Earlier this year we told you about Rainy Frog, a publisher with ambitions to bring a number of Western download games to the Japanese eShop stores and, in the future, vice versa. Its one of a group of companies that establish offices in Japan — in order to be eligible as publishers in the region — and bring cross-cultural expertise to ensure that both developers and consumers get the most out of localised content.
It's tempting for gamers in the West to consider localisation issues from their own regional context, but similar issues apply when taking a game developed in North America or PAL regions and preparing it for Japan. Companies such as Rainy Frog are also vital as, unlike the other territories around the world, publishers based outside of Japan cannot publish games themselves in the territory; a local publisher must officially pick up the reins.
In order to learn a little more about the process of taking games from the West to Japan, we caught up with Tony Byus, the driving force behind Rainy Frog and the creator of the GO series of games on DSiWare.
Nintendo Life: Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you come to work in the Japanese games industry?
Tony Byus: Before moving to Tokyo in 2000 I worked at Virgin Interactive in London as a Producer where I managed the release of Capcom games in Europe such as Resident Evil and Dino Crisis. It was a great opportunity and allowed me to visit Japan often on business. I become very interested in Japan and Japanese culture and decided to study Japanese in Tokyo for one year in 2000. After the course finished I chose to stay and have subsequently worked at various companies in Tokyo including Activision Japan, Marvelous Interactive and Interchannel.
NL: As a Japan-based publisher, will Rainy Frog be focused on localising Western games for the Japanese Wii U and 3DS eShop platforms, in particular, or do you have future plans for other formats?
TB: We’re starting with Nintendo but I hope we can work with other platforms too.
NL. What has prompted your initial decision to target Nintendo’s eShop platforms in Japan, as opposed to offerings from other console manufacturers?
TB: Two main reasons: I’ve worked a lot with digital downloads on Nintendo in the past having previously created the DSiWare GO Series so it felt like the best fit for me. Secondly, there are many less games on the eShop in Japan than in Europe and North America where there is a good collection of indie games. I think a lot of these games would appeal to Japanese players too so I wanted to bring some of these games to Japan.
NL: Your first localised game is KnapkNok Games’ Spin The Bottle. Why did you feel this was a good choice for the Japanese Wii U market?
TB: After buying a new machine people look for new experiences, so what better game than Spin The Bottle? Plus it’s a truly universal game that can be enjoyed by all people.
NL: What changes, other than translating the text into Japanese, need to be made to the game in order to make it suitable for a Japanese audience?
With the release of even more games, especially the likes of Mario Kart and Smash Bros, I expect the Wii U will gain more momentum through 2014.
TB: We didn’t need to make any changes to the game itself. The concept, controls and characters were all fine for Japan, we just needed to worry about how we were going to get Japanese players to give it a try.
NL: How will your approach to marketing this game differ in Japan, as compared to its promotion in the West?
TB: I think the Wii U in Japan is more family orientated, enjoyed by kids and parents together, so we had to change the way the game would be perceived to encourage this audience to try the game. We did this by changing everything the player would see on the eShop: The game name, banner, icon, screenshots and trailer.
Firstly, we chose the title “Waiwai” that means fun playing together. We couldn’t use the actor images KnapNok Games used to show the game in Europe and America because our audience was different and also some of the people have tattoos (something that Japan still has an issue with).
For the photos and game trailer we had a Japanese family, who had never seen the game before, come in and play the game. The images you see are a real family playing the game together for the first time. The shoot underlined my belief that the game is lots of fun for kids and adults. We also used the family photos for the banners on the eShop to help get across to the users what the game was about.
NL: In the West the Wii U has had some struggles growing a sizeable install base, and the media perception is not always positive. How is the Wii U perceived in Japan by the media and public, would you say?
TB: I think Wii U in Japan has similar challenges as Europe and America, but lots of new games and increased marketing at the end 2013 has made the machine much more prominent. With the release of even more games, especially the likes of Mario Kart and Smash Bros, I expect the Wii U will gain more momentum through 2014. Let’s remember the Nintendo DS and 3DS took some time to get going too.
NL: Some Indie developers have said publishing on the eShop is difficult as first party Nintendo games tend to sell in much higher volumes. Is this a concern for the Japanese market?
TB: The same could be said for Japan, but there are a lot less games available in Japan so there is an opportunity to get good visibility at the moment. That said, you can’t really compare the success of indie games to full-blown games developed by Nintendo. I’m sure the same ratio would exist if Nintendo developed games for PlayStation. Of course you have to honest about who the majority of your players are and make a game that will appeal to them.
NL. Do you feel the Japanese audience has a desire for different types of games which are not, perhaps, typically 'Japanese'?
TB: Yes, definitely, otherwise I’m going to be out of business pretty quick. Whereas before Japanese players could only play the games that publishers choose to release in Japan, the smartphone market has changed all this and Japanese people are now enjoying games from all around the world.
NL: Do you think the perception of Japanese gaming culture being so different to the West is accurate, or perhaps a slight misunderstanding?
TB: A quick glance at the charts of Japan VS EU or US will show the differences in traditional video game tastes. People’s background, culture and upbringing are very different so of course some of the things people like are going to different. This is not just games but all areas of including food and drink, movies, clothes, etc.
NL: Do you feel there is a big appetite for Western indie developers to release their eShop games in Japan? Is this seen as a good opportunity?
TB: From the developers I’ve spoken to there seems to be a lot of interest in releasing games in Japan and I hope Rainy Frog gets the opportunity to release some of them!
NL: Following the initial release of Waiwai! Minna De Challenge, what’s next for Rainy Frog?
Our first release was Machigai Sagashi Party, the Japanese version of Spot The Differences Party! for Wii U Download from Sanuk Games. Next I’m hoping we can release several more Wii U Download games in Japan, and perhaps 3DS too.
We'd like to thank Tony Byus for his time.