Not made in Japan
Meet the publishing label quietly bringing western indie darlings to Japan
Meet the publishing label quietly bringing western indies to Japan
Founded in June 2017, Dangen – a contraction of the English words ‘Dandy’ and ‘Gentlemen’ that also happens to mean ‘conviction’ in Japanese – is an indie-game publisher that is run like a small record label, promoting independent games that have some kind of unifying quality. The six-person outfit, based in Osaka, specialises in signing western games that it believes will appeal to Japanese audience, a demographic that has, company co-founder Nayan Ramachandran claims, historically shied away from western indie games.
Ramachandran’s job title is ‘content connoisseur’, but his role is perhaps bestdescribed in music industry terms: he acts as an A&R manager, signing games that he believes fit the label and its fans. In a little over a year, Dangen has already had considerable success, particularly with Iconoclasts, a Swedishmade platformer that takes clear inspiration from ’90s Japanese art and design. Here, Ramachandran explains how Dangen is working to convince the Japanese to have an open mind when it comes to buying games from overseas.
Why did you decide to focus on bringing western indie titles to Japan?
The Japanese gaming landscape has changed a lot in recent years. While Japanese consumers characteristically have been unreceptive to western games, that has begun to change. This is, in part, because so many indie developers in the west have been highly influenced by Japanese games, and that influence shows up in their work. This has created a kind of feedback loop, whereby western indies are making Japaneseinfluenced games that, in turn, are marketable to Japanese audiences.
You imply that there has historically been some resistance to western indie games in Japan. To what do you attribute this resistance?
The resistance comes from western games being so fundamentally different for such a long time. Whether it has been the scope of the game, the genre, or simply the control and UI conventions, Japanese development always approached those elements in a vacuum, borrowing little from western titles. For instance, Japanese gamers, for a long time, stayed away from western shooters because controlling both sticks on a controller at the same time while primarily using the shoulder buttons for actions was an entirely foreign concept, and hard to pick up.
So how do you select games that will work for the Japanese market?
What, in your experience, works and what does not? Finding a distinct, powerful art style, especially in terms of strong character design, is really important to Japan. We tend to seek out types of gameplay that use elements Japanese players are familiar with, albeit coupled with new, fresh concepts. It’s hard to predict what will work and what won’t, but we have noticed that the Japanese market responds well to strong narrative focus and vivid, recognisable character design.
What are the elements familiar to Japanese players that you’re attempting to seek out?
We look at genres that are popular, or ubiquitous in the market. For instance, while FPS games have picked up steam in Japan, it’s still not a huge market. An FPS is a tough sell here if it’s not a known franchise. That isn’t to say that we won’t even look at a game because of its genre. We might end up taking a chance on a title purely because we believe in it.
What makes for a good Japanese localisation?
When you pick up a Dangen game and play it in your native language, you should not immediately know the country of origin. For example, we don’t want you to be able to tell if a game was originally a Japanese, European or American project. Games such as Iconoclasts, Devil Engine, Cross Code and Minoria all bridge the regional gap, taking elements from different cultures, and influences from all over the world.
Aren’t there instances wherein a particular cultural style can be a virtue for a game’s success, or even, in some cases, is entirely intrinsic to its identity?
The cultural influence of the game world is important, but I don’t necessarily think the origin country of the development is as important. Take a game like Okami, a game about Japanese myth made by Japanese developers. If this had been made by western developers, I wouldn’t want the Japanese player to be able to tell the difference.
What’s next for you and the company?
To sign more titles. We’re hitting a point where a lot of our initial slate titles are close to shipping, and we’re going to need to seek out developers that are looking to ship their titles in 2019 and beyond. It’s an exciting time.
“The Japanese resistance comes from western games being so different for such a long time”
Dangen co-founder Nayan Ramachandran