Gaming Steve

March 09, 2006

Why Won't American Publishers Take Risks?

Cooking Mama!In a few weeks a brand new game for the Nintendo DS is going to be released named Cooking Mama. In the game you play a female chef who has to prepare food, perform various actions such as slicing vegetables and tenderizing meat, cook your food, make sure not to over/undercook the food, and then serve it. And, well, that's about it really. That's right, it's a cooking simulation game on the DS ... and it sounds freaking awesome!

Of course ... this game is only coming out in Japan and there is only a small chance that this game will ever be released in the States. Like so many other "oddball" games which are released in Japan only a very small portion of those games ever end up getting a US release. And once again I'll have to buy an import copy of this game and try to figure out all the Japanese text.

What I don't understand is why are so many other countries continuously developing so many of these cool/crazy games? Why does Japan develop such great games such as Katamari Damacy, Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan!, Seaman, Phoenix Wright, as well as countless others while we get to look forward to the 20th version of Tony Hawk?

But in this version of Tony Hawk the graphics are just a little bit better than last time! You can actually see your skater's fingers! Go buy it right away!!!

It's almost as if games like Cooking Mama have to be released in Japan before they can even be considered for release in the States. I can only imagine what the discussions are like at publishing houses...

Developer: "Let's make a game with blocky graphics and crazy music where you have to roll up everything you can find in the world using a huge sticky ball! And these balls will be used to recreate all the stars in the universe after your father destroyed them all in a drunken bender!"

Publisher: "What the heck are you talking about? Are you freaking insane? Get the hell out of my office!"

Developer: "Well, they just released the same game in Japan..."

Publisher: "Those Japanese gamers are so crazy! I love it! Let's publish it!"

Why do we have to continuously wait for games like this to be translated and released in the States? Why can't an American publisher try something just a little bit risky, create a few smaller "oddball" titles each year and see what happens?

True there is always risk in creating a new game property, but we're not talking about creating the next Half-Life here. I'm talking about creating the next Nintendogs, a fairly simple title which can be created using a small development team and in a short amount of time. The movie industry follows a similar strategy and to great success.

Each year all the movie studios release a couple of "major" releases every year (you know, all those $200 million "event movies" like King Kong and War of the Worlds). However, in addition to these monster movies the studios also release a couple of "independent" pictures as well. Often these movies cover topics not normally examined by larger movies, have much smaller budgets, and take risks (Brokeback Mountain anyone?). Their thinking is that they can often make several of these smaller independent movies for the price of just a single "event" movie and if just one of them "hits" it is more than worth the investment.

Take a movie such as My Big Fat Greek Wedding. That film only cost $5 million to make and it grossed $368 million worldwide, that is good return on investment. And that is why movie companies will always make indie pictures: relatively small risk and a possibly huge financial reward.

So why can't the American game industry try this approach? True, Valve is making headway releasing games such as Darwinia and Rag Doll Kung Fu, but more publishers need to step up and start taking these sorts of risks. Not every game needs to be a sequel or a licensed property. The Nintendo DS is almost made to create unique titles, but yet instead of a Cooking Mama we get to see yet another The Sims title released on the DS.

It's almost as if these "oddball" games have to be created overseas first and only then can they be brought over to the States. But I'll tell you right now, if a game like Cooking Mama was made by EA or Activision for the DS I would purchase that game in a second. I don't need a fancy license (how many Lord of the Rings games can EA possibly make?) or amazing graphics, I am just looking for a good, fun, original game.

Could that possibly be why the Nintendo DS is selling so well? Could it possibly be that people are starting to get tired of the same-old-same-old and looking for a new gaming experience? Who's to say, but I can't wait to cook with Mama on my DS! Get with the program American game publishers!

Posted by Gaming Steve at 10:00 PM | Comments (37) | Posted to Culture | Add this story to

Thank you!

I agree with you one hundred and ten percent!

Posted by PatMan33 at March 9, 2006 11:02 PM

I totally agree with you, i wish i could read japanese! I wish that game would come here, i love games like that. Viva la Katamari!

Posted by Liam at March 10, 2006 12:14 AM

I hope the listen, maybe someday we can get (more) super robot wars titles in america!

Posted by Althea Mayall at March 10, 2006 12:22 AM

Well, someone on the forums posted 'The Gamers Manifesto'

Don't know who, but they posted a link and they have given me great insight.

Its a great read about why companies don't develop such games for the NA market.

A MUST read!

Posted by Brad (Varsity) at March 10, 2006 12:58 AM

I wanna cook with Mama too =P

Posted by I am always right. at March 10, 2006 01:14 AM

Good article, I agree 200% Steve. Good luck with the Japanese language thing.

Posted by Leetard at March 10, 2006 01:19 AM

Would you preffer a hurried and rushed translation over none at all? "All your base are belong to us", only about cooking instead.

