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The Method Behind Nintendo Of America's Localization Madness (Plus: Women Like Mario)

Fatal Frame 4 Do you ever wonder why certain titles for Nintendo's Wii never make it out of Japan?  Have you cried yourself to sleep at night because Nintendo of America passed on Fatal Frame 4 but gave Fossil Fighters plenty of time in the spotlight?  While you may find it hard to believe, Nintendo does not choose which games to take out of Japan at random.  The company's top people make quarterly pilgrimages to Japan to see what's new, what's coming, and what's right for international audiences.  Wired sat down with Nintendo of America's Cammie Dunaway to discuss why some games make the cut over others.

Wired.com: Of course! Explain to me Nintendo’s philosophy on localizing games. Because it seems very clear to me that while most other videogame publishers make sure that most of the stuff that they publish comes out in other territories, sometimes even Nintendo games that come out in Europe don’t make it to America, like the Wii version of Trace Memory. It seems that Nintendo of America has a very restrictive approach and cherry-picks games.

Dunaway: The way it works is that Nintendo of America and Nintendo of Europe have teams who are responsible for going over to Japan three or four times a year, looking at what’s going on with the development teams, and making decisions about what makes sense to bring to the U.S. and when it makes sense to bring it here. I would argue that they are bringing a lot of great Japanese property here — I know you and I are great Professor Layton fans, and we finally got our Professor Layton 2, and hopefully we’ll get 3 sometime — I don’t know, but I’m hoping on it.

And bringing things like Fossil Fighters here, and certainly some of the lineup that we talked about today from things like Sin and Punishment, and also from a third party, bringing Dragon Quest IX, which we’re going to publish here in the U.S., Monster Hunter Tri, coming in a big partnership with Capcom to make sure that we really expose that content, which Japanese audiences love, to American audiences. So you’re right, we pick and choose, and we can’t bring everything. But I think that we’re working hard to try and bring a lot of those titles that did well in Japan to the U.S.

Well, that beats my theory involving an executive officer darts tournament.  But seriously, one of the great things about living in this modern era is that fans of unlocalized games have access to the knowledge and technology required to translate those games themselves, then release the translations for the rest of the world to enjoy.  Titles such as Fatal Frame 4 and Mother 3 are apparently unmarketable in North America, and yet they are available to play in English thanks to dedicated fans.

Something else of note in the interview is that the idea of casual games transforming new players into members of the core audience seems to have some merit to it after all.  New Super Mario Bros. Wii has performed very well with women, so now Nintendo plans to heavily target that demographic when marketing Super Mario Galaxy 2.  Who says that diabolical master plans never succeed?

Dunaway: On one side, what we have to do is make sure that this expanded audience, people that we brought into the Wii, moves from being casual gamers to being committed gamers. So part of what we’re focusing on is, we’ve got a bunch of women who bought a Wii to play Wii Fit Plus. Now we find that they’re playing New Super Mario Bros. Wii and having a blast. So I want to make sure that they’re part of the crowd that goes out and buys Super Mario Galaxy 2. We’ve got to make sure we’re running on both cylinders, both for the active gamer and for the expanded audience.

Welcome to the Mushroom Kingdom, ladies.  Please enjoy your stay!