29th Sep 2020

Why Quality Localization is Crucial for Success in the Japanese Games Market

By Ryota Asaba, Producer, Keywords Studios in Tokyo
www.linkedin.com/in/ryota-asaba

For as long as video games have existed, there have been dozens of Japanese publishers and developers, of all sizes.

Many of their games were not shipped overseas traditionally but released only in Japan. As a result, Japanese players are used to a certain style of game that is made in a specific way.

It is my belief that for Western publishers and developers to succeed in such an established market, world-class localization is fundamental. Anything less can result in damaged reputation and failure to realise the investment opportunity identified at the outset.  

I began my career as an English-Japanese localization producer and worked at a Japanese game publisher until 2010. From there, I joined Keywords Studios as the first Localization PM at its Tokyo studio. 

After a few years, I left Keywords and held director roles at various video games development studios, mostly working on Nintendo 3DS and PS4 titles.

Finally, I returned to Keywords in 2017 and am leveraging the experience I have gained in the provision of development and localization services.  

Adapting games for Japanese culture

About 30 or 40 years ago, ‘Western-style games’ (games developed in countries other than Japan) were difficult to play for Japanese players and the localization quality was poor – these games represented a niche genre for Japanese players.

Then, about 20 years ago, many publishers and developers began to focus on better quality localization and levels of difficulty that were appealing to players in Japan.

More recently, in the last 10 years, localization has evolved and matured to finally deliver truly immersive experiences for Japanese players.

EA’s ‘FIFA’, for example, has been a sponsor of the Japanese Professional Football League (J League) for several years and advertisements for FIFA can be seen during J League matches.

I believe that many people who see these advertisements don’t realise that the game is made by a US company, reflecting the efforts and improvement in quality by game publishers and their respective localization teams.

Staff pictured in the Keywords Studios offices in Tokyo
Keywords staff members in our Tokyo studio, pre-COVID

When I joined Keywords in Tokyo, we had a small office with less than 10 people. It has been great to see the expansion to more than 300 staff. And we’re growing bigger every day!

In the case of AAA titles, I have also seen a trend in recent years of large volumes and tight schedules for overseas game publishers.

It’s not uncommon for text translation, voice recording and Localization QA (LQA) to take place simultaneously, with the LQA team reporting issues. Collaborating across the service lines helps yield better results.

So, you can see how it’s necessary to share the information across the three service lines.

Managing the translation process effectively

However, if a developer outsources the three services to three different vendors, there’s a chance it can complicate and slow down production, which will have a knock-on effect if there is a tight deadline.

My role involves coordinating and helping to ensure all service lines integrate well on projects that require text translation, voice recording and LQA.

From the perspective of English to Japanese localization, there is no typical day as each client and project has different requirements. We aim to be flexible and adapt to their needs.

Keywords Localization staff in a meeting, pre-COVID
Keywords Localization staff in a meeting, pre-COVID

Producers, such as myself, work alongside each of the service lines to reduce downtime and scale up projects.

My experience and background helps me to assess the quality of the localization work, which is key to providing true, immersive experiences for Japanese players. 

I perform various tasks including regular meetings with clients, in-house progress calls with each service line, overseeing voice recording sessions and playing the build version of the game to check quality.

Helping to maximise return on investment

Recording Japanese audio doesn’t cost as much as you might think. If you want to use Japanese VIP voice actors, the price can go up, but there are many talented voice actors here who are reasonably priced.

In terms of sales, one could expect to achieve up to more than 10 times more sales of the packaged version than the downloaded version in Japanese market. But, to achieve this, the full localization to Japanese, including the voice recording, would be expected, depending on the genre.

Finally, there can be a risk associated with not employing LQA to truly localize a game. I advise our clients to engage LQA testing to fully leverage the opportunity presented by the Japanese market.

Think of the LQA testers as the last gatekeepers of quality between your game and your players.

The Keywords Studios offices in Tokyo
The Keywords Studios offices in Tokyo, Japan, prior to COVID-19

Our testers will find critical problems such as compliance, audio errors, CERO issues and any problem with local Japanese culture.

The CERO regulations are broadly similar to international standards such as ESRB but CERO standards can change according to the local social situation at that given time.

If you think it’s necessary to get a CERO rating so you can release your game in Japan and avoid delays, then do so at an early stage.

This way if you have to make updates based on feedback from CERO, you can do so before you consider marketing the game in Japan and therefore can avoid unnecessary costs.

Conclusion: Helping to future-proof your brand

A company such as Keywords Studios, which provides all the services, can seamlessly collaborate and reduce the burden on developers and publishers.

In my time here I have met many great people in other studios all over the world and I look forward to seeing those familiar faces again.

Investing in full localization will deliver benefits for the game in question but also for the long-term reputation of your brand in the Japanese market.


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