RPGamer Feature - Publisher Pow-Wow - XSEED Games
Ken Berry
Director of Publishing
Publisher: XSEED Games
Avalon Code
Muramasa: The Demon Blade
Retro Game Challenge
Arc Rise Fantasia
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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?
Ken Berry: Potential games can be brought to our attention by the Japanese publisher when they are motivated to find a publishing partner for the US, but there's also a lot of times when we just realize that a great game hasn't been announced for the US yet so we take the initiative and start asking around about it.

Our selection process usually involves pretty much everyone in our company playing the game for at least a few hours and then providing their individual feedback. If we can come close to a unanimous decision about it being a quality game that's fun to play, then that information is taken into account when sales and our president make the final decision on if it can sell in the US and if we have a reasonable chance at turning a profit. If the numbers add up then we'll make our bid and then hope that the IP holder accepts.

By having our entire team be part of the selection process, hopefully we can weed out some personal biases. For example, I would try to bring over every old-school side-scrolling shooter ever made, while if Mike in localization had his way, we would have published Doki Doki Majo Shinpan a long time ago.

To what extent is the game's developer involved in the publishing process? Could you share some examples of how they are involved?
Ken: It completely depends on the Japanese publisher and how involved they want to get the development company in the localization and sometimes even the licensing process. Every situation is unique, so on one project the publisher may step aside after the contract is signed and let us coordinate all localization matters directly with the developer, while others will stay on as the middle man and relay everything to the dev team on our behalf.

Sometimes, the development team will have a lot of control and even suggest extras from their side during localization. This is something that happened with Game Republic when we were working with them and Sony of Japan on Brave Story: New Traveler. They stated that not only did they want to include some new levels, items, and monsters during the localization process, but asked if we could include voice-overs during the cut-scenes since they didn't have time to implement them in the original Japanese version.

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?
Ken: Other than the ongoing difficulty of fighting for retail shelf space for games intended for a "niche" market, cultural differences continue to be a huge barrier when publishing for the North American market. Sexual content is much more accepted in Japanese culture, while violence is more accepted in the US than Japan. Rarely do we have problems with violence in our games, but we always have to stay on our toes about sexual situations or imagery in the original Japanese game.

In terms of different barriers from platform to platform, the biggest one for us as a small publisher would be any kind of online capability that would require us to maintain servers in the US. Usually not a problem on handhelds, but becoming more and more common on home consoles and require the dev team to continue assisting us even after the game has launched.

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?
Ken: Advertising is a simple matter of determining what kind of person that game may appeal to and how best to reach them given the budget limitations that we have. If by priority you're talking about the total marketing budget, then it's usually calculated as a percentage of potential sales based on internal estimates, but determining the actual number of copies to produce requires firm feedback from the retail buyers. Cost of goods is very high when including all royalties that have to be paid, so producing unsold games is always a major risk we have to be cautious of.

In terms of release timing, we usually try to ship them as soon as we can after localization is done, but always keep our eye on release dates of competitor titles or any special promotions that we can be a part of in the near future if we adjust our launch date slightly.

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?
Ken: First thing we do is try to spell out anything phonetically in English and see if it still reads halfway decent. If it sounds OK and doesn't appear to have any legal issues, it's pretty much finalized we do everything we can to avoid changing things, especially something as important as a main character's name.

I know that our localization team had fun taking liberties in Retro Game Challenge. That game had a lot of references to the Japanese gaming culture that had to be tweaked for the US audience. These are the rare instances when we will actively change things during localization, when the original Japanese reference just won't make sense to most US consumers. As a specific example, in Wild ARMs 5 there was a scene where they talked about knowing the right hand was the stronger hand because it's the one that holds chopsticks. This wouldn't have made sense to most Americans, so it was changed to the right hand being described as the stronger trigger hand - something any red-blooded American can relate to; firearms.

In terms of game translations that our team has enjoyed, I hear Mike in localization sing the praises of Disgaea and the funny dialogue in there quite often.

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?
Ken: Probably the main thing that happens quite regularly here has to actually do with new hires and their first experience inside "the cage" at the voice-recording studio. Knowing that pretty much every member of our team has had their voice in at least one of our games in one form or another, new hires are always anxious to dive right in at the studio to have their voice immortalized forever. Hard to blame them, especially when the really good actors make everything look so easy that anyone thinks they can do it.

But get inside the actual recording box for the first time, alone in that tiny soundproof room, group of people staring at you through the glass and yet still being totally isolated from the world with only the occasional instructions coming through your headphones, it's a terrifying experience that produces hysterical results almost every time. We tend to keep the voice files of each team member's first performance handy so that we can pull it up and repeatedly mock them at will for the first few months. I guess it's sort of become our initiation process here.

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