The popular image of Japanese games has always been traditionally bound to consoles, if anything because in Japan PC gaming never really took off. If you walk around Akihabara in Tokyo, you’ll easily notice that the local PC niche is mostly limited to MMORPG fans.
Yet, the platform, and specifically its Valve-powered digital marketplace Steam, is proving to be a very compelling home for titles developed in Japan. Below you can see the current top-seller list on Steam.
Considering the visibility of NieR: Automata, its debut at the top is not too shocking, but Senran Kagura: Estival Versus is certainly more of a niche game, and yet we see it there close to the top, ahead of heavily discounted western AAA games.
This is certainly not to say that Japanese developers should abandon their traditional console home to move to PC en-masse, but Steam is proving to be a fantastic secondary source of revenue for many of them.
As a matter of fact, the recent heavy focus on PS4 development among Japanese developers is creating an ideal symbiotic relationship with Steam: thanks to its architecture, the PS4 is in many ways a PC, and when they’re not developed on PC to begin with, PS4 games can be ported to Windows quite easily and requiring a relatively small investment.
While in the past Japanese developers simply did not consider PC as a platform for their games, because their primary audience (which has always been Japanese gamers) played mostly on consoles, and because porting from machines like PS3 was often complicated and work-intensive, things have changed quite radically since then.
Not only porting from PS4 to PC is relatively simple, but the Japanese audience has partly shifted to mobile gaming, prompting local companies that still want to develop on home consoles, to look for additional avenues of revenue. Many achieved it by adding new platforms and opening to new audiences in the west.
Steam is pretty much the perfect place where these two needs meet: it’ popular among western gamers, and it provides a solid marketplace on PC with convenient publishing conditions and good visibility.
The number of Japanese games that have been successful on Steam goes much beyond NieR: Automata or Senran Kagura: Estival Versus. We heard just recently from XSEED Vice President Ken Berry that titles like Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus and Akiba’s Trip also performed above expectations. And with their sales numbers around 80-90,000 units each (according to SteamSpy, that might not be a perfect measure, but gives a good ballpark idea to judge general performance on), those are just a relatively small tip of a very big iceberg.
A perfect example is Valkyria Chronicles, a masterpiece that years after its release on PS3, went on to sell about 900,000 copies on Steam. Dragon Ball Xenoverse moved roughly 650,000, and Final Fantasy VII is sitting on well over a million. Even semi-forgotten stuff like The Last Remnant sold 900,000 units thanks to convenient pricing and sales, and small projects like I Am Setsuna have Steam to thank for 45,000 copies that found a warm and loving home.
Looking at the figures, there are a metric ton of Japanese games from several publishers that sold around or above (even much above) 100,000 copies, and considering the usual volumes those games achieve on consoles, selling this much on PC is a much welcome bonus that gives many Japanese developers a breath of fresh air and a way to further offset development costs.
This kind of additional revenue contributes to keeping development on home platforms still desirable in Japan, and helps in containing the bleeding of resources and developers towards the mobile market.
That’s why it isn’t surprising to see publishers and developers like Koei Tecmo, Square Enix, Marvelous Entertainment, D3Publisher, Spike Chunsoft, NIS America, Bandai Namco and Sega looking with more and more interest at getting a succulent slice of this bonus pie that comes with low costs and good margins.
This without mentioning that even traditionally niche genres like visual novels have proved to have found good elbow room on Steam, with publishers like Sekai Project doing very well for themselves, touching 300,000 units sold with their best selling titles. The Steam fan base has embraced the genre so much, that more and more western developers are releasing their own Japanese-like visual novels on Valve’s marketplace.
This also gives a hint to one of the reasons why Steam is proving to be such a good home for Japanese games. The console market is crowded with AAA releases, mostly coming from the west, and it’s getting difficult for smaller, more niche productions to get the spotlight they deserve outside of Japan.
Steam is crowded as well, but there is less emphasis on massive AAA juggernauts. On top of that, western PC gamers are in average a bit more nerdy than the console-based mass market, and they’re very used and willing to embrace niche titles and give them their attention and money.
Once more, it’s important to stress the fact that this isn’t a “console sversus PC” scenario. Japanese developers are not looking at PC and Steam as an alternative platform for their games. What they are finding is a fantastic additional source of visibility and revenue, that gets reinvested in more games, that will in turn be published both on consoles and PC. Basically, everyone wins.