Sunday, August 06, 2006

America's love affair with Japan

You remember when most of us were little and Japan was considered, 'the enemy’? Much like how Russia was going to bomb us all in the middle of the night. Maybe you don't and I'm really just letting everyone know how old I truly am. Oh well. However somewhere along the way America came to huggle Japan and really started to become interested in their, 'kawaii' culture. Maybe it was, 'Gung Ho' since that movie rocked.

Whatever has happened (nintendo, pokemon, anime, etc) there seems to be a certain group of hardcore gamers and journalists that do nothing but rally about how great Japanese games are. The odd thing though is that most of the games that they are celebrating Japanese consumers are ignoring. Games like Katamari, Ico, etc are talked about how great they are and yet they are failures in Japan also. I think Ico saw its greatest success in Europe. Unfortunately I honestly don't know if hardcore gamers/journalists in Japan talk about how great these games are or if it’s just an American thing.

The latest example of an original Japanese game that got the old message boards excited is Loco Roco for the PSP. I downloaded the Japanese demo as soon as I could (even upgrading my PSP to do so) and while I loved the artwork, the music, etc the game itself felt like it could have been better. I still have yet to play the full release but I hear it's already selling for a discounted rate in Japan (1980 yen).

I think games like Loco Roco and Katamari seem so exciting to us is because they are an example of a different style that is unfortunately very common in Japan. This style has infected everything in Japan - the whole damn country has been saturated with this stuff. Japanese consumers have become acclimated to it where as American consumers think it's the greatest thing ever. While Loco Roco and Okami are not out yet in America I am willing to bet they will both sell more in America than they have so far in Japan. I've already heard people consider Okami a flop in Japan.

And it's not even just these games - Viewtiful Joe's anime has done much better in America than Japan. Hell, I think the games have also (has anyone actually played part 2? I own it and have never even turned it on).

So here in America where most of our games are nothing but gore and violence having something different is a welcomed change. However...the same cannot be said for in Japan. You would think that with Japan's love affair of America - everything from Hollywood to Starbucks to Hip Hop to Fashion have taken over Japan. I read somewhere that Vice City is the best selling game in Japan with only like 400,000 copies sold. Maybe one of these days I’ll do some real research before writing a blog post, but I guess that’s what keeps this as a blog post and not a real article.

I won't even attempt to try to figure out why American games don't sell in Japan cause i have no idea either. However the games that are being touted as the greatest thing ever by fanboys aren't selling in Japan as well. Although it seems like nothing outside of Square/Enix and Nintendo DS sell in Japan so maybe it's just their market right now.

15 comments:

Naruto said...

What's more interesting is Japan's drop from prominence this generation. During the ps one era Japan was a force to be reckoned with, now it is becoming increasingly isolated as the US have taken over as innovators.

Anonymous said...

You might want to run a grammar checker on this one, Derek.

omar kendall said...

"What's more interesting is Japan's drop from prominence this generation."

I think this is mostly a perception thing. Sure, Japan had its hits on the PSOne, but out of the top 20 best-selling games on the system, only 8 of them were Japanese, compared with 5 out of 20 on the PS2 (multiple iterations of Madden and GTA keep games like Dragon Ball Z: Budokai out of the top 20). The US has preferred Western games for at least two generations now.

I attribute the rise of the American game squarely to EA. It used to be, in my estimation, that Japanese games were more popular simply because of quality - by and large Japanese games were prettier, cleaner, and better playing. Then EA stepped up its game and made quality a must in all of its games, and not soon after most of the other big Western publishers followed suit.

Now, with an ever-increasing gap between cultural interests (androgynous, angst-ridden heroes on one side, gun-toting space marines on the other), I think you will continue to see Japanese games fall out of favor in the West - unless, that is, they start aping the proper strengths of their Western counterparks (hello, Lost Planet).

eric said...

Yeah, I agree with Omar. EA's re-iteration flood of mind-numbingly enjoyable (but now increasingly boring) titles and American developers establishing its own iconic video game character--the Space Marine--have made Japanese developers seem more prone to the quirky weirdness that contrasts American violence thus making their newer games seem so fresh, original, and unique to American audiences. But maybe it's just Japanese culture/identity becoming more prevalent in the game design as developers age? Maybe the lack of katamari/locoroco/okami/etc popularity in Japan is attributable to an attempt by developers to subconsciously market their own culture? How many American games about the Wild West or Cowboys have done well in America?!? None that I can think of...gaming cultures tend to embrace games that take themselves
the XBOX 360, with it emphasis on space marines, isn't doing so hot in Japan...what does that mean?
I know more questions than answers, but I feel the shift from the dominance of Japanese developers to the dominance of American developers is a nascent trend and can't fully be analyzed yet...time will speak it out...

