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Dan Houser on GTA IV's Japan release and DLC Push Back

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Dan Houser on GTA IV's Japan release and DLC Push Back

Dan Houser on GTA IV's Japan release and DLC Push Back
Published by wes213 on Monday, November 10, 2008
Tagged: Xbox 360,
In an interview with The Cut Scene Dan Houser talks about two things and if you read the article title you might have already guessed it was the GTA IV's Japan release and DLC push back, lots of sales figures and back info found here so if you got nothing going on it will be worth your time if your a GTA fan.

Grand Theft Auto IV Screenshot 3555

The Cut Scene interview reads as follows: On Tuesday I had a brief but interesting interview with Rockstar Games' co-founder and creative VP for an article I did about "Grand Theft Auto IV's" Japan release. Given that most major events in American pop culture, be they movies or videogames, get a simultaneous or near simultaneous worldwide release, I thought it was interesting that "GTA IV" was hitting the world's biggest videogame market six months after it came out in the U.S. and Europe (where it has already sold more than 10 million units).

One of the reasons is obvious: Compared to the rest of the world, "Grand Theft Auto" games barely sell in Japan. They do better than many Western titles, but as a percentage of worldwide sales, Japan is miniscule. Here are the stats from the last three:

Grand Theft Auto III
Worldwide: 12.1 million; Japan: 444,000; Japan as % of worldwide: 3.7%

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Worldwide: 15.3 million; Japan: 560,000; Japan as % of worldwide: 3.7%

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Worldwide: 22.2 million; Japan: 419,000; Japan as % of worldwide: 1.9%

(According to GamesIndustry, "GTA IV" topped the charts in Japan its first week, selling 133,000 titles on PS3. The Xbox 360 version came in no. 7)

I spoke to Dan about why that is, what the plans are for "GTA IV's" release in Japan, and a few other topics. You can read the resulting article in Variety here. But since the transcript of my last interview with Dan Houser was such a hit, I figured I'd provide the whole thing here, in only slightly edited form:

Me: It has been six months since "Grand Theft Auto IV" was released in North America and Europe. Why the long disparity. Is it commercial considerations or production?

Dan Houser: We weren't ready at the same time. We're not a Japanese company [by which he means Rockstar and parent Take-Two don't operate in Japan] and we needed a Japanese partner there. We have had difficulty in the past releasing games there due to content issues. But we weren't really ready to get it out before the downtime of summer and this is the next window that's available.

Me: You didn't want to release it in the summer?

DH: If it slips out past April or May, then June to August is very quiet. "GTA IV" disproved the traditional model of all big releases have to come out in October or November. We're moving past that from what we previously thought were six months in which you could release a game to nine months. But it's still a quiet time in the summer. This for us was the next big window.

Select Read More For The Full Interview

Me: Did you dub the voices for Japan? Or are you doing subtitles?

DH: We have always released ["GTA"] with subtitles. With the facial animation we do, it would be enormously expensive to dub it... We also just think it works better with American voices.

Crane_jumpIt wouldn't be a problem because they are used to playing games spoken in English and they still have to read a lot of things on screen regardless.

American accents are part of the experience. We toyed back in the day with doing some radio stations in Japanese, but we were told by local experts that wouldn't help because people like to hear and feel that they are in America. From our perspective the goal is a very immersive experience and part of that immersion is to hear people speaking English in American accents.

Me: Is there much controversy about the games' content in Japan compared to what you have seen in the U.S.?

DH: We had a lot of trouble between the release of "Vice City" and "San Andreas" in Japan. There was a big content outcry and that was a battle that needed to be fought. All of those issues were resolved so we didn't face them this time.

"Vice City" came out and went well, but then they wouldn’t let us release "San Andreas" until the changed the ratings system. So "Vice City" came out with a similar delay as this, roughly six months. Then "San Andreas" came out in the U.S. in late 2004 and two years later in Japan. It was ratings and political hell there for a while.