Posted by Kalle at March 10, 2006 01:23 AM

Umm ur just now realizing that the hits over seas, are tests, im sorry but I saw it way to long ago... thought everyone else knew by now.

Posted by Yoyort at March 10, 2006 02:33 AM

Is there a spoiled only child mode where you play a mini-game to convice your mom to make the food for you?

Speaking of imports from Japan. The new Initial D Street Stage really, really makes me want a PSP. Initial D Fourth Stage Episode 22 download faster!

Posted by Sudoh Kyoichi at March 10, 2006 02:35 AM

My god Steve...
Finally, gamers can learn to cook =P

Posted by Jecrell at March 10, 2006 02:41 AM

I feel ya Steve, I feel ya. You know, the same thing happens across the board with all types of mediums. Music, movies, television, everything. Consistently the worst films, bands and TV shows are raking in the big bucks while the actual films/bands/shows that scream creativity and quality are left in the dumps and don't do well at all....well, here in the States at least. I am constantly amazed to see which licenses are doing well and which aren' a way I lose faith in humanity, as low as that sounds. As blunt as it sounds I think as a nation the majority of consumers are just ignorant followers and everyone has to suffer because of it. In the states marketing your product well is more important then actually having a good product itself...and people are blind to see past that. Mostly everything here is dumbed down to the lowest common denominator and creative products are doomed to fail unless they walk a fine line and hit that specific formula. It's really sad/annoying but it's the truth. I think other nations have just healthier consumers that are open to new things despite its lack of blockbuster budget appeal or if it’s based off of a preexisting IP. I think something as little as this really is just the tip of the ice-berg on what’s wrong with American consumerism and Americans in general…and to be honest it’s scary.

Posted by robotplague at March 10, 2006 03:26 AM

well this Problem doesn´t only exist in the USA, i´m from germany (so please excuse my comparatively bad english) and we have an even lower chance do get the experience of a really good game.
Sure the real blockbusters are available in germany too, and there are even some publisher who release titels like "Mr. Mosquito" but the experimental games will never appear.
Great game series like "shining Force" or the "Xenogears-saga" are torn to pieces and will never be fully available in germany.
Relaesed Titels of the Xeno-saga:
Xeno-saga part 2
Missing parts:
Xenogears; Xenosaga Part 1; don´t know about about the following Parts.
Same thing with shining force, it took me years to realize that there are much more titels of this series than just shining force 1&2 (compare )
In europe, especially in germany we´ll only get to know those games which has been succesfull in japan AND the USA, of course with some few exeptions, and those exeptions often are really bad translated, don´t even think of a german version.
thanks for listening and once again sorry for my bad gramma and typing, it´s been a while since my last english writting^^

Posted by Engoth at March 10, 2006 04:35 AM

I'm finding that sites Like Play Asia are where I do most of my games shopping these days;
It's a small world, and there aren't really any games that aren't available to anyone who takes the trouble to find them.
What's more, I find that I can often buy games from overseas a lot cheaper than the ones I buy here in Europe.

As for the "quirky" games, it's been a long time coming, but the success of Nintendogs in Europe alone ought to have some longterm effects, not to mention the simple fact that the DS (god I love my DS) is region free.
I think once playing games becomes more mainstream, and seen less as a fanboy pursuit, then the different types of games will emerge.
I have a feeling that the "train your brain" game is going to take off big style and it will open the door for people trying different types of games.

Posted by Cruithne at March 10, 2006 04:42 AM

I think there are many many reasons why this may be happening. One part could be culture. I don't know German culture (refering to Engoths comment), but I know that "weird" games, such as this cooking one, probably won't do too well because other cultures may look at games a little differently.

Kind of reminds me about how Steve said that the popular games in Japan don't correspond a whole lot at all with what games are popular in North America, or the UK for that matter. The companies that release these games may not be willing to do these sort of games because they may be afraid of losing big bucks on such an investment.

Also another factor; movies only cost about $7.00 to go to (here, anyways), so more people may be willing to go see something a little out of the ordinary. Hell, it's only $7.00. It gives you something to do for almost 2 hours and it may be worth it. Where as buying a video game may be considered more of a major purchase.

Movies only need to be translated (dubbed, boo) or subtitled (yay!) too for other languages to enjoy them. No need for intensive programming to release a movie in another language (if it's that intensive, I don't know). The only thing I can think of that may be on the more difficult side to do would be if they plan on releasing a DVD in the other languages. Then they'd have to change some graphics on the DVD menus and whatnot.

Of course, this is all speculation on my part. I've never worked in the gaming industry or the movie industry, so things could be really different than what I've typed out here. It's fun to think your right though, eh? ;)

Nova Scotia, Canada

Posted by Superminime at March 10, 2006 07:36 AM

Indeed, I for one want to see zombie vs ambulance released over here (as has been remarked elsewhere, it could only be better if it was a space ninja/pirate driving the ambulance). Yay for the crazy games.