Anyway, didn't Kojima and Inaba admit that American game developers are trumping Japanese ones lately? Maybe this is why Japanese are shifting towards the kawaii quirkness that strikes the media as innovation?
I dunno...MGS4 looks pretty space marine-like to me...I'm kind of sad I'm drooling so much for it to be released...
Okami is practically a

eric said...

FUCK...I hit the return key...anyhow...
++++++
Yeah, I agree with Omar. EA's re-iteration flood of mind-numbingly enjoyable (but now increasingly boring) titles and American developers establishing its own iconic video game character--the Space Marine--have made Japanese developers seem more prone to the quirky weirdness that contrasts American violence thus making their newer games seem so fresh, original, and unique to American audiences. But maybe it's just Japanese culture/identity becoming more prevalent in the game design as developers age? Maybe the lack of katamari/locoroco/okami/etc popularity in Japan is attributable to an attempt by developers to subconsciously market their own culture? How many American games about the Wild West or Cowboys have done well (or even been made) in America?!? None that I can think of...gaming cultures tend to embrace games that take themselves out of their own cultures...be it suburban kids playing GTA or everyone playing space marines or western cultures lauding katamari.

The XBOX 360, with it emphasis on space marines, isn't doing so hot in Japan...what does that mean? I think it's more a MSoft brand hatred than anything...but it's an interesting development.


I know, more questions than answers, but I feel the shift from the dominance of Japanese developers to the dominance of American developers is a nascent trend and can't fully be analyzed yet...time will spell it out...

Anyway, didn't Kojima and Inaba admit that American game developers are trumping Japanese ones lately? Maybe this is why Japanese are shifting towards the kawaii quirkness that strikes the media as innovation?
I dunno...MGS4 looks pretty space marine-like to me...I'm kind of sad I'm drooling so much for it to be released...

Okami is practically an homage to Japan mythology and I'm drooling over that too...it may sell better in America but I doubt it will sell great anywhere...although I hope it does...

Anonymous said...

I see as many original, cartoony and stylised games coming out of the West. Unfortunately, they rarely sell well. Japanophiles in the US are responsible for the hype around titles like Loco Roco whilst ignoring home grown titles with similar aesthetics. It's too bad, really and shows the industry is fast adopting an almost hollywood blockbuster theme as the only sure bet financially.

gamefiend said...

"Wierd" in Japan is much more the norm. The Japanese market has had a train conductor simulation as one of it's biggest selling games ever. Just like many fanboys in the US like the different takes on gaming brought by the katamaris and viewtiful joes, maybe Japanese gamers are looking for something different as well.

It's not a direct comparison, as I see no evidence that US games are storming the charts in Japan.

Anonymous said...

EA is all about high-quality games? You guys for real?

I think the real story here is that the US gaming scene is currently dominated by realistic subject matter. Real sports, WW2, Mafia guys, Tom Clancy games, etc. Those types of games are not popular in Japan and Japanese sports games use Japanese players.

I won't speculate on why this is the case but it certainly does look like an undeniable trend to me.

omar kendall said...

For all the inevitable hate that some game fans insist on heaping on EA, they are the largest 3rd party developer on the planet for good reason.

Is every single one of their products the pinnacle of high quality? No. But for every From Russia with Love, there is a Madden, and a Sims, and a Fight Night, and a Battlefield, and a Burnout etc. etc. etc.

Eri Takase said...

From Russia With Love was very popular in Japan. Weekly Famitsu gave it a great review as did other publications. I think EA produce some very good games.

eric said...

Okami did pretty damn fine in Japan according to Capcom and it's Q1 report...

http://www.gamespot.com/ps2/adventure/okami/news.html?sid=6155616

Derek Daniels said...

The only thing I could find doing a quick search for Okami's sales in Japan:

http://www.dsrevolution.com/article.php?articleid=1067

The first week it came out. Then the 2nd week:

http://www.dsrevolution.com/article.php?articleid=1104

Where there is no sign of Okami. I can't find any sales data aside from that first week.

The way I read the Capcom press release is that they didn't release anything else really for that quarter so of course it's going to sell decent for them.

I wish it didn't fail cause the game looks awesome but from the sounds of it things it has.

Anonymous said...

preach on, preach on. I hope Okami does great in the US as well..

Anonymous said...

EA is really a publisher more than a developer. Most of the good games you mentioned (and most of the good EA games in general) are produced by developers that EA buys then guts a few years down the road.

Anonymous said...

Fight Night is an internal development, so is SSX, NFS the Bond games, Def Jam, Madden and a host of other likeable games.