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Nintendo Treehouse Staff Reveal The Process Behind Choosing Which Games To Localise

Posted by Andy Green

They're a secretive bunch

The famous Nintendo Treehouse is situated deep in Nintendo of America's headquarters and is responsible for a lot of things, including bringing the company’s games from Japan to North America.

Shrouded in a mist of secrecy, the team that climbs up to the Treehouse every day are often devising complex marketing strategies, creating and compiling content and deciding which titles will be localised and which ones will stay put on Japanese soil.

Kotaku recently caught up with a select few members of the exclusive Treehouse and some interesting insights were revealed. For example, manager Leslie Swan said the team assesses the sales potential of each game and then decide whether it's good enough to justify spending the money on localisation.

Well, actually we have an evaluation system in place here and through that process we get the game in, do an evaluation of it to determine what we think the sales potential is, and it comes down to essentially if we don’t think the sales potential is great, we don’t do it.

Predicting the games that will sell and which will not is no easy task and several titles that are now a big part of Western gaming culture may never have made it. Take Animal Crossing for example, a title that was full of elements that linked back to Japanese heritage. Animal Crossing: New Leaf producer Katsuya Eguchi said Nintendo Japan had no intention to sell it overseas but sent ROMs of the N64 game to the Treehouse to see what they thought.

After some extensive playtime the Treehouse came to the conclusion the game could have a future in North America but it needed to have a few modifications so it fit in well with the culture in the proposed new market. For example, the shrine situated in the middle of the original game’s town was replaced with a fountain, while other items and jokes that would have made sense in Japan were swapped with some that would be more appropriate for North American gamers.

Animal Crossing made its debut on the GameCube in North America and the rest is history.

The team is also responsible for the localisation of European languages as well as English and this is not an easy task by any means. For example, writing dialogue for cut scenes that already exist can be tricky and they must painstakingly find wording that matches the movement of the characters lips without losing any of the meaning. This was particularly tough for the GameCube title Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, which had many cutscenes that couldn't be changed and script had to be written so it resembled what the characters were saying in Japanese.

The work of the Treehouse staff is not easy, but it also sounds like a lot of fun. Who knows what could be going on in there right now. Just thinking about it is exciting!

What are your thoughts on Nintendo's secretive department? What would you like to see come from it next? Let us know in the comment section below.


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User Comments (61)



sr388survivor said:

I can't help but imagine an actual tree house. lol.
Anyway, that's pretty cool. I'm sure that's a tough position to make those decisions that could very heavily affect the western market.



NMH-TRI said:

As long as they don't drop the ball on future RPGs being localized, I'll be okay. I understand them trying to match wording to lip movements, but I personally don't care. Out of sync wording to lip movement didn't stop me from enjoying Godzilla, haha (so there's probably a "special" type of game where that would be beneficial).

If they don't think a localization will be a success sales wise, slap subtitles on, throw it on the eShop, and keep those respective fans happy...



Ernest_The_Crab said:

@NMH-TRI Yeah but then those people will complain about how there's no physical copy of the game, you know of the type I'm talking about I think.

Really you can never win when it comes to localization because someone out there will always be more than happy enough to make a complaint.



NMH-TRI said:


I agree with you. Definitely can't please everybody. i.e. Bayonetta 2 as a Wii U exclusive or no Bayonetta 2 at all...and people complain. Seriously?

I gotta hand it to Xseed for taking the reigns for certain games. I had a lot of fun with Arc Rise Fantasia and Last Story.

Personally, if it's between no localization and an eShop only version, give me eShop and let the senseless cry about why they didn't do more with a game that may only sell 100,000 in the west.



Yanchamaru said:

GamePro (January 96) had an article about the Treehouse and showed pictures inside the office



Tindre said:

Love plus would sell really well I'm sure. Come on Treehouse dudes :<



rjejr said:

Localize Xenoblade again, nobody should have to pay $80 for a 2 year old game.

And that new 2D sidescroller w/ the giant walking goldfish. I have no idea what it is but I saw the video on a japanese Nintendo Direct once.



Darkness3131 said:

I seriously hope listening to fans is part of the criteria.... that's how a couple games have gotten here in the past so why not right?



AlexSora89 said:


These are the guys to thank for Fire Emblem making it out of Japan, but at the same time they're the ones to blame for the franchise's long japanese exclusivity.



