Steam, Japan, and missed opportunities
Steam is a pretty good place to find indie games. But outside of the occasional exception, games from small and mid-sized Japanese developers are tough to find on the service.
That's not only a loss for players who use Valve Software's Steam, but also for smaller Japanese developers, according to Esteban Salazar, who works in the digital business division at Tokyo's MarvelousAQL.
"My personal opinion is that [Steam] is one of the ways that Japan can still compete, as far as putting their games in front of users, and not having to spend huge mega-budgets. It can help them compete with Western publishers."
Salazar is the self-professed "Steam evangelist" within MarvelousAQL, which next week is bringing its popular (and very fun) game Half-Minute Hero to Steam, making it the first Steam game for the company.
As he understands the situation, Valve approached a number of Japanese developers, including MarvelousAQL, shortly before he came on board at MarvelousAQL six months ago. Now MarvelousAQL is looking for more opportunities to bring games onto Steam.
But while Steam and its 40 million-person user-base seems like it'd be a no-brainer for Japanese developers to reach Western audiences, there are some reasons why smaller game companies pass up, or don't even look into, the Steam opportunity.
"There are a couple things that are barriers," said Salazar. "One, [Japanese] developers are like, 'PC? We don't really know anything about that market if it's not browser.'
"The second is the language barrier. Steam doesn't really have any support in Japanese. So you kind of need someone who's bilingual to run things, and act as an intermediary. That's another thing I do. Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo have Japanese branches, and have plenty of Japanese speakers, and full Japanese support. But Steam really doesn't. If you're a smaller company, you might not even have someone who can speak English that well. So how are you going to contact Valve?"
Salazar also described a bit of a mental barrier that Japan's game industry might possess in regards to PC games. "There's a really hardcore PC enthusiast audience here, but they usually play Western games, and visual novels, and porno games. So [the market] is not big at all," he said.
"In fact the PC market is pretty neglected here. Which is a shame, because there is a big business opportunity for it. Some developers just don't consider the market for PC at all here in Japan. They think that's a tiny market for fans of porno games."
As MarvelousAQL is a developer and publisher that is in a position to seek out games from small Japanese companies, Salazar hopes more domestic developers will look into the Steam business opportunity. "I think it's a great space, and Japan right now is finding that unless you're a major studio, it's really hard to compete with [the major publishers] on console," he said. "PC is the natural way to go, and Steam is the biggest, and in my opinion, the best."