PRETENTIOUS OPINIONIST: Kickstarting a Localization

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

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The Pretentious Opinionist is a column dedicated to my opinion and speculation. It does not represent oprainfall as a whole, nor the opinions of other staff members, nor does it necessarily have any basis in fact. It merely represents my possibly naive notion that people might be interested in what I have to say.

Back when Operation Rainfall was simply a fan campaign, and Xenoblade Chronicles and Last Story were (finally) coming to America, I got an inspiration: since Pandora’s Tower was in the exact same position as Last Story (i.e. the game was already in English, and largely only needed to be coded for North American TVs to be released to a group of fans clamoring for the game), XSEED was probably interested in releasing it, too. I suggested that perhaps XSEED should try Kickstarting the localization. I had a few simple ideas, but nothing spectacular. After all, there are smart guys at XSEED. I assumed that I would never hear back from them. I mean, they’re busy guys. I was amazed to hear back from them in less than a week! And this wasn’t some non-committal marketing spiel, either. One of the XSEED guys personally got back to me. Really good PR there, XSEED; you gained a loyal customer with that one email. However, that email contained only bad news. Not only was XSEED not pursuing publishing Pandora’s Tower at that time, trying to crowdfund a localization would be too much a hassle to deal with. The basic contention was that trying to get stuff like pre-orders and rewards tiers to crowdfunders would be a nightmare. I beg to differ.

If you browse oprainfall, chances are you already know what localization is, and what crowdfunding is, but just in case, I’ll lay out simple definitions.

Kickstarting a Localization

Localization is the process of translating a game made for one region (in many cases, Japan) to another (such as Western countries). This is more than simply a straight text translation, as concepts familiar to the original audience may have to be explained to those receiving the translation.

Kickstarting a Localization

Sometimes, a developer (or whoever) wants to work on a small project that will only appeal to a small audience. Rather than trying to fund the project on the creator’s own dime and hoping the game will be successful, the creator may reach out to the fanbase to give money, in exchange for certain rewards, to fund the project. This is called crowdfunding, and it has really picked up steam in the gaming realm after success stories like Double Fine, inExile, and Obsidian on Kickstarter.

All respect to XSEED, but I think they’re wrong: crowdfunding could be a viable solution to niche publishers, especially now. Let’s take a look at how we might be successful in Kickstarting a localization. Crowdfunding takes two things: a goal and rewards tiers.

The Goal

Kickstarting a Localization

While we JRPG fans would love to see every game fully voiced in English in every store in America, I would imagine that most of us would be happy enough with a subtitled, digital release. That has become easier to accomplish now that the 3DS and Wii U support full retail downloads. I think that this should be a baseline goal: only ask for the cost, in manpower, to localize a game. No English voiceovers, no retail release.

But, hang on, there are quite a few gaming Kickstarters that went well over their initial goal. Yes, and these often have tiers. For instance, look at Torment Tides of Numeria. While the Kickstarter goal was “only” nine hundred thousand dollars, they had plans for any money received over and above the initial cost. So, the next tier in a localization Kickstarter would probably be English voiceovers. After that, online retail release, limited retail release, full retail release, limited edition release, etc. These tiers would be representative of how much money would be needed to accomplish such releases.

Rewards Tiers

Kickstarting a Localization

This is actually what XSEED had the most problem with when I presented my idea. I suggested that with a Pandora’s Tower release, if someone put five dollars towards the Kickstarter, they would receive a free GameStop (or wherever) pre-order. Now, I get that on the surface that seems WAY too much trouble. After all, when you pre-order at GameStop, you pre-order with a specific store, not the GameStop corporation. You can’t take your pre-order to another GameStop in the area and expect it to be filled. However, I’ve come up with a solution to this problem.

Users of GameStop’s Power Up Rewards program should be aware that with those points you accumulate, you can buy rewards, such as a coupon for GameStop purchases. These coupons are generated at the time of purchase. If you could control time and take your coupon back to a point before you purchased it with your rewards points, it would not work. That coupon has not been created by the system yet. Likewise, you can’t use the same coupon more than once. Therefore, all the publisher would need to do is have GameStop create a coupon that when scanned, gives the user a pre-order for the game in question. Admittedly, this could be asking too much of a company, whose only benefit in the end would be a little good PR, but hypothetically  let’s go with it.. Each Kickstarter rewards tier should come with a preorder equaling the amount put towards the Kickstarter goal (i.e. if the person puts 25 dollars in, they should get a pre-order coupon equaling that amount), and send this coupon to the contributor via email. This would also work with Amazon easily, as you’d simply get a promotional code to put in when you purchase your pre-order. Granted, I don’t own an Xbox 360 or a PS3, so I don’t know if they do pre-orders, but if they work like the eShop (which doesn’t give pre-orders), the publisher would just give you a redemption code at the time of purchase. I’m not sure how this would work for other places that give game pre-orders, but I’d imagine that having the option for Amazon and GameStop would satisfy most people. But the tiers can’t just be a different pre-order amount. If you put in $50, you should get something extra. Here’s what I came up with.

