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Has Reggie been right about (not) localizing niche games? [roundtable]
I don't want to admit it, either. But, fiscally speaking, has Reggie been making the right decision in passing up all of those cool-looking Japan-published Nintendo games? The responsible decision? I mean, Sin & Punishment 2 bombed, right? Did ANY of us think it would succeed? Would Captain Rainbow? Would Zangeki No Reginleiv or The Last Window or Jam With the Band or Tingle? Or even Soma Bringer or Mother 3 or a Nintendo-published Tales of Graces/Hearts? Will FlingSmash sell, even at a discounted price? NoE has been localizing a lot more games than NoA, and it seems to have resulted in an unending series of flops.

Or is that just perception? What examples can we think of? I know Jam With the Band flopped hard in Europe. Sin & Punishment 2 seems to have flopped here, and there were a LOT of copies of Rhythm Tengoku and Style Savvy on the shelf at Best Buy. Starfy actually did pretty well in the US, but the seems like an obvious gimme - a Nintendo-published platformer. The first Endless Ocean was a pretty successful game, I think, and Nintendo bundled the second with a peripheral. I'm not sure how it did. I guess Wario Land Shake It did fairly well here, as well. Excitebots bombed like your moms, but if they didn't publish it here, it wouldn't have been published ANYWHERE. And WHY did they fund the game, if they weren't going to market it? Puzzling! Then again, they did bundle it with a Wii Wheel, which could be seen as a huge push, after the gonzo success of Mario Kart.

That's just a small sampling of the data I'm familiar with, off the top of my head. But here's another important question: Does Nintendo owe us those games, anyway, as loyal fans? Can you think of a way to fiscally rationalize the localization of niche games by such a high-stakes publisher? I think letting a smaller company (who will be satisfied with smaller numbers) publish the more niche games is a perfect solution. There was already some precedent for this last gen, with Atlus publishing Cubivore and Polarium Advance. Has Nintendo cooled on the idea, or have companies like Atlus? I can't imagine that they (or companies like them) wouldn't jump at the opportunity to localize some of this stuff. If Nintendo is actively cockblocking other publishers, in addition to refusing to localize the games they have control over (including Japanese third-party deals like Fatal Frame), then that is just inexcusable and, just, irrational. They could offload all the risk of building the brand to other publishers, and capitalize on any success by publishing the follow-ups themselves. Seems kind of win-win. I really wish more interviewers would directly grill Reggie about this matter. Or even Iwata. He must have known that certain games would never take the world by storm. Why did he green-light them in the first place?

This is kind of disorganized, and I was going to write more, but I'll throw the floor to you guys. What do you think about the whole situation? From your own perspective and from Nintendo's. How can everybody be happy?

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Posted: 08/24/10, 18:23:21  - Edited by 
 on: 08/24/10, 19:12:40
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Interesting way of looking at it. The risk seems to vary from game to game--I hadn't known that S&P2 bombed, and that's rather sad that it did, especially since Nintendo had done a pretty decent job at marketing it, from my own observations. But at the same time, a ton of quirkier games DIDN'T get much in the way of advertising, like Wario Land and ExciteBots. And I still submit that Jam With the Band would've done really well if it released back in 2004 like it was supposed to...LEADING the music game craze instead of following in the wake of so many plastic guitars and drum sets.

Then you have the Mother series. The original one is already fully translated and good to go, so uhhh...is there really any risk at all in popping it on the VC? I'm sure it costs SOME money to still do that, but I guarantee they'd make it back (and then some) when nearly every obsessive EarthBound fan on the planet snatches it up. EarthBound itself would be a major hit on the VC...the cartridge now goes for over 100 bucks on eBay. As for those tricky legal issues that no one cared about in the 90's, I think the VC itself is obscure enough to sneak under the radar, and if not, they could always make a small alteration or two. And Mother 3 already has a professional translation, although at this point, releasing a new GBA game in the states WOULD be a recipe for disaster, considering no one sells new GBA games nowadays. They missed the boat there for sure, but if there's a download service in the future for GBA games (I'd bet dollars to donuts there will be), then Mother 3 better be taken into strong consideration.
Posted: 08/24/10, 18:57:27
I think a TEAM from Nintendo makes those calls, not just Reggie, but yes, they're right. It makes little financial sense to release those games here, and as sad as it might be that's just the truth.

The good news (or bad, if you dislike the future) is that it will be MUCH easier and more financially sound to release these niche titles worldwide once we get into full digital distribution. Then there will be so much less risk involved that it will be okay for Sin and Punishment 3 to only sell 5,000 copies. Well, more okay than a retail release I mean. Still not very okay, but you get the picture.

