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Video Games That Get Lost in Translation

Old 04-29-04, 10:51 AM
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Video Games That Get Lost in Translation

Why Most US Titles Don't Fare Well in Japan (and vice-versa)

By Steven Kent
Special to MSNBC
Updated: 7:36 p.m. ET April 28, 2004

Despite the success of American music and movies in Japan, Western-made video games have never done well in the Japanese market. American-made consoles such as 3DO (released in Japan in 1994) and most recently the Microsoft Xbox (released in two years ago) never seem to attract consumers in large numbers. Games such as "Enter the Matrix" from Atari, and "The Lord of the Rings" by Electronic Arts, both released last year, often vanish from the Japanese market without leaving a trace.

One obstacle U.S. game makers face is the different emphasis Western and Japanese gamers place on licenses. In the West, consumers look for games with ties to blockbuster movies such as Harry Potter or professional athletes such as John Madden.

The type of game makes a difference as well. "Doom 3," "Half-Life 2," and "Halo 2" are three of the most anticipated upcoming games among Western audiences. Don't expect them to do well in Japan, however. In fact, they will have two strikes against them even before they land on the docks. All three games are, in addition to being violent, played from the first-person perspective. Such first-person perspective shooters (FPS) are big in the West, but have never really caught on in Japan. And few violent games sell well there, either.

"FPS games have become more popular; however, most Japanese people are resistant to FPS games," said Kouji Aizawa, editor in chief of Famitsu PS, a popular gaming magazine in Japan . "A lot of people [still] resent the idea of shooting people in games."

There are signs that Japanese tastes are changing. When Microsoft launched Xbox in Japan in 2002, one of the big games for the system was "Halo," an FPS game that sold over 1 million copies in the United States. Japanese sales of the game topped 75,000. That may not sound like much compared to the U.S. and European sales, but it is significant when you consider that only 400,000 Xbox consoles have been sold in Japan.

More recently, the World War II-based FPS, "Medal of Honor: Rising Sun," has sold more than 200,000 copies in Japan since its launch in December.

"I feel like we tipped open the door to FPS gaming on consoles with 'Halo,'" said Mike Fischer, Xbox director of marketing in Japan. "So Electronic Arts comes in with 'Medal of Honor,' and they sell 200,000 units in two weeks. I do not believe that, and a lot of people feel the same, that they would have sold any at all if "Halo" had not opened that door to that new genre."

But despite the relative success of "Halo" and "Medal of Honor," the gulf in taste between Japanese and Western gamers appears to be growing.

A tale of two cultures
Though U.S.-made games have never done especially well in Japan, until recently, Japanese games dominated the Western market. Companies such as Square Soft, Sega, Namco, and Sony routinely had games on the annual lists of best-sellers. In 2003, however, the only Japanese company on the U.S. top 10 was Nintendo, nabbing four of the top 10 slots with "Pokemon Ruby," "Pokemon Sapphire," "The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker" and "Mario Kart: Double Dash."

The 2003 results were even more bleak for U.S. games in Japan, where no American games made it into the top 10 for the year. Still, some games have done well enough to surprise analysts and industry watchers.

"I thought 'Grand Theft Auto' would not do well here, but it did much better than I expected," said Kiyoshi Komatsu, president and COO of KOEI, a company that specializes in strategy games.

In fact, approximately 400,000 copies of "Grand Theft Auto III" have been sold in Japan since its release there last summer, catching the entire industry by surprise. Still, that number pales next to the 9 million copies the game has sold in North America and Europe since its release in 2001.

"Grand Theft Auto III" is played from the third-person perspective, not first-person. But its non-linear style of play has not typically been popular in Japan. Unlike a more narrative style of game, players can changes goals or objectives at will. They can chase an enemy or ignore that enemy entirely as they achieve other objectives.

“Japanese players do not like being thrown into an arena in which they are given very little instruction,” said Hideo Kojima, creator of the popular "Metal Gear Solid" games. “You can head in any direction, 360 degrees. They say, ‘What am I supposed to do? Give me hints. Provide me service instead of just throwing me into this arena.’"

"As games become more sophisticated, culture becomes more suffused," said Microsoft's Mike Fischer. "In some respects, I think it becomes more and more important to have development that is local and unique to each culture."

Different standards for violence
And then there is the question of violence. "Grand Theft Auto," in which players establish a crime empire through drug-running, prostitution, and more than a little assault, was on the cutting edge of Western tastes. By Japanese standards, however, it was down right antisocial.

Japanese gamers generally prefer fantasy, strategy, and role-playing games, while U.S. gamers prefer crime, shooters, and sports. Even when it comes to fighting games, U.S. tastes have been more violent, historically speaking.

"Violent games are not so popular in Japan," said Namco managing director, Keiji Tanaka. "[They are] more popular in the U.S. market."