BrightBeing said:

I can see Audrey from IGN... Toiling away at the next Animal Crossing with love and excitement...



alrighthearthis said:

I admire what the Treehouse employees do but wish there were a better process of deciding what makes it out West, especially when it comes to older games that can easily and cheaply be released in the E-shop like Sin & Punishment was on the Wii. You can't tell me there wouldn't be an audience for the NES Earthbound, Mother 3, the various NES and SNES Fire Emblem titles, and other various Nintendo games that haven't been released outside of Japan. The translations don't have to be Treehouse perfect for those games as Western gamers would just be happy to legitimately play them and a company like XSeed would likely be cheap to contract for such a task.



ZurrrrBlattTron said:

So these guys are the bum bums that thought mother 3 couldn't do big in North America then gathers pitch forks and torches yeah I'm still mad about that



DarkKirby said:

Is this game Anime? Don't localize.

Is this game not Anime? Localize.

Region Lock For The Win (on job security).



AVahne said:

They ended up not localizing Fire Emblem Heroes of Light and Shadow, unfortunately, so I'm hoping Nintendo doesn't skip out on anymore JRPGs from now on. The end of the Wii and DS's lives were a nightmare for JRPG fans, especially those who wanted to play Nintendo's IPs.



TwilightV said:

If there's concern about a game's sale performance, why not just make a limited print and then act according to it's performance during that run? Or just release it digitally?



Akira said:

@rjejr: Is that Sayonara Umihara Kawase, perhaps? They're (Marvelous/XSeed?) reportedly trying to get that localized. I'd definitely like to get that one. Still have to get around to getting the DS game, though.



CrazyOtto said:

Even if Animal Crossing on Gamecube never got localized, we probably would've still gotten the DS, Wii, and 3DS games.



Macarony64 said:

The only thing I want to hear is "we are localizing mh4 for a release outside of Japan".



LztheQuack said:

@TwilightV Because translation is a huge part of the localization process. If the game is big and huge on dialogue, it's a tough task. Releasing it digitally does not change anything.

@Macarony64: Well prepare to be disappointed as that is a Capcom title



Silent said:

Nothing new, only people who only care about the games they like refuse to know this.



mattcam84 said:

@BrightBeing I'm still sad that she's gone from IGN.. However I'm so happy knowing she works for Nintendo. Audrey must love working at the Treehouse.



IceClimbers said:

I will say that Nintendo has been much better about localizing games since Operation Rainfall's success.



brucelebnd said:

Nintendo is idiotic when he comes to localizing games. take Day of Disaster as an example. they take the trouble to localize Day of Disaster into english but only release it in Europe and it sells 20k copies, sure it would have at least done that in NA...

really if you want to play JRPGs or niche Japanese games you'll own a Sony system. Nintendo has basically abandoned that market on its consoles years ago.

people had to beg Nintendo for Xenoblade, they released Last Story in Europe but if it wasn't for XSeed it would have never come to NA. who know how many years people begged Nintendo for Earthbound and how many years it took them to release a game, already localized, on the VC.

I have little faith in Nintendo to localize anything when it comes to their consoles, if they do I buy it but that's pretty rare. they're great with the handhelds but the consoles since the N64 on have largely been forgotten



AugustusOxy said:

Weighing sales potential is impossible. I think its best to just take a chance, make a game download only, and release it. Someone will buy it, it will at least break even.



IKAY said:

What about putting no region lock on games that doesn't get localized? Because they don't get localized, there's no excuse for them to say such silly things like: "Without region lock it'll ruin the markets"



Morph said:

I dont think there are many nintendo games that dont get localised now, in fact i'm struggling to think of any in this wiiu/3ds gen. I think the fact of the matter is that if a game is good it will sell, it doesnt matter about little japanese nuances and such, in fact there are many western gamers who lap that stuff up and nintendo understands this now. What might be a good idea is to have a branch deal exclusively with localising older games for digital release.



FritzFrapp said:

The six-point plan to localizing niche games:

1. Cult Japanese games get green light for localization after constant positive feedback from import gamers, many months/years after initial interest.
2. NCL instruct NoE and NoA to maximise profits, so little to no marketing, small shipment and premium pricepoint chosen.
3. Near certainty a release date is chosen to coincide with traditional big hitters on competitors' platforms as well as Nintendo's.
4. Said game flounders at retail.
5. Anger on forums, Reggie 'not my problem' gifs everywhere, repeated clamour for region-locking removal, radio silence from Nintendo.
6. Rinse and repeat.



