West­ward bound


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

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