Digital distribution, like it or not, could mean incredible things for those gamers who don't just want the next Madden, Halo, and Mario Kart every year.

Also, Earthbound can't be released on the VC due to legal issues, not because of lack of translation. Just an FYI.
Posted: 08/24/10, 18:58:27  - Edited by 
 on: 08/24/10, 18:59:27
From a business point of view, sure. I can't really blame them.

We all want Xenoblade... but why should they bother spending all that money localizing it for North America when it didn't even sell that well in Japan and will do even worse here?
Posted: 08/24/10, 19:05:47
I think Xenoblade did all right, actually. Not great, but decent.

Anyway, something I didn't elaborate on properly was that Nintendo is a huge, huge company who makes super-mega-hits, and localizing smaller games, while it might not LOSE them much money overall, would have a large opportunity cost, because they could instead increase the marketing spend on or develop more of those super-mega-hits.

-JKR- said:
I think a TEAM from Nintendo makes those calls, not just Reggie, but yes, they're right. It makes little financial sense to release those games here, and as sad as it might be that's just the truth.
Yeah, I'm just using Reggie as a great, big scapegoat. He seems to intimate that he is a key part of that decision, though. But who knows? Maybe he is mostly a figurehead. You know, like Obama.

That's a good point about downloadable services, though. Hopefully, Nintendo's future systems will have enough capacity to store full games.

I had long thought the same thing about Jam With the Band. Nintendo could have led the music-game vanguard, right? But would the audience have bitten? It still offers something unique, and it REALLY bombed in Europe, supposedly. And Europe is often very friendly to 'expanded audience' games, a category which Jam With the Band could arguably be considered part of.

Of course, the whole localization thing might be sort of chicken-and-egg. Maybe if Nintendo had been localizing and pushing these titles all along, the audience would actually support them. Then again, maybe not.

Also, I always wonder what the legal ramifications would be of an official release that directly cribbed a fansub and sold it for a profit. I mean, the fansubbers never had any rights to the material in the first place, right? Seems like an interesting case, from a legal perspective.
Posted: 08/24/10, 19:22:53
I suppose you make a good point, Anand. A lot of the games that we (and I mean 'we' as in, the members here of Negative World and even IGN's Wii GB) were happy to see localized pretty much bombed at retail. 'Tis a shame, but what can ya do?

On the other hand, there was a strong demand for them (I'm mostly thinking of Excitebots and Sin & Punishment here) so there was at least a niche crowd looking forward to the games. So that makes sense to me why those got localized. What's confusing my brain is who, and I mean, WHO on God's Green Earth was demanding games like Magical Starsign? Or Fossil Fighters? I mean, they bring over those games, but... why? For who?

I'll give Magical Starsign a pass since it came out so early in the DS's lifespan, and it's apparently not a bad game. And shockingly, it came out in a time where there were actually not many RPGs on the system. (kinda strange to think there was a time when the DS wasn't RPG-heavy, lol) So it was at least worth a shot.

But why localize Fossil Fighters? It couldn't have taken any less work (translating, reprogramming, etc) to do that game than it would have to localize Soma Bringer. I think Monolith's game would have sold quite a lot, because it has a wider appeal. A high-production-value action RPG? Developed by Monolithsoft and published by NINTENDO? Dude. Sold.

Fossil Fighters on the other hand...? It's basically a lo-fi, slower, off-line, lower-profile Pokémon game. WTF wants THAT?

I don't claim to know exactly what goes into meetings discussing localization of certain games, but some of this stuff doesn't make sense.
Posted: 08/24/10, 19:26:02
@TriforceBun, @anandxxx

Nintendo was already pretty skittish as far as music-rhythm games go though, right? I mean, it's not like Donkey Konga lit up sales charts. (and that series came out before the illustrious Guitar Hero, too!) Maybe Jam With The Band didn't seem promising, due to past failures. Even if it was a different game, and on a portable.

And I think the less-than-stellar (but not necessarily bad) sales of Elite Beat Agents vindicated their decision. Which is really, really a cryin' shame.
Posted: 08/24/10, 19:31:29
The fuck you say about my mama??
Posted: 08/24/10, 19:34:18
You heard me.

Welllll, I don't know about Magical Starsign. I mean, it seems to be a competent RPG, and RPG people want RPGs, right? Soma Bringer, Mother 3, Tomato Adventure, Magical Vacation... it seems like there are a long line of RPGs that Nintendo passed on localizing. I'd think the RPG audience on DS would be happy to have any of them. And Magical Starsign has a decent pedigree, right? Brownie Brown, or whatnot.