Of course, it also depends on how you define "violent."

"What is violence, really?" asked Aizawa. "Western games tend to include more violence. Did you think 'Street Fighter' was violent?"

Capcom’s "Street Fighter II" was a mega-successful arcade game from Japan and it raised a few eyebrows when it was released into U.S. arcades in 1991. But the game's blend of punches, kicks and fireballs looked positively pacifistic when Midway's "Mortal Kombat" arrived the next year. The U.S.-made "Mortal Kombat" included "fatality" moves such as ripping out opponents' hearts or spines.

"Mortal Kombat" outsold and overshadowed "Street Fighter II" in the United States, but when Midway introduced "Mortal Kombat" into Japanese arcades in 1993, the game did poorly.

The difference in how violence is portrayed persists. Namco publishes two very successful lines of fighting games: "Tekken" and "Soul Calibur. Both, like the "Street Fighter" games, feature full-contact fighting, but no blood.

There are exceptions, however. Capcom's "Biohazard" (sold in the United States as "Resident Evil") has sold well in Japan since the survival horror series was introduced in 1996. With its flesh-eating zombies and murderous parasites, "Biohazard" is both hugely successful and exceptionally gory.

As of last month, the highest rated violent game on Japan’s best-sellers list was #27 --Capcom’s "Onimusha 3," a supernatural samurai game that has bounced around the best-sellers list since its release on February 26.

Both in Japan and in the West, the market is the ultimate determinant. Games are driven more by consumers' tastes than that of developers, Kojima said.

“Western games have expanded in the true sense of action games," he said, whereas Japanese consumers "prefer more storytelling, more detailed settings within the game, a more narrative kind of style often with anime mixed into it.”

Encouraged by the success of "Grand Theft Auto," Japanese game makers may adopt a more aggressive stance when it comes to adult content. This could also help improve their standing in Western markets, where there has been a definite shift toward older audiences and more mature games.

Concentrating on more mature games, however, may open the door for increased popularity of U.S.-style games in Japan itself. The country that has made such an industry out of exporting video games may find itself increasingly importing games as well.

© 2004 MSNBC Interactive

Source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4780423/

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Interesting article. I definately think that cultural differences are significant in the sales of games and consoles.
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Old 04-29-04, 10:57 AM
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I personally am rooting against american games, especially violent crap like GTA, not catching on in Japan.

I don't care for these types of games, and many other "american" gaming genres, and depend on Japanese developers to get me my favortie games for the most part. Thus the unpopularity of American games in Japan works in my favor.
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Old 04-29-04, 11:03 AM
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I thought this would be about the video game adaption of "Lost In Translation".
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Old 04-29-04, 11:24 AM
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I too will side against American made garbage. Most American games are ugly, sloppy, and usually only try to create a concept to sell rather than a game (ie: movie licenses, the childish violence and sex factor). Japanese games are typically visually pleasing, tightly developed, and try to sell excellent or innovative gameplay.

There are of course exceptions to both of these rules. Metroid Prime is American made (Texas represent!) and it's one of my top games this generation (though it was overseen by a Japanese company). Beyond Good and Evil and Price of Persia, both I believe are American made, and while I haven't played through them all the way yet, they are both game I expect to really enjoy.

It's downright depressing that a game like Wind Waker is shit on by American gamers because of the way it looks. In my eyes, Wind Waker is the best looking game ever, and it'll be a cold day in hell when an American company can put something out that features such rich environments and stunning detail to animation and character. Instead we'll see games with ugly repetitive textures and people that walk like they haven't taken a poop in days with square heads and hands as being praised.
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Old 04-29-04, 12:13 PM
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Old 04-29-04, 12:19 PM
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Halo & Knights of the Old Republic another two very well made games that were developed right here in the U.S. but for the most part the bad out weighs the good and it's the exact opposite in Japan.

And I have to agree with Pixy in regards to Wind Waker. The majority of American gamers practically wrote this game off after just looking at the screen shots. Today its all about how the game looks rather than how it plays. It's sad that most gamers probably haven't even played Zelda because they don't like how it looks and they're missing out on one of the best games made for any system.
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Old 04-29-04, 12:20 PM
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how do they say that street fighter II wasnt popular in the US?

it was HUUUGE
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Old 04-29-04, 12:33 PM
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They don't say it wasn't popular, but just that it got outdone by Mortal Kombat, which is true.
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Old 04-29-04, 12:48 PM
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I likes the violent crap of GTA AND the Japanese-developed Final Fantasy's.

A fun game, is a fun game.
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Old 04-29-04, 01:16 PM
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From Slashdot...

====

Grand Theft Auto sold surprisingly well in Japan, but I sort of wonder what they're doing in it. Maybe they're just driving around, obeying traffic signals, listening to the radio, watching the sunset...

