Where the Japanese Indie Games Are

If you haven’t seen it yet, the first article I’ve been able to get published in probably way too long is a feature I did for GameSpy about one digital store’s attempt to localize Japanese indie games. It’s a peculiar subject that seems to get more interesting to the outside world by the day in our current PC environment.

I’ve talked about it at least once at 1up, but as digital PC games get more and more prominent in the market, it starts to become noticeable how absent Japan seems to be from that market. We know most of the big Japanese developers don’t make PC games at all and aren’t even really aware of the PC as a gaming platform. For years though Japan has had its own healthy indie game development scene on PC, and I’m not just talking about the porno dating sims.

In the article I linked the website of developer NIGORO (best known for La-Mulana right now) which contains a surprising library of quirky games. Since writing that though I’ve become privy to lists and videos of software premiered at Comiket — kinda sorta Japan’s equivalent to the IGF except for all indie media. The sheer volume of stuff that get’s made over there but basically never escapes Japan is slightly mind-boggling. I’ve basically been trying to examine the situation we have here where indie games on PC have become more popular all over the world but Japan is still kind of isolated.

When I did the interviews for my article, it seemed like a major barrier was language. That confused me because the indie games we see now on places like Steam, GOG, or Desura, seem to come from all over the world, but are all available in English. I’ve heard of maybe a handful of European indie games that didn’t come out in English until months after their original release. I don’t know how prevalent English is among those groups but I’m inclined to believe one interviewee’s claim that not as many doujin developers speak English. For whatever reason, their games are mostly confined to Comiket and Japanese forums.

Outside of Playism you’ve started to see a few games trickle into Desura or Steam. Recettear: an Item Shop’s Tale has been a notable example but more have come in its wake. Hopefully that trickle expands, but more outreach similar to Playism would probably have to occur.

Steam itself has done a lot to draw in indie developers, most recently giving distribution deals to IGF finalists. I’m sitting here wondering if anyone in the west would send any ambassadors to Comiket with similar intentions (along with localization deals).

If nothing else, doing this could bring some more variety to an already varied games marketplace. Personally what I’m hoping for is to maybe get more localized visual novels out of the deal. I still think it’s pretty messed up that pretty much every piece of media regarding Steins;Gate and most of 5pb’s other work is available in English… except the original visual novels.


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