Recently I’ve been talking to Mark Kern, the former video game developer behind huge titles such as StarCraft and Diablo II, about his latest project in the games industry. Kern set up the League for Gamers several years ago as a reaction to the proposed SOPA and PIPA acts. In the wake of several censorship and localization controversies, the League has now focused their spotlight on the untarnished localization of Japanese games to the Western market. His mission statement:
there may be a chance to show them another side, that there is a market here for their games “as is” and that gamers love their work.
TechRaptor talks to Kern about his intentions and how he will go about getting the message across to Japanese developers.
TechRaptor: Firstly, you said you want to get in touch with Japanese devs. What do you want to convey to them?
Mark Kern: LFG members and I are very interested in reaching out to Japanese game developers to convey that there is a healthy market for them in the West that appreciates what they make.
If I take my perspective while I was developing Starcraft and WoW and shipping these titles to Korea and Asia, there was a lot that I had to learn. I had a lot of misconceptions about these markets that took me a while to understand. This is natural. There is a vast distance between here and there and many cultural differences.
Now, I grew up in Asia, in seven different countries, but even then it was challenging to adapt the experience to game trends. I believe Japanese and other Asian developers might have similar difficulties perceiving what gamers value in their work here, or who to listen to for feedback.
If you listen only to the journalists who are fond of attacking Asian games, you might conclude gamers are hostile to Japanese creator’s views and content. But the last year has shown there is a great divide between gamer interests and the gaming press at large. I would want to convey that to Japanese developers, and give them the perspective of the gamer, through our members, that we actually are greatly enthusiastic about their games and want to buy them.
TR: How do you plan on getting their attention?
MK: We’ve been reaching out to Japanese press, just recently, to raise awareness and establish a direct feedback channel from gamers here to Asia. We think this is a good starting point. We’re also trying to establish direct communication with publisher and localizers overseas.
I have several personal contacts in Korea, Japan and China as well. But it’s tricky. LFG needs to show it has broad support to get these issues the attention they deserve. We are at over 4000 members right now, but we’d like a critical mass of around 50,000 before we feel it will begin to make a real impact and get enough attention.
If we can reach a higher number of members, we can accomplish more. It’s really the whole point of LFG, to gather gamers together and provide a strong consumer organization to represent them in gaming issues here and abroad.
TR: What do you hope the outcome will be?
MK: Our goal, quite simply, to reverse the decision not to ship certain titles to the West, such as DOA3 Xtreme. We want to see all these games make it over the West. We also wish to provide direct gamers feedback to overseas companies so that they understand what will make their localization successful. To this end, we’re publishing a small set of localization guidelines, from a gamer’s perspective, that we hope to distribute to Asia.
TR: There has been a petition recently with similar aims under the hashtag #1milliongamersstong. However this currently seems optimistic as there are only a few thousand signatures. Why do you think your initiative will be different?
MK: We support the #1milliongamerstrong petition which has about 6,500 signatures last I checked (now almost 8000). I think it’s a pretty good start. While #1milliongamesstrong is a petition, League for Gamers is an organization, with its own social media platform, and group volunteers who run initiatives like our developer learning center. That’s already inherently different, since LFG is a permanent organization that’s designed for the long haul. We can’t just rely on spur of the moment issues and petitions, gamers need a permanent organization that is going to represent them and stay vigilant for their rights 24/7. @League4gamers has 4.700 Twitter followers so far and over 4000 members on the leagueforgamers.com website and we’re gaining more consistently every month. Growth was nearly 30% last month so we’re definitely picking up steam as we release more features.
League For Gamers has a multifaceted approach. Besides future tools to organize petitions, e-mail campaigns and call-ins, we have a game developer education program to foster innovation, and are starting up a games research group next year. Our jobs board, for recruiting indie game teams to finding jobs in the industry, is starting this week. The real key was starting with the social site, which allows members to list and rate their skills, as a way of finding and organizing volunteers to take on these multiple, positive projects for gaming.
TR: Localization isn’t always a problem because of cultural differences, such as the reasons why DOAX3 won’t be localized, but also because Japanese developers don’t always think Japanese concepts will be popular in the West such as we have seen with Yokai Watch and Yakuza 5. Are you planning to address this too? Does this require a different approach?
MK: I think there are several reasons for Japan being leery of Western markets. First and foremost, Japanese companies are very, very conservative. They tend to be risk adverse. So I think one of the biggest misconceptions we have to address is this feeling that a negative reaction by certain gaming press or or anti-game pundits will impact sales negatively, when the truth is just the opposite. Games that have been heavily attacked, such as Grand Theft Auto all the way to indie dating game, HuniePop, have swelled in sales. Even the DOAX series is dominated by Western sales to the tune of 60% of copies sold. LFG is assembling a quick fact sheet that we hope addresses the business concerns of these Japanese publishers.
Beyond business reasons, we have to dig deeper. We don’t yet fully understand why, for example, KOEI would ignore 60% of sales in the West. We have to find out more. LFG has been reaching out to Japanese press and localization firms to find out more. We’ve made some initial contacts that we hope to follow up on after the holidays. But one thing is certain, Western gamers DO buy these games, and the potential negative social media reaction does little but boost your sales and should be ignored as the fringe minority of non-buyers that they are.
TR: Is there any last message that you want to tell our readers? What can individuals do to help bring Japanese games to the west?
MK; I think my final statement would be that the fact that League for Gamers and discussion of censorship in gaming are becoming ban-able offences on the web is exactly why we need League for Gamers. ( A previous interview with Kern about LFG was banned on N4G.) We’re here to offer free speech in gaming and fight for creative freedom in games. If gamers don’t want this to be the norm, if they don’t want to see free discussion on games disappear, they should join us, tweet about it, blog about it, and get our voices out there.
TechRaptor would like to thank Mark Kern for his time.
What do you think of the League for Gamers? How can we get more Japanese games to the West?