Culture Smash: Why Is PC Gaming in Japan So Niche?

By Brian Ashcraft on January 24, 2013, 3:16 AM

Cold rain drizzles outside. Inside, everything is pink, round, and frilly. The first floor of this otaku (geek) retailer is plastered with release info for new PC games—adult PC games. A young clerk in glasses near the 18-and-up section taps away on a computer, probably checking inventory. I approach, excusing myself for asking a sudden, if not seemingly random question: "Why is PC gaming in Japan so niche?"

The shop is located in Den-Den Town, Osaka's geek and gaming district, on a street known as "Ota Road", short for "otaku road". It's easy to stumble into shops like this and find an array of dating games, some of which are erotic. The vast majority of these games are not exactly mainstream in Japan, but their presence is palpable in a geek neighborhood like this. But what Western gamers think of PC games—the games from developers like Valve and Blizzard—aren't. It's not that those Western PC games don't exist; they just don't smack you in the face.

When many Japanese gamers think of the country's PC gaming industry, the kneejerk reaction is to think of either dating or Western games. "The image of PC gaming with many Japanese gamers is first-person shooters," the clerk replies, agreeing that it is niche in Japan. "That," he continues, "and they think PC gaming is expensive."

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User Comments: 9

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2 people like this | Alpha Gamer Alpha Gamer said:

I'm around japanese people 10-12 hours a day. I teach portuguese and english to people who had been transferred from japan to brazil for whatever reason. From time to time, the game subject arises. They love RPG, but they've never heard of Elder Scrolls or Baldur's Gate. They all know final fantasy and dragon quest. Some of them own a ps3 and I ask them about god of war, uncharted, assassin's creed. They've never heard of these games. From what I've noticed so far, it is not only pc gaming that's niche in japan. It's because in japan, they have an array of games aimed at japanese people (which are in japanese of course) and surrounding japanese culture. Western culture does not appeal to them that much. Also ad it to fact that the average japanese has very poor command of english language, the result could not be different.

Regardless of culture and language, even design choices are completely different. They like their rpg turn-based with anime-like graphics. Whereas most of us like them real-time and more realistic.

Just the other day, this guy asked me in what ways final fantasy and witcher are different. Among all the differences I explained, I remember showing him pictures of cloud and geralt and saying: "this guy has 'bad-ass' written all over his face, while this other dude just looks like a girl". He stood in silence for half a minute and then burst into laughter, agreeing with me.

I've had the opportunity of inviting 2 or 3 of my students to my house to play the witcher 2, since it has japanese subtitles. All of them say something like this: "Sensei, thank you for this awesome experience, but I don't think japanese people would enjoy this".

Sniped_Ash said:

But The Witcher 2 goes from zero to boobies in 3.2 seconds! And you can bang a succubus! Just like Catherine!

Seriously though, The Witcher is an interesting example because even though it's a Western game, it's from the eastern side of Europe where games will gladly beat the crap out of you. It's not a North American hold-your-hand kind of game.

TomSEA TomSEA, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Interesting article and thanks for the interesting first-person insight Alpha Gamer.

(shrugs) Appears to me it really boils down to nothing more than cultural differences. When you get out of the areas where PC gaming is the norm - primarily western cultures - anything else is a big "huh??"

It is kind of curious though that the Korean's are bat-shit crazy over PC gaming and for the Japanese it amounts to nothing more than another avenue for porn.

IvanAwfulitch IvanAwfulitch said:

/start sarcasm/ Oh gee, look at that... a Kotaku article about Japan. Fancy that. /end sarcasm/

howzz1854 said:

Japan as a country is an odd ball amongst its neighboring regional asian countries. while most others embrace outside culture and modernization. japanese are stuck in their own culture and time. it's not just video game, it goes for a lot of areas in life. sometimes this can be good, other times it can be bad for them.

Littleczr Littleczr said:

Japan as a country is an odd ball amongst its neighboring regional asian countries. while most others embrace outside culture and modernization. japanese are stuck in their own culture and time. it's not just video game, it goes for a lot of areas in life. sometimes this can be good, other times it can be bad for them.

Isn't that crazy, their culture has been that way ever since the Renaissance.

Chazz said:

Japan as a country is an odd ball amongst its neighboring regional asian countries. while most others embrace outside culture and modernization. japanese are stuck in their own culture and time. it's not just video game, it goes for a lot of areas in life. sometimes this can be good, other times it can be bad for them.

Not just the neighboring region. An oddball amongst the world. I'm so intrigued at just how different things are there. They're like in their own little bubble. I would like to live there for a couple years.

TorturedChaos, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

I can relate to their thinking. "They like their rpg turn-based with anime-like graphics"

I prefer JRPG's to Western RPG's 9 times outa 10. But the game that got me hooked on gaming was FF7, and I have loved anime since I was about 10 so, yah.

Guest said:

I'm not suprising XD. I didn't like their JRPG, their anime style is just meh ( I like anime though ... but gaming is a no ! ) However, I really love Final fantasy and dark soul series :). Japan have creating more and more Western-like games, so it's not gonna be far until Japanese interested in games like Skyrim, fallout etc, etc. But there're one thing I'm sure 125% that the PC gaming will never EVER be popular or even have a strong spot in Japanese PC gaming Industries. When it come to made consoles, They're the best of the best ! I.e NES, SNES, Playstation series, Sega, Dreamcast, and many more !!!!

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