  • First amount: basic preorder
  • Second amount: wallpaper images, made from concept art
  • Third amount: digital soundtrack
  • Fourth amount: digital art book
  • High tier: come visit our office

If you’ve been to a Kickstarter, then you’ve seen all this before. After all, crowdfunding isn’t a new thing. The purpose of this article isn’t to start a brand new trend. Well, okay, it is and it isn’t  I love the idea of crowdfunding. I mean, three big, old school, isometric RPGs have been funded, and I love those games. And yet, while this brand new way to fund games exists, we fans of Japanese games still have to yell on message boards to try to get games we want. I want to see niche publishers like XSEED, Atlus, NIS America, Natsume (need I go on?) to take advantage of crowdfunding. I want to see Square Enix experiment with crowdfunding. Remember, not that long ago, it didn’t look like Bravely Default: Flying Fairy was coming to the West (until Nintendo of Europe picked up localization like a champ). Square Enix probably thought that the game would be too risky to localize, despite a legion of fans clamoring for it. If Square Enix had put up a Kickstarter, and let those clamoring fans put their money where their mouth was, maybe we’d have the game already.

I’ll admit that this is more an idea than a perfect implementation. Obviously publishers will need to experiment with Kickstarter to come up with the proper system of tiers and rewards. Is Kickstarter a perfect solution? No. I mean, if you put money into localizing The Last Story, and you were one of the people that hated it, you would feel rightfully angry. But there has to be a better solution than a Facebook campaign to get a company’s attention, and Kickstarter could be it. Hopefully, this catches their attention.

About Guy Rainey

I’m Guy Rainey. I’m a hardcore Nintendo fan, a PC enthusiast, and a Sony sympathizer. Also an amateur/aspiring game creator. I love any game that puts story as the main focus of the game, so that means JRPGs are my favorite genre almost by default.




  • Joshua J. Slone

    I think the problem is as much institutional as it is the desire of localization companies. They have to be in a position where they can actually deliver the localization if they get the funds, but aren’t stuck in a bad place if they don’t make the money. This would require making some sort of provisional deal with the original rights holders. But crowdfunding not really being A Thing until recently, making no-money deals for projects that might not happen isn’t something they seem ready to do. Hopefully the more crowdfunding successes there are, the more open they’ll be to such things.

  • Zestevez

    You cannot kickstarter something you don’t own, so if you don’t own the rights to the localization unfortunately you cannot kickstarter it. This seems to be where most of the issue lies. No rights=no kickstarter.

  • Thedude3445

    The pre-order option is probably too complicated for practical use, but simply offering a digital copy of the game would be fine. Of course, the most-funded projects have much more creative tiers than just the regular ones, and a company like XSEED or NIS or even Square could easily come up with rewards that would entice every potential fan. I’m all for crowdfunding being an option for simple projects like this. I’m more wary about gigantic super-ambitious wholly new projects, and I think soon the Kickstarter bubble may end up bursting due to them, but that’s another topic.

  • John Ellis

    There is this Anime called Time of Eve that was only released though the iStore as it was only a small studio. They later used a Kickstarter campaign to get a Blu Ray and for a stretch goal include an English Dub. All this worked out but this should not become the norm for all localizations. Kickstarter should be used as an alternative, you simply can not have people buying all there games thought crowding.

  • HeroOfGames16

    As the founder of a localization movement (Operation Hotblood) myself, I leave the possibility for a kickstarter open, but personally I am not very fond of the idea. First of all, it’s the company itself that can make the decision only and the question is if a mere group of gamers can fund the localization of a current gen-console game.

    • Zestevez

      You would have to own the rights before hand. The fact that WE, the fans, do not own the rights keeps us from even being able to create a legal Kickstarter.

    • HeroOfGames16

      Yeah, that’s pretty much what I said in my post, but thanks.

  • Alex

    All I want is all the precious Trails games down on through Nayuta no Kiseki. I don’t need any damn rewards. I want the games!

    Just a heads up, you spelled InXile wrong.

  • Third party

    One of the big stumbling blocks with localizations isn’t the money, but getting the original devs to support the localization. Companies like Falcom appear completely uninterested in localizing some of their games (Legend of Heroes), and small companies like Vanillaware just don’t have the time because they’re already making their next game (Grand Knights History).

    Square, for all the problems they have, started doing things right – crafting the localized version DURING the original development. It’s why you rarely see that 9-18 month delay between JP and other region releases for them anymore. More companies need to adopt this as their development model.