As for Fossil Fighters, that seemed like a slam dunk, to me, personally. I mean, Pokemon + Dinosaurs for a kids audience seems like money in the bank. I would've eaten that shit up when I was younger. I was all about prehistoric creatures.

Also, I love Donkey Konga. It is an amazing, hilarious multiplayer game. I wonder if a game like Elite Beat Agents could have been a success, if marketed differently. I dunno. It seems depressing to think that so many of the quirky games that I adore are dead on arrival in America. One wrinkle, though, is that Band Brothers DX (like Rhythm Tengoku Gold) was actually a huge hit in Japan, which I'm sure influenced the decision to bring the game to Europe. I remember being really heartened when those two games sat at the top of the Japanese charts. I'm almost afraid to know how Rhythm Tengoku sold in America, though. Even Beyonce couldn't save that game.

OR Style Savvy, come to think of it! I wonder if NoA will keep using her. Or Seth Green. Whatever.
Posted: 08/24/10, 22:24:34
Initially Animal Crossing was considered to be a title that would not find a market in NA. The N64 version never made it over, and the Gamecube version barely did. The series has now sold close to 6 million units in NA. I think Professor Layton went through something similar, and has sold close to 2 million in NA between the two games released so far (more to come.) It took Starfy forever to get over here and though he wasn't a huge success, he sold a couple hundred thousand, which more than justified the costs. I'm guessing we will see more Starfy.

For a 3rd party example, No More Heroes is a very, very Japanese game that tanked in Japan, but went on to find (decent) success in the West. No one really expected that to happen, given the overly anime style of the game.

I guess my point is, Nintendo doesn't really know for sure what will happen with a lot of these games. There is a bigger picture beyond just looking at the ones that fail and saying it's not worth it. Now if it were some huge financial risk to bring these games over, sure, it would have to be balanced. But for the most part, I don't think there is heavy risk involved. The low costs involved (especially for the games already translated in Europe, fuck) make the financial risk of a flop minimal, while the benefits of a breakout success become a huge financial boon.

This isn't even getting into the whole issue of having more games to satisfy "core" gamers and such. Nintendo is doing very well lately, sure, but how much better would they be doing if they didn't piss so many people off with their decisions? There is more to success than just the numbers, these companies are selling entire images as well.
Posted: 08/24/10, 22:36:51
You've got a point about Nintendo being "too big" a publisher to bother with the smaller releases. I mean, last I heard Rhythm Heaven sold well above 100k (citation needed) and a publisher like XSeed would kill for that kind of sales. But for Nintendo, if it's under a million, it's not considered a success (or so said Geist's producer on a NWR podcast).

I've posted here once about how maybe Nintendo could consider creating a parallel team to handle those small releases. I mean, Disney used to have Miramax, Fox has Searchlight Pictures, etc., why couldn't publishers have smaller houses internally handling the niche stuff?
Posted: 08/24/10, 22:41:34
No one knows for sure, but Animal Crossing is obviously a title that found a huge audience in Japan and COULD in the US. (Just like Pokemon, which Nintendo were also skittish about localizing.) I thought most of Layton's sales were in Europe, but Nintendo seems a bit more open about giving titles that could become 'expanded' hits a chance. Could a title like Sin & Punishment 2 EVER become a big hit here? Do you honestly think it could? Would it ever hit 'Nintendo numbers'?

Again, Nintendo wouldn't necessarily lose money on a title that sells a hundred thou, or so, but think of the potential sales of other products that they would pass up by concentrating energy and resources (promotional dollars, localization, time, staff) on it.

Nothing is for sure, of course, but some things are smart bets and some aren't. Zangeki No Reginleiv, no matter how much I want to play it, just isn't.

During the drought, though, it seemed like lunacy for Nintendo to not bring over some smaller titles to fill in gaps and placate their audience.

But as far as satisfying 'core' gamers, Nintendo probably thinks all they need is Mario, Zelda, and Metroid. And you know what? They might just be right. And Mario has the additional benefit of appealing to all audiences, so they'll wheel him out a bit more frequently.

Yeah, I remember you saying something like that. It's an interesting idea, but wouldn't those resources still be better utilize to support the bigger games? I mean, why would Nintendo WANT to create a division that had a lower profit-margin? (Just to keep us happy? HAH!) That's why the third-party publishing solution seems a bit more feasible to me. (Even then, though, Nintendo would have to choose their partner carefully, since many of those small, localization-heavy companies have poor quality control.)

