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Namco Bandai's Japanese president disappointed in Western developed games

For all the talk about cross-cultural development, Japanese publishers seem to be struggling with working out how to make games overseas (as in, anywhere not in Japan). Following disappointing sales of Western-developed games such as Enslaved, Splatterhouse, and Dead to Rights: Retribution, Namco Bandai Games has made the decision to severely scale back all development of games outside of its Japanese studios.

Above: This kind of talk hurts the brain of Enslaved's star

Speaking with Bloomberg (opens in new tab), Namco Bandai President Shukuo Ishikawa elaborated on the decision. “We found the quality and development speed of titles made for us by the overseas studios to be lacking. Foreign studios can still propose and develop games, but our Japanese staff will control the process more closely.” Which basically means western developers can still propose games to NBGI, but the likelihood of getting turned down is much higher – and if your proposal does get accepted, you’re going to be under very close scrutiny from the Japanese side of the company every step of the way.

Above: Splatterhouse was hit with many, MANY delays

Don’t misunderstand: Namco Bandai games isn’t abandoning the overseas market as a lost cause. The article also points out that Namco Bandai wants half of its revenue from game sales to come from Western markets by 2016 (currently, 70% of company revenue is coming from Japan). In fact, the percentage of sales in the West is increasing: In the next financial year (which ends in March), NBGI expects sales in Western markets to increase 56%, while Japanese sales will fall by 14%.

Above: We admit that Dead to Rights: Retribution wasn't all that

Thus far, however, sales of their big games that were developed in the West have been fairly flat. An example given in the article is Clash of the Titans, a game that sold less than half of its 700,000-unit projection. This is a bit misleading, because Clash of the Titans actually WAS developed in Japan. But there are more appropriate examples that would have made the same point. Word has it that Enslaved and Splatterhouse, two other western-developed titles, didn’t perform to expectations either. It’s not hard to read between the lines here: Essentially, you’re going to be seeing a lot fewer games like Enslaved and other original, Western-developed games from Namco Bandai, and a lot more of the usual popular anime tie-ins and classic collections that are sure bets for bringing in money over here.

For our part, we think this is pretty dumb.

Above: Don't worry, the well-realized, humanized characters of Enslaved won't bother you any more

The problem is not that the games were developed in the West. It’s the dozens of other bad decisions that surrounded their creation. Releasing Enslaved, a fantastic game but a brand new IP gamers have never seen before, in a holiday season dominated by games with “2” and “3” in their titles? Not wise. Releasing Clash of the Titans at all instead of killing it when it became clear the movie was a steaming pile and the game wouldn’t be done for months? Worse. And while it’s true the Splatterhouse revival was notoriously troubled from the outset and it had a Western developer (more than one in fact), the mistake there was choosing the wrong specific developer, not the wrong hemisphere in which to develop the game.

Above: Namco's ground-breaking Pac-Man Party

But hey, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is a good game and it was developed in Japan – it’s probably selling like hotcakes, right? Ooooooh right. Ouch.

Above: Majin reviewed well, but still had its priced slashed at launch

So yeah – as Westerners, we’re sore about this. But tell you what, Namco Bandai – you give us one of those new Tales games knocking around Japan and we’ll call it even. Cool?

Dec 15, 2010