Wonder why The Last Guardian‘s title is in English – even in Japan? It’s all part of an attempt to expand the game’s appeal in the swelling Western markets.
Speaking at the DICE Summit Asia in Singapore, Yasuhide Kobayashi – VP of Sony’s Japanese Studio – spoke about the need for Japanese developers to increase their appeal abroad in the face of a tough economy and a shrinking domestic market, reports GI.biz.
During the generation of the original PlayStation, production costs were low and the Japanese domestic market was about a third of the global market – but now, production costs are skyrocketing with the PS3, and the Japanese market has shrunk to 1/5th of the worldwide scene. Kobayashi pulled no punches, flatly stating that “unless we gain success in the overseas market our studio will go bankrupt.”
Frankly, admitted Kobayashi, the major Japanese studios weren’t succeeding in this. In the first half of 2008, he claimed, the largest Japanese publishers such as Sony, Namco Bandai, Capcom, SEGA, Konami and Square Enix all saw between 70% and 90% of their sales in the domestic market – not good news when, as previously mentioned, Japan is only a fifth of the worldwide consumer base as far as games are concerned.
He talked about studies Sony had conducted about how simple things like box art and titles can sell games, pointing to the original ICO as an example. The Western box art is more action-oriented, with a clear view of the title character, while the Japanese box art is quieter, more “artistic,” and presents the feel of the game more accurately. In retrospect, said Kobayashi, perhaps the Western box art had been a mistake, and sales would have been better with something else: “If the packaging was designed differently, we think it would have sold more – in fact on the internet many people have said that the Japanese version was better.”
With The Last Guardian, Team Ico was going into it conscious of the importance of making a game appeal to the West, and so the title was to be in English from the very beginning. This is a change from Team Ico’s previous game, Wanda to Kyozō – released here in the West as the acclaimed Shadow of the Colossus. ICO doesn’t really count either way, because it was just the kid’s name.
Still, Kobayashi wasn’t without pride in Japanese game development, ending his speech with a little jab at what he views is the prevailing sentiment amongst Western developers: “[US Developers] are very happy to release a game that is something similar to something that’s come before, because they think it is easier for people to understand.”
But then again, if Wikipedia is to be believed, The Last Guardian is known in Japan as Hitokui no Ōwashi Trico, which makes this a bit stranger. Are they developing it with the title in English, and just using a different title for Japan, or something? I don’t get you, Yasuhide Kobayashi.