money where our mouths are and then we complain when they don't want to release games over here anymore.

Fatal Frame Wii U
This is one of the currently missing imports that saddens me the most.
Wrapping it up
We can once again be what we used to be for Japanese developers, but in order for that to happen we have to show our love for the games, rather than just speak about it and moan when the games fail to be released. It sounds harsh, but it is the truth because many of us old school gamers and Japanese game fans have become too complacent and haven't realized that we are not in the 90's anymore and that in the world we live in today, if there is no solid demand for a product, it wont happen. So we need to sober up from all the good times reminiscing and keep up with what is happening today if we want some good imports to come our way.

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