Coming right from Toshihiro Nagoshi himself in an interview with IGN Japan he reveals that his team once thought of setting a Yakuza game somewhere other than Japan:
“We have considered it, because there was a feeling that we’d like the Yakuza series to be better known overseas,” he said, explaining that taking the story out of Japan might help players in other cultures connect with it better.
Nagoshi continued: “But the idea disappeared right away. The series was originally intended to target Japanese players, and so setting it overseas would conflict with that original concept, and the popularity of the series within Japan might decline as a result. Also, in terms of marketing, there was concern about the global appeal of a Japanese main character anyway. So it seemed to be tricky.”
Looks like they know where their bread is buttered. But what of the growing audience of Yakuza Fans in the west?!
“We get more and more comments from players overseas, and we do listen to them. In the West we have about 100,000 players, which compared to the players we have in Japan is a very small number, but we consider them to be very important fans, and we want to make games that they will enjoy.”
With Yakuza 6 just being announced and Yakuza 0 still a few months away from getting in to the hands of eager fans SEGA have set their sights on the Asian market with a chinese version of Ryu ga gotoku 6 launching soon after the Japanese version.
“The growth of the game market in Asia never stops; that’s the reason we’re realizing Yakuza 6 in China at the same time as in Japan,” said Nagoshi. “10 years ago, sales of Yakuza games in Asia amounted to about 2 or 3% of the sales in Japan, but now it’s around 20%. I think it’s because the games are set in Japan, which looks familiar to our Asian neighbors. The Asian market has become too big to ignore, and it’s a very important place for us now.”
When asked why he thought traditionally Japanese games have a hard time selling in the west he gave an answer that’s sure to upset everyone. [especially us on staff]
“This is just my impression, but games are an interactive medium, and I think that Western gamers place great importance on the feel of that interaction itself — does it feel good to play,” he said. “Japanese gamers place higher importance on the drama and the setting. Well-executed controls are important, but not enough to sell a game.
“For example, FPS games in the West make great use of systems that let you communicate with your friends as you play, but that is not as appealing to Japanese gamers. Also, Western audiences like games that have realistic simulation, but in Japan we prefer something more stylized.
“And then there is ease of use. You can see the difference in styles of UI design. UI in the West is designed as simply as possible, so as to avoid distracting the player. Japanese players find that kind of design hard to understand, and they prefer things to be explained more clearly. Sometimes it might seem like mollycoddling, but Japanese people like things to be easily understandable. When making a game for a global audience it’s extremely difficult to choose between these two approaches.”
Hopefully one day Nagoshi will understand the western audience. It’s disheartening but it’s always good to hear his perspective. Even if we disagree.