I always considered Miramax/Searchlight to be a more image-related thing. Especially for Disney. Plus, didn't all of those 'artsy' divisions go bankrupt?
Posted: 08/24/10, 23:01:43  - Edited by 
 on: 08/24/10, 23:10:44

No, no, no, no, no. I like Starmen.net for what they do, but they were trying to force Nintendo's hand by saying that there were legal issues regarding EarthBound's VC release (or lack thereof). Everyone has since adopted that stance. They'd tried that crap a year before that article came out.

Their explanation for the ESRB rating: their "source" (who they wouldn't give us any idea as to who they were, where they worked or what they did) said it was a mistake and never should have gone live. Well, said "accident" is still there. I think EarthBound not being released has more to do with it not being released in Japan yet. Heck, Mr. Itoi himself said he hasn't ruled out a DS release of all three games on one cartridge, and Brownie Brown said they would do the leg work.


It makes me wish Nintendo would pick up XSEED for just that kind of thing. Atlus would be a better choice, but I think they're a little too big, you know?
Posted: 08/24/10, 23:11:46

I don't think they're all bankrupt, no.

As to why create a division that has a lower profit-margin, well, because it just seems to make sense. It seems sometimes that Nintendo doesn't know how to handle those smaller franchises, which leads to them not promoting them at all (Excitebots), or making strange decisions when it comes time to promote one (Glory of Heracles). I think a team specializing in smaller releases would perhaps get better results and turn in a profit.

Why do that, if the profit is slim? Because there's always that small chance of getting a hit against all odds. Of a title exploding like Animal Crossing did. Publishers need new franchises and ideas eventually, milking something successful isn't viable in the long term (as Activision's shareholders will learn too late).
Posted: 08/24/10, 23:22:20
You can't just simply release a game and expect it to do well. You have to advertise it well, and it helps to build up hype amongst "core" gamers, or any other audience as well. It seems like Nintendo rarely puts forth the effort to advertise any game that might actually need the boost, while games from one of their major franchises for from the Wii ____ series get tons of ads.
Posted: 08/24/10, 23:28:50

Oh, yeah - I almost forgot about Glory of Heracles. Thanks for the reminder.

I wonder why that got the green-light for localization over Soma Bringer. *scratches chin*
Posted: 08/24/10, 23:45:40
@anandxxx The problem with the logic is that most of these games have little to no chance in Japan either. So if it is purely a financial decision, they shouldn't be published/developed/funded by Nintendo to begin with, period. But they are, so clearly there is some plan going on at NOJ that expands beyond simply shooting for "Nintendo level sales" only. And once you put forth the big bucks to develop a game, it's such a minor financial burden to localize it that it really makes no sense to keep so many of these games in Japan only. I could see a few titles, especially the uber Japanese stuff like Captain Rainbow, but everything else eh... there would be a bigger bottom line by localizing and bringing to multiple markets than by not localizing and seeing the development costs balanced against the Japanese sales only.

And then, again, some of these games make it to Europe, where having an English translation would cut down the costs to bring the games to NA even more.
Posted: 08/24/10, 23:50:05
I want GiFTPia.... :( But it makes sense.
Posted: 08/25/10, 01:51:16
@Simbabbad Yeah I kind of half got into that above, but whether or not people are going to buy the specific games, it looks bad for your image to the "core" when you talk up how much you care about them then blatantly ignore a bunch of "core" oriented games like Disaster, Soma Bringer, Fatal Frame, Last Window, Xenoblade, etc.

It's still sort of up in the air to me as to whether Nintendo cares about the "core" or not anyway, but with the 3DS they (NOJ, I mean) seem to be specifically pushing to get that kind of support. Whether NOA will follow suit, who knows. Though even with the DS versus Wii NOA seemed to take a lot more risks with DS. They just don't see much potential for Wii games outside of core franchises and casual games.
Posted: 08/25/10, 02:43:53
Given how much money Nintendo is raking in, there's no reason all of these games shouldn't have been brought to NA. I mean, by that logic if Nintendo is going to be ultra-conservative and only bring games over they KNOW will make a profit, they should only bring over the sure-fire hits like Mario, Zelda, Metroid, & Pokemon. No more Fire Emblem, Advance Wars, Kirby, Starfox, etc. There really is no excuse for NOA and what they've not been doing with localizing games. If Nintendo is serious about the core gamer like they claim, we should be getting more niche games than ever, given the Wii's success. At the very least, it will help establish a reputation for Nintendo and the Wii name that it is a system for core gamers.

I still think Xenoblade is coming BTW. I think the reason NOA hasn't been bringing games over has as much to do with the quality of the games than it does with whether they think they'll be profitable.
Posted: 08/25/10, 03:48:34
Metroid wouldn't be allowed either.
Posted: 08/25/10, 04:16:23
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