Zael said:

I think that every game should be localized always, to give the same offer to all the consumers. We are in globalization, I like japanese games like wond 101 more than the japanese do



One-Winged-Pit said:

Nintendo of America sucks. They are not as bad as they used to be but plenty of things never get localized.



RainbowGazelle said:

So these are the guys who still censor games for no reason cough Fire Emblem DLC cough. I didn't realise these guys did the European translations as well. How do they know what will sell in Europe? Shouldn't those decisions be up to NoE, like what happened with The Last Story and Xenoblade Chronicles, originally. Also, why do some games get separate UK English translations (Layton, Fire Emblem, The Wonderful 101) and others don't (Pokemon, Animal Crossing)?
@NMH-TRI Out of interest, did XSeed re-record any dialogue or just use the UK localisation for the American release of The Last Story. I'm just curious.



Cinaclov said:

I just find it amusing that it took ages to localise Animal Crossing, and even then us peeps in the UK had to petition to get it released here (it'd already been translated and released in the US, there was even an Australian PAL version at that point so literally the only thing they had to do was print and put copies on shelves to buy). And now it's one of Nintendos biggest sellers.



unrandomsam said:

@Zael All Neo Geo games had all the languages in. (There is some Jap only PSP games that you can choose English with as well).



unrandomsam said:

I would have bought those SaGa games released for the DS.

(Released as Final Fantasy Adventure in the West originally).

I will buy Dragon Quest VII if it arrives.

Translating SNES games for Virtual Console would be astronomically expensive but there is no reason new games they cannot put the English text in as at the same time. (Rather have the Jap voice track than a dub anyway).

I am not interested in Hentai. (Or Animal Crossing for that matter).

But when it comes to most games when such as Konami says what the East wants that is generally what I want.

For many games that are currently Japan only the text doesn't even matter. (Like the imports they put on the Virtual Console).

For shmups if they really normally only sell 4000 copies worldwide they should just give the option to kill the region lock on a game by game basis.

(I would have paid the full price + import duty for Kokuga).



Araknie said:

I wonder if SCEE or Microsoft even have a team like this, or do everything with CEOs and so what.

Because Sony and Microsoft don't even develop games anymore and i can feel that's why the PSVita is going to shat.
Come on, really? The PSVita TV is not gonna have any touch features, only 90% games on the common Vita use touchscreen, it's like nothing...yeah sure...

At least Nintendo does things from a games developer and consumer perspective, it's something they should always treasure and anyone who thinks they should change, well they better play the PSVita then.



element187 said:

"So these guys are the bum bums that thought mother 3 couldn't do big in North America then gathers pitch forks and torches yeah I'm still mad about that"

@siconlolz Well the first one they brought over bombed hard so its not a big leap in logic to decide not to bring over the sequel. It costs big money to localize titles (It was twice as expensive back in the early 90's)



element187 said:

@brucelebnd Nintendo doesn't localize JRPG's often because the American audience RARELY buys them. Operation Rainfall was succesful because it built hype for the games by stuffing the petition in everyones face on every gaming messaging board on the planet for a console that had over 100 million in the wild, If these games were localized and released independently on a console like the gamecube without Operation Rainfall campaign, they would have bombed HARD.

NOA has to be careful on which games it localizes, and I can't blame them for that, its a business after all, and you don't make money by pleasing your niche customers taste while ignoring the largest demographic on your system (Children/Parents).. I don't like it, I wish Nintendo would cater to my tastes and bring over every JRPG, but I understand why they don't.

The one to watch will be Project "X" From Monolith and Fire Emblem x SMT, if it these bomb (i'm pretty confident they will), it will back up what I said above.



LztheQuack said:

@Zael The problem with your stance is that you are only thinking of the consumers. This can devastate any business. You have to think about income as well to keep the business running, and localizing every game will strain the treehouse staff, cause Nintendo to lose a lot of money, and then ironically negatively affect the consumers.



brucelebnd said:

@element187 niche groups buy consoles. I know a lot of people bought a Wii just for Xenoblade Chronicles and the Last Story.

Nintendo didn't even release the Last Story in NA, it was XSeed. Nintendo paid for localization but totally ignored a market that usually out sells Japan and the EU, that's just stupid.

they did the same with Another Code R and Day of Disaster. granted they wouldn't have made Nintendo much money but they already spent the money to localize it. why not try to cater to niche fans when they're already spending the money anyway.

