The dying weeks of 2013 saw two Japanese indie games do something their respective developers were not expecting: make it through Greenlight. But arena-based schoolgirl slasher-brawler Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae by Zenith Blue and moddable 3D fighter EF-12 from Quad Arrow might never have made it without the help of Playism. Launched in May 2011, this division of Osaka-based localisation and marketing company Active Gaming Media started out as a way to take western indie games to Japan, with an online store selling localised versions of titles such as Machinarium and SpaceChem.
It was with the localisation of Nigoro’s archaeological platformer La-Mulana in July 2012 that the team launched an English-language version of the Playism store and began working in earnest with Japanese devs to bring their games west.
“[Nigoro] had released La-Mulana on Wii in Japan,” says Josh Weatherford, an Osaka-based American and one of two full-time Playsim staff, “but there were problems with their publisher and they weren’t able to get it on the WiiWare store in the States and Europe, so they told us they wanted to work together to release it on PC.”
This was shortly before the launch of Greenlight, and although the game was on sale on Playism, the team faced several frustrating months, first waiting for Valve’s initiative to start, and then figuring out how to attract Steam players.
It seems almost counterintuitive for a company with its own online store to work so hard sending clients to Steam
How the Osaka-based Playism is helping bring the work of Japanese indies onto the global stage
in the first place, but while Playism doesn’t publish everything it sells on its store, it does offer publishing as an option to Japanese developers. This is the case with La-Mulana, EF-12 and Mitsurugi. So when a Playism-published game heads to Greenlight, an extra contract is drawn up to establish a revenue share. Once the games are on Steam, Playism takes a cut in return for helping to market and manage the game and for other Steam-specific advice, such as how to implement extras like trading cards and badges.
“Playism helped us with the localisation and various other publishing responsibilities,” says Zenith Blue leader ‘ Tsumugari’.“They were in charge of creating the [Greenlight] page, posting blog updates, replying to comments and generally supporting the project in any way they could. They helped our products reach the world at large.”
“EF-12 has a lot of documentation that required translation into English,” says Masahiro Onoguchi, founder of Quad Arrow. “Past that, we needed to engage the English-speaking community on Greenlight, which meant we needed the continual cooperation of another company. Because of [Playism], we were able to concentrate on improving EF-12.”
Weatherford’s colleague, Nayan Ramachandran, explains that the games themselves are not localised for cultural content; instead the priority is to “keep the Japanese flavour”. Although about 80 per cent of the games on the Playism store are Japanese versions of western games, Weatherford says that western
“Greenlight really does validate that the content we’re bringing over is content people want to play”
fans of Japanese games tend to buy more titles. “Western indie games in Japan are still kind of niche,” he explains. Aside from the Steam releases of Mitsurugi and EF-12 this year, Playism will also publish La-Mulana 2, as well as bringing English versions of sidescrolling shooter Gunhound and anime-styled arena fighter Magical Battle Festa to its store, choices informed by the company’s policy of heeding the requests of western gamers. The company is also moving into self-publishing on PlayStation Network.
“In America and Europe, you’re allowed to self-publish [to PSN] without having a corporate entity, but in Japan you have to be incorporated,” says Weatherford. “A lot of the doujin circles [independent hobbyist groups] are not going to be able to get onto PS4 with their own power, so we’ll be working closely with Sony Japan and with developers as a middleman to bring more stuff out on PS4 and Vita in the future.”
Indeed, initiatives such as Greenlight and PSN will surely play a major part in securing the Japanese industry’s future. Removing the complex hierarchical structure and legacy of collusion barring the way means young indie developers can finally deliver their games into the hands of the people who want to play them, wherever they may be.
“Our recent experience on Greenlight has been a huge success for us, because it really does validate that the content we’re bringing over is content people want to play,” Ramachandran says. “Just the same way that Japanese games were so popular in the 8bit and 16bit days, that is starting to come into indie games now. These Japanese indies have something really amazing to show.”
Playism has two fulltime staff, Nayan Ramachandran (top) and Josh Weatherford, supported by others from parent AGM