Posted by thane_jaw at March 10, 2006 08:44 AM

Well, I, for one, am not the least bit interested in a game about cooking. I don't know anyone that is. The whole concept seems remarkably bizarre to me. However, I do agree that there is a real lack of unique and inovative games being published in this country. Almost all games must fit into a pre-determined category or they won't be published or even considered. I suppose this might be because game production costs have skyrocketed in last few years, and there just aren't many independent game producers anymore. This is a reflection of the movie and music industries to some extent. It's now all about marketing and profit.

I remember the dim past when a solo developer would put his new game on a 5 1/4" floppy and insert it into a plastic bag with some mimiographed instructions. Only the internet remains for the independents...

Posted by Mykyll at March 10, 2006 09:29 AM


I agree with you 400% Thank the heavens that Nintendo did not region lock the DS. It is nice to be able to play what you want. I think the language barrier is region coding enough. Now if I could only read Japanese :) somebody should start a games translation site!

Posted by Shoki at March 10, 2006 09:55 AM

I've heard rumors that this game (or another cooking game) will be comming to the revolution. Also I think programs like Xbox live and Whatever Nintendo's online program is will make it easier for developers to make more simple, fun games relativly inexpensivly since they don't have to worry about printing cases, manuals and dvds; it's all done by download. Apparently the Rev development kit will only cost 2,000 dollars wich is about half as much as a kit fo the PSP! The fact that developing will be cheaper this generation will give independant game desigers many more oppritunites to be creative and hopefully sucessful!

Posted by Nate Herman at March 10, 2006 10:26 AM

I agree for th emost part but still, you use the example of The SIMs near the end which is a pretty innovative game.

On the other hand, the SIMs WAS a pretty innovative game, before it was rehashed and expansioned into pontlessness.

Posted by Ramen Junkie at March 10, 2006 11:09 AM

I totally agree! I am really into weird and unique games, so that's why I love my DS and also my PS2. They have given me experiences that I would never have gotten somewhere else.

Speaking of crazy games.. I just today ordered the japanese game Chikyuu Boueigun 2 Simple 2000 Vol. 81 (a.k.a Earth Defense Force 2) which is a budget title and it seems like a whole lot of fun.. And of course, only available in Japan.

Posted by Mikael Jonsson at March 10, 2006 12:23 PM

Oh hell yeah! This is pretty much what I was getting at with my audio question a few months ago.

Suggestion: Instead of just doing a by-the-numbers game review on the show (not that it wasn't appreciated, mind you), why not just focus on indie gaming in that section of the show? Feature the newest coolest game that no-one's heard of? It'll be fun for you to uncover them, and good for us to hear about them!!!

Just a thought... ;-)

Posted by Gregg at March 10, 2006 03:38 PM

I'm all for innovation, but cooking momma? Am I the only one who thinks that game doesn't sound like any fun?

Posted by Sub at March 10, 2006 04:56 PM

Because I'm not making games... if I was you'd have AAA titles all day long.

*DING* E-peen Level 2

Posted by Heartless Gamer at March 10, 2006 05:20 PM

There was a similar thread on Slashdot, hell. Everyplace this comes up. Why don't publishers take risks and create more innovative games?

And the answer , of course, is because people don't buy them.

And until people vote with their wallets, don't expect the games to get made.

Posted by Karmakin at March 10, 2006 07:27 PM

Taken from a recent Yu Suzuki Interview:

Kikizo: What can Japanese developers do to combat the shrinking Japanese videogame market?

YS: I think Western makers are more likely to try new things, and are more aggressive. The Japanese companies are more conservative, and they rely too much on "safety" series, and sequels. They don't challenge themselves and the industry with new ideas. You can't make a new market out of that. People overseas seem to put more passion into making games that they want to, rather than games that will strictly sell.

stolen from:

The fact of the matter is that the grass is always greener on the other side. However, the last few new genres to even be created in videogames have come from western developers: fps, rts, etc


Posted by Derek Daniels at March 10, 2006 08:03 PM

At one time i found myself thinking of getting a ds then i realized there is not one game on it you could pay me to play. At this point i dont want anything differnt, i want my sports games and first person shooters as far as im conserned all those crazy games can stay in japan so i dont have to look at them. I do wish there was a game worth playing on the ds because that new ice blue ds lite does looks cool, but now that i read in egm that apple is making the igamer i will never buy the ds.