Project X and Fire Emblem will be great and I'll buy them. Nintendo does a good job on the handheld side of things but with the consoles they're been awful since the N64



rjejr said:

@Akira - Sayonara Umihara Kawase

Thank you very very much. It was on the tip of my tongue I think my wife can lend me her 3DS for a few hours.



element187 said:

@brucelebnd I didn't say niche gamers don't buy systems, but their numbers are very far and few between, the number on Wii has had to be less than a million. The only reason why the Operation Rainfall games sold well was the massive petition drive that brought it attention to gamer forums on a system that sold gangbusters.
Xenoblade sold 800,000 copies, on a system with well over 90 million systems is a terrible attach rate.. Translate that attachment rate to Wii U and you have a game thats going to bomb so unbelievably hard...... Project X and FExSMT as amazing I know both will be and I'll day one both of them on the eShop, but its going to bomb. Its going to bomb very hard, sadly.

Lots of great games bomb, its just a fact. Sadly Wonderful 101 bombed in Europe and Japan. I downloaded it Saturday night and I can't put my controller down. My guess is it will bomb in North America as well.

I cannot get upset at Nintendo for not wanting to localize games they don't feel is going to break even. Nintendo for their credit is the only company that consistently releases games they know wont sell very well, but they do it anyways. Being a platform holder lets them spread that risk around better than a publisher like Capcom or Square. But they wont invest in localizing a game that will sell a few thousand copies in the west.

I'm thankful they brought over FE:A, but lets be honest Nintendo didn't even think it would have sold over 50k copies, hence why they undershipped it.. its not some kind of conspiracy or anything, the series has never been very popular in the west and when a publisher overships a game they lose quite a bit of money, just like they lose money when they translate a game and it doesn't even make the cost back for that localization.



brucelebnd said:


but they do localize games. look at the Operation Rainfall games

Nintendo published and localize The Last Story and Pandora's Tower but only for the PAL region. so they spend the money on the process. They totally blew off the NA region. it was XSeed who brought The Last Story and Pandora's Tower to NA.

The Last Story sold twice as much in NA as PAL but Nintendo of America just didn't want to be bothered. it's not like they didn't already spend the money on localization either because they did.

they are niche games and Nintendo localizes them in the PAL reigon but not NA? NA usually has better sales than Japan and PAL but Nintendo of America just ignores a fan base. it isn't like they don't spend the money because they do or it wouldn't have been localized for the PAL region



Jock_Nerd said:

I'd be interested in knowing more about this process they use to see if a product might be profitable.



brucelebnd said:

The Demo of the Wonderful 101 is what killed that game.

the controls are frustrating at best. even after you figure them out. the drawing isn't exactly precise and that's frustrating when you're trying to combo with some of the more exotic weapons.

having intense action is great but when the controls aren't precise, it really hurts the game play.

people had high hopes for the game but it didn't live up to them and that's why it isn't selling well. if the controls were more precise then it'd be amazing but it's hard to sell people on a game with broken controls . that's always been the case even back in the 8 bit days



NMH-TRI said:


Xseed picked up publishing duties to release it stateside, but I don't think they did anything to "localize" it to NA. It's not like there would be any significant barriers between UK/US anyway.

I remember reading that the NA release is the same as the other English translations, so I don't think they changed any voicework. The accents are definitely there, so I think that was the case. After playing Last Story and Xenoblade, it really is hard to imagine the characters any other way.



NMH-TRI said:


There are 2 inputs for W101. Drawing on the screen or using the Right Analog stick (recommended). Watch Saur tear it up on Youtube. Or Caleb on IGN W101 commentary vids. The controls really aren't broken. I downloaded it at 1 am EST on the 15th. The only problem I have with the controls are the same problems I have when first playing a new fighter. It takes practice and muscle memory (which is a good thing).

I would say that they are easy to learn, hard to master. In a game like this, you should NEVER be able to pick it up and be a pro right off the bat. Ultimately though, it's all down to personal preference. If you found it frustrating, you found it frustrating. My opinion is obviously the opposite.



Squiggle55 said:

Would they have the main say on whether or not translating and releasing Mother 3 on the 3DS e shop would be worthwhile as well? The main fan translator already offered his translation for free. I don't see why Nintendo and the Treehouse wouldn't at least put this up for consideration after the success of Earthbound on Wii U.



Mario500 said:

The Nintendo Treehouse was named after the treehouse in the first Donkey Kong Country game.

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