Since I started playing video games there have been franchises and companies that I have gravitated more towards. Koei, Squaresoft and Working Designs were my bread and butter up until the end of the PlayStation 1 era—Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Phantasy Star, Yakuza, Parasite Eve, the list goes on. While I was working in Japan, I would see a ton of games that looked interesting, fun, unique, on display in the various shops. Some eventually came to North American shores, others didn’t, and the answer we always get is “demand.”
Some games have a huge demand and get localized; others don’t and sit in Japanese purgatory, and others many wonder why the money was wasted on them. But this is 2015, not 1995. With Steam, PSN, Xbox Live, there are ways to make localizing games easier for companies, and most importantly cheaper. We live in a world of digital distribution, where at the snap of a finger a patch can be uploaded to a server for people to download, where fan made content is readily available, and where the disc can be made for Japan, but a simple English patch made to make it international.
We live in a world where there is no excuse for a major company ignoring those outside its border. Whether people like it or not, English is the global lexicon. Having lived overseas in Asia for half of my 20s, I see English everywhere and it is not just for the tourists. Companies make their signs in English to seem more international, look trendy and to garner foreign sales. There are reasons why Sony, Hyundai, and others write their name in Roman letters, and not their own language: marketing and sales.
Companies will rightly point out it costs money to localize a game professionally. I counter with one word: Kickstarter. After seeing Shenmue 3 get funded within hours of its reveal, Kickstarter is the perfect platform for companies and fans to put up, or shut up. If there is a fear a game won’t meet the demand to break even, make a profit, and be worth the effort, kickstart it. Put the onus on the fans who are always so quick to talk in the forums and comment sections how they would love Game X, Y and Z.
To not do so is a waste of their potential. It took years for Sega to finally decide to bring Yakuza 5 to the west. Yakuza: Ishin and Zero are still Japanese only. Put the ball in the fans’ court. Put the games on kickstarter and simply say “Meet this number and you’ve got your game.” It costs no one anything if it fails, and at least both sides know the real deal if a franchise is popular or not. Yakuza is simply an example. You can pick whichever game or series holds your heartstrings.
Some critics will say it is poor form for major companies to put the cost on the consumer first. I retort with, why is that a problem if it is only the localization of a finished product? If you want that game so badly, why not pay it upfront? Is the company going to go bust? Highly unlikely, as I doubt Square Enix or Koei Tecmo are going to go bankrupt soon. Is the game going to suck? Check YouTube if that is a concern. It is a win-win for all parties concerned.
It is the year 2015. Companies need to get creative in their process of localizing their games because it is money in the bank not being collected. This goes for JP to ENG, ENG to JP, or whatever slice of language is being sought after. Franchises will wither and die if the fans are unable to play them.
What games would you like to see get localized in English? Do you see Kickstarter as a viable method for localizations?