Posted by Reefasoo at March 11, 2006 02:12 AM

Dreamcast anyone? Now that thing had it's fair share of cool, unique titles... Chu Chu Rocket, Powerstone, Crazy Taxi, Bangai-O, Ikaruga, etc. etc.
It was a lovely thing indeed, but it didn't last, and the European and American hatred for uniqueness was the cause of it (In my world that is, it might actually be more likely that Sega just messed up the marketing :P)
I still have my Dreamcast and I play it to this day, while I sold the Xbox I had (Only one unique game: Gunvalkyrie, check it out).
I also sold my old Gamecube, because... well... you can only play Super Smash Brothers for so long .
If you long for unique games, I suggest you go out and buy a used Dreamcast. You'll be surprised at how fun and unique even the main titles on it are. (I'm referring to Sonic Adventure here. It got bad reviews, but I loved it to oblivion. Skies of Arcadia also comes to mind, though it later got re-released on the Gamecube. It's the best RPG I ever played and it is unique in that it's main hero isn't all mopy and weepy)

Posted by FTH at March 11, 2006 02:20 AM

I think American developers should keep track of the sheer number of imports happening in todays marketplace. If they brought Ouendan to North America/Europe word would spread like wildfire and the game would be a smash hit.

Posted by Shurakai at March 11, 2006 03:29 AM

Ouedan for the West!! Osu! Tatakae!! :p

Honestly, if cooking is fun and quirky, I'll play it. It's simply a fun test of dexterity and timing ^^

Posted by FoxSpirit at March 11, 2006 10:30 AM

Americans just want the same thing, another edition of Maddan. Getting them to buy a orignal game is nearly impossilbe, thus, American publishers won't take any risk because they are afriad of losing money. Iam just repeating what Steve said for my own comprehention, nice entry!

Posted by OmniOck at March 11, 2006 12:44 PM

"At one time i found myself thinking of getting a ds then i realized there is not one game on it you could pay me to play. At this point i dont want anything differnt, i want my sports games and first person shooters as far as im conserned all those crazy games can stay in japan so i dont have to look at them. I do wish there was a game worth playing on the ds because that new ice blue ds lite does looks cool, but now that i read in egm that apple is making the igamer i will never buy the ds."

Fair enough, there is nothing on the DS that you want to play. But your credibility was shot with your last sentence. So you are not going to buy a DS because there is no games on it you want to play, but you are going to buy a iGames? Because it will have games you like? Of course that is bull because there are no games announced for it, since it's an April Fools joke by EGM. Oh, you only want one because it is an Apple, and their cool iGadgets. So in the end, it's not the games, but the image of the device that is influencing your decision on your purchase. Bye bye Mr Credibility.

Posted by clee at March 11, 2006 06:12 PM

I think systems like XBOX Live arcade will allow developpers to try different things. Geometry Wars and Outpost Kabuki are good examples.

Posted by Simon at March 11, 2006 08:20 PM

Yeah, I can definitely sympathize man. I'm actually taking a japanese course during the next term at uni. Two reasons, the primary being that I've always wanted to go there, and the secondary being that I really want to understand some of this stuff that I've been importing. I think it says quite a bit about the lack of good North American titles when I'm willing to learn a whole other f*****g language in order to get some good, original gaming done.

Oh yeah, one other thing. Why do so many people agree with this article by more than 100%? Just wondering...

Posted by Miffy495 at March 12, 2006 07:49 AM

Well written, funny and very true. However if you think you have it bad you should come visit me: I live in Sweden for crying out loud!
As some people have already mentioned, being European when it comes to gaming is a lot like being American, but multiplied by two (or by 1.5 if you're British). I'll be chipping my PlayStation 3 in order to import games from the U.S.
Of course, we ain't the ones that have it worse. If you live in South America you'll have to sit out on many games, and in China the Game Boy Advance was only recently released (Hu really should think about implementing some copyright laws). Of course, that's nothing compared to the adysmal conditions that Antarctican gamers have to live with!

Here's to hoping for a brighter future for gamers in Europe.

Posted by Fraek at March 12, 2006 08:12 AM

Well I must say that do think publishers should take some more risks. However this game doesn't look very appealing to me.

Posted by stuzor at March 13, 2006 01:13 AM

It has something to do with the subject matter that is well received in the US. Look at the top 200 games of all time on for example.

So like you're saying, it's a risk, but why should a company take a risk when they've got sure sellers? Everybody would be happy if a "risk" sold well, but imagine the feeling of stupidity if it didn't.

Posted by neo_aa at March 13, 2006 12:43 PM

This is why I hope the new Nintendo console could be good, they are being innovative, and NOT releasing the 20th Sims game (although they will be doing more versions of the typical games, Mario etc), we could see some new games and more innovation (anyone remember the fishing controller for the Dreamcast?), rather than always the same old stuff done again and again.

Posted by Lonyo at March 16, 2006 07:04 AM
Post a comment

Please keep your comments relevant to this entry: inappropriate or purely promotional comments may be removed. Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. Line breaks and paragraphs are automatically converted — no need to use <p> or <br> tags.

Do you want us to remember your information for next time?