One of my friends had a PS2 waaay before I did. When we finally got her to buy GTA3 she was doing exactly that in the game. Stopping at stop lights, changing radio stations, etc. The rest of us finally had to yell at her "What are you doing!? You just stole this car, so why aren't you driving it like you did?"

====
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Old 04-29-04, 01:20 PM
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Originally posted by Josh Hinkle
They don't say it wasn't popular, but just that it got outdone by Mortal Kombat, which is true.
I'll have to call this one out as well.. Mortal Kombat might've outdid Street Fighter for a short while, but Street Fighter has far outlived and outshined Mortal Kombat on both shores. Of course, Mortal Kombat only had it's spike in popularity because of it's violence, NOT because it was a better game. Almost anybody in the free world that has played both can easily see that the gameplay, control, and feel of Street Fighter was a novemdecillion times greater than Mortal Kombat's. It caught up and Street Fighter's superior gameplay has stood the test of time, still being enjoyed by many in it's past and present incarnations.
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Old 04-29-04, 01:22 PM
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..For the record, I actually enjoyed Mortal Kombat II.
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Old 04-29-04, 01:36 PM
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There are enough of the few gems that come out in the USA, to keep me busy for quite some time.

In the meantime, I won't fret about which region gets more better games.
What the heck am I gonna do about it anyhow?
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Old 04-29-04, 02:04 PM
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Anyone else find it highly odd that MOH: Rising Sun is doing well in Japan?
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Old 04-29-04, 02:15 PM
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Originally posted by tanman
Anyone else find it highly odd that MOH: Rising Sun is doing well in Japan?
Yeah.. kinda creepy, eh?
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Old 04-29-04, 02:19 PM
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Re: Video Games That Get Lost in Translation

Originally posted by shimmoril
Why Most US Titles Don't Fare Well in Japan (and vice-versa)

By Steven Kent
Special to MSNBC
Updated: 7:36 p.m. ET April 28, 2004

One obstacle U.S. game makers face is the different emphasis Western and Japanese gamers place on licenses. In the West, consumers look for games with ties to blockbuster movies such as Harry Potter or professional athletes such as John Madden.
Get your facts straight, Steven Kent...
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Old 04-29-04, 02:20 PM
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Good catch.
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Old 04-29-04, 02:33 PM
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Originally posted by Setzer
Halo & Knights of the Old Republic another two very well made games that were developed right here in the U.S.
Bioware is based in Alberta. Since they are one of my favorite developers, I'd say the Canadians must be doing something right.
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Old 04-29-04, 03:43 PM
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Interesting article. I guess American Gaming is "doomed" pardon the pun.
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Old 04-29-04, 04:32 PM
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Everyone has jumped on the american games suck band wagon. This is about Japanese vs Western gaming tastes, as of right I think Japanese gaming is taking a beating due to changing age demographic and economy issuses worldwide. The Western market has in my opinion mature since that crash of 82'. Western taste for Japanese games is on the wade. The reason Sony is doing well in is because of the GTA series in the Western world. In Japan, the reason is it's large library of RPGs. I remember when I had a amiga the only games I could get were from Europe(Big user base in Europe) and they beat the hell out of the American crap at the time. I hate hearing that gaming is going to crap just because Japanese gaming is on a downward swing, I feel this will force them to become more innovative in game design an example of this is Breakdown for the XBOX.
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Old 04-30-04, 12:14 AM
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Originally posted by outer-edge
Bioware is based in Alberta. Since they are one of my favorite developers, I'd say the Canadians must be doing something right.
A previous poster mentioned Prince of Persia and Beyond Good & Evil, which were also developed in Canada (Ubisoft Montreal). The plot thickens...
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Old 04-30-04, 12:19 AM
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Old 04-30-04, 12:47 AM
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You know, I'm trying to think of one region I tend to like more for their style of games, and I have to say I pretty much find equal good in them all.
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Old 04-30-04, 01:39 AM
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but for the most part the bad out weighs the good and it's the exact opposite in Japan.
Actually it's exactly the same. Sturgeon's Law, like gravity, applies in Japan just as it does everywhere else.

Get your facts straight, Steven Kent...
Actually I don't think that's Kent's fault. I'm willing to bet his original text simply said "Madden" (referring to the franchise, not the man himself) or "Madden 2004" and the editors changed it for fear the readership wouldn't necessarily understand the reference. Since the Madden series does heavily rely on athletes in its promotional material (how long as it been since Madden even appeared on the front of the box?) it's not inaccurate if that was in fact the case. Kent knows his stuff -- he's a video game journalist, not just a journalist who happens to write about video games once every now and then -- so I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
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Old 04-30-04, 01:55 AM
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Originally posted by DonnachaOne
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