Japanese licensing: MonkeyPaw boss explains why it’s a challenge
Licensing problems. Throughout the nineties, we complained when Japanese titles never made it to stores near us despite taking the Fear East by storm. It got a bit better in the noughties, as our hobby grew in popularity, but the issue never completely disappeared.
There are a few reasons why Japanese titles (such as these) never made it to the West. Cost is a big one. Publishers, translators and other staff are needed to develop a localised version and they don’t work for free. Demand also has a big part to play. The fact is many of the games that grace the Japanese charts are perceived to be too odd for the Western market. The third major issue is licensing.
“Licensing issues” has always seemed to be one of those convenient answers publishers give when they really should be saying something else, like “we just didn’t fancy the extra work”. Is it that hard to sort out some licenses for a game? Really?
We posed the question to MonkeyPaw Games president and CEO John Greiner, a man who makes a living from bringing niche Japanese titles to the west. His company seems to have no problem licensing Japanese games. Is their approach that different?
“I can tell you, licensing is always an issue. It is never easy. But persistence has a way of overcoming obstacles, no matter how large. The key is being based in Japan. There needs to be face-to-face communication on many levels before a deal of any sort can be done. There are good reasons for this. The relationship building process weeds out those lacking character and stamina. And a solid relationship helps solve problems when they invariably appear. So publishers in search of licenses need to be based in Japan and will require patience, long hours, thick skin, and a strong liver.”
The advice, then, to other publishers is to get on a plane, develop a tolerance for Nihonshu, don’t take no for an answer and make friends with the right people. Only then do you stand a chance of licensing that game for the West.
Of course, it isn’t all one-way traffic, as Harmonix found to their frustration when they tried to develop a Japanese version of Rock Band a few years back. Harmonix CEO Alex Rigopulos described the process of acquiring music rights as being “very difficult in Japan, relative to other countries.“ Can’t we all just learn to share our toys?
Have you ever missed out on an exciting title because it never left those far eastern shores? Let us know in the usual place below…
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