Why Japanese Developers Need New IPs Part 2

By Adam Ma on September 2, 2010, 9:54PM EDT

Last time we covered what exactly is wrong in the mainstream Japanese gaming industry. The oversaturation of RPGs, longstanding titles that change very little, and of course the terrible attempts at reaching Western consumers certainly don't help much. There's really no reason for these developers (or publishers) to be so afraid of moving their products overseas, in fact there are a lot of great reasons to do so. The market is not only ready for Japan to take the lead again, they're almost begging for it. How do I figure? Allow me to explain.

If there's a single thing that gamers beg for it's new heroes to fall in love with. The idea of continuing a story from a single characters perspective is nice, but eventually the torch must be passed. Game series like Dragon Quest and Fire Emblem do this well, but the dilemma with them lies in the fact that they're old and coveted titles. After a while, when fans see the same name on a package it almost becomes a character into itself. Final Fantasy XIII hit a glass ceiling of sorts, attempting to move out the box in terms of gameplay and storytelling, meeting nothing but resentment and harsh criticism from a lot of fans. While some of it was well deserved, much of the bad press wasn't. It was simply a matter of too much having changed, and fans didn't expect it.

I believe firmly that had Square Enix released the game under a completely different title, it would of done much better from the start. Generating a new series tends to generate a much more lenient approach from gamers across the board, who will take the time to excuse some minor flaws if the overall theme is sharp. Nier (another SE production), is a fantastic example of this. A game whose scores were quite varied due to some conflicting design concepts, but in the end praised for the risks taken. A new franchise gives players a chance to identify with new characters, concepts, worlds, and Western audiences love nothing more than a new idea.

That being said, audiences need to be informed that these things exist to begin with, and that's where marketing comes in. Every single blockbuster hopeful in the last few years has featured an equally impressive marketing campaign. From a North American perspective we can look at how popular many big budget FPS commercials have become, like Halo's Believe campaign or the Superbowl spotlight of Dantes Inferno (which wasn't a blockbuster but EA tried hard for it).  Japanese releases on the other hand, rarely have more than a poster at GameStop, relying more on word-of-mouth from Otaku to really make a sale. It's simply not enough, and even the more well known ported series like Tales could use an ad or two. Viral marketing is a cheap, easy, and an extremely effective way to start a buzz over a game. Any development team or publisher can do it, so there's really no excuse.

Another great reason for Japanese developers to step back into the international limelight with some new IP's boils down to competition. There just isn't enough of it.  Making the same games over and over again doesn't put enough pressure on people like Bobby Kotick, who has really mastered the art of publishing the same games over and over again. But while other developers will step up to the challenge of making more FPS games to combat the increasing amount of FPS games, no one overseas is attempting to make the kinds of games Japan offers. This is the perfect opportunity to start designing games that audiences outside of Japan will appreciate as well.

The worst part is how the entire world has caught on to the joys of Facebook and iPhone gaming, an industry concept that Japan has held for years but never really expanded upon. Small, quick, single-goal oriented games that can be picked up or put down at any time isn't a new idea. The amount of developers in Japan that work on these smaller niche games is absurd, and many of those games have just as good a market overseas as they do locally.

Perhaps the most compelling reason of all would be the increased amount of competition within the industry itself, which would be the best way to increase the standard of games as a whole. With not a lot of pressure from Japan right now, it's easy to see why a massive wave of pretty uninspiring FPS titles has come at us non-stop. Not to say that would end if there was a stronger overseas push from Japan, but it would definitely give gamers more titles to look forward to as opposed to write off.

So while it's nice to see a few classic titles being remade or re-envisioned, or old franchises continuing to expand, it would be just as nice to see more lesser known titles make their way overseas. Plus, everyone benefits from it.  The industry gets an influx of new ideas, gamers get to experience some new stories, and Japanese developers have nothing but profit to gain from a player base that's begging for something new, somewhat original, and - most importantly - different. Japan can most definitely deliver, on a large and small scale. We're all just waiting for them to put their mind to it.

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