RPGamer Feature - Publisher Pow-Wow - Atlus
Aram Jabbari
Manager of PR and Sales
Publisher: Atlus
SMT: Persona 4
Knights in the Nightmare
Legacy of Ys: Books I & II
Class of Heroes
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First off, could you detail the decision making process for selecting which games are released in North America. Who is involved and what steps does the process go through?
Aram Jabbari: Fundamental evaluation of a game itself is the first and most important step in determining whether the title is of adequate quality and sufficiently viable for the North American market. Is there an audience? How does it compare to other entries in the genre, or, if it is something wholly different than anything else on the market, how will gamers accept it?

Also of notable consideration is the scope of the project, and weighing the effort required to deliver the absolute best final product versus the expected returns. What can we add or enhance in this game for North America?

The decision-making process often includes all departments of the company as things move from early evaluation to final conclusion.

To what extent is the game's developer involved in the publishing process? Could you share some examples of how they are involved?
Aram: The process of localizing a game requires participation from the developer. There are often changes that need to be made in order to accommodate the English text. For example, text windows may need to be altered or character limits explored in order to allow the best possible translation into English. The developer is integral in recompiling the English text back into the game as well as converting any graphical text into English.

The process of quality assurance also requires close assistance from the developers. At times there are aspects of a game that may develop minor issues when the text or voice files are updated with localized content, and in those instances close collaboration is necessary to smooth out all issues and produce a pristine final game.

What difficulties and/or barriers have you had to overcome in publishing games in North America? Could you share some examples of barriers that have been overcome and/or those that could not be? What barriers are different from platform to platform?
Aram: For Atlus, there have really never been any significant or noteworthy barriers to publishing games in North America. When titles have not made the trip over, despite moderate-to-high fan interest and demand, they have been due to reasons specific to those projects. The greatest challenge is often to expand the audience, to find more and more gamers interested in trying quirkier, more unique titles.

When ramping up for a game's release, how are the decisions made as to where to advertise, which game gets priority, how many copies to produce, and when to release the game?
Aram: Much of it goes back to the game's original evaluation and positioning. What did we expect from this game when we licensed it? Who is the target audience for this title? How does it compare to other genre entries?

The latter part of the equation is determined from the moment the game is announced, looking again at some of the same questions and seeing if the answers are changed now that awareness is growing. The process is dynamic.

The release date is often decided early on as well, and can of course change as production or market changes dictate.

How are translation decisions handled, things like renaming a game or character? Any games you've had a really enjoyable time taking liberties with? Do you have any examples of games given a less-strict translation that influenced your own?
Aram: This is one of the areas in which I personally believe that Atlus stands in a class all its own. We have a fantastic team of translators and editors, passionate gamers who research every point to the ends of the earth and constantly strive to bring as much life and personality to their localizations as they do accuracy and integrity.

With the Shin Megami Tensei games, a series steeped in mythology, it would probably be possible to rush the translation and avoid converting any of the deeper, more philosophical elements of the story, but that is not how we do things at Atlus. Mythology is explored and researched, and every effort is made to not only bring the meaning and beauty of the original text to North American gamers, but to find the literary analogies, the parallels of prose and history, that will ultimately shape and define the end experience for the player.

There are of course games in which names or settings are changed, or perhaps where the style of humor is changed so as to accommodate Western expectations, but those changes are never frivolous or arbitrary. They are done most commonly to conform to the already present theme and meaning within the game itself, to offer North American gamers the same experience as those who played the original release of the game while making sure that context is appropriately altered to cater to cultural and societal differences.

Any interesting or horrific stories that you could tell us about? You know, maybe that one office incident that everyone laughs about and shares with new hires?
Aram: Every now and then a coworker is huddled in a corner, their knees clutched tightly to their chest, rocking back and forth, trembling. When we approach these people and try to find out what has put them in such a state, we are always and invariably met with the following: "The machine is now sentient."

We really don't know what it means. We've asked our supercomputer, but he usually just changes the subject to the weather or sports.

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