Me: Capcom is distributing "GTA IV" in Japan? Is that because Take-Two doesn't have a presence?

DH: Yes, Capcom. They did all the "GTA's."

Take-Two doesn't have any distribution there. We felt when we were first going in it's a very alien market and we need local expertise at all points of the chain, be it relationships with retailers, ratings bodies, or different parts of Sony and Microsoft. We were already dealing with enough other issues in terms of the culture.

Capcom has been a great partner. They love releasing foreign games. They have a great record. We have done other games with other people there, though...Money_bag

We just released "Bully" there with Bethesda, who have a Japanese arm. We look at it on a case by case basis. We basically offer it out to a bunch of them and see who’s got the most energy behind a particular product. [Imports are] not a huge department for Capcom so they are heavily focused on "GTA IV," which is why it wasn't the best home for "Bully." It's not always just about money, but how much energy they put behind anything.

Me: How do you handle the marketing there? I know Rockstar likes to produce all of its marketing materials in-house, but surely you need some help in Japan.

DH: We work together on that. They tell us what works, based on the art style or vocabulary of what worked over here. Then they localize it.

I was walking through [Tokyo's shopping and entertainment district] Shibuya last week and seeing all of the same posters we have here, but some were in Japanese.

They love the stuff we make. They work with us. It tends to be that they want it to feel very similar.

One of the mistakes we made early was a T-shirt for "Vice City" on which we translated 'Vice City' into Japanese. It turns out that doesn’t work culturally. We were told they want to see 'Vice City' spelled in English. So the logos on the posters were exactly same, but with a Japanese subtitle.

Me: It seems like "Grand Theft Auto" is such a uniquely American work that you can't disguise it.

DH: We make that part of the sales. How it's sold there is as this American experience. I did a couple of press interviews and both the guys I spoke to very much liked that it features a foreigner as the lead. They said that's where 'GTA IV' can really engage them. It feels like they're visiting American with him. That was really good to hear.

Me: Is that true for most players in Japan? It's the world's biggest videogame market, but it seems like a lot of people there are playing RPGs on their DS and the sort of thing that are very, very different from "GTA."

DH: It's true that of the three markets we're in, Japan is not that huge. In Japan, Nintendo is a massive market. We're on Xbox and PS3 and our goal is to do very well on those. We're taking a long-term goal with Japan of trying to grow the game and grow the interest. We're doing decent numbers over there. For a Western game, we're doing amazing numbers.

Tough_dealership But we're very ambitious and we want the game to compete with the biggest Japanese titles. We're not there yet and don't think we're going to get there necessarily with 'IV." Our hope is just to step it up a level. The response we were getting from people is that they've never seen anything like this before. They saw it creatively as very advanced.

We're consistently sold more games over there. "San Andreas" was down a little from "Vice City," mostly due to softness in the PS2 market.

Me: Is there a small but rabid group of hard core "GTA" fans in Japan?

DH: Oh totally. Definitely. People we were speaking to were saying, "I don't play games, but this makes me want to start playing them again." It's a more open and engaging concept than a lot of Japanese-designed games have become. They tend to be more corridor-based and less open. That was half the people we spoke to. The other half have played every "GTA" since "III" and started asking incredibly detailed questions.

Me: That's interesting people were comparing it to recent Japanese games, since I've been reading a lot recently about how Japanese videogame development is in a creative rut and a lot of the energy is really now in the West.

DH: I have in the past had famous Japanese designers say that stuff to me off record. We grew up looking at Nintendo in particular and other big Japanese companies as a sphere that we could never get anywhere close to -- Up to and including the days of N64. Certainly in the early days of 3-D gaming they were light years ahead of Western companies.

When we started Rockstar, the charts were dominated by sports games, mostly Western made, but apart from that all the other stuff was Japanese or Japanese rip-offs. That was the early PS1 time frame. Since PS2 really got going and into PS3 and Xbox 1 and 360, things have really moved, apart from Nintendo, to being dominated by Western-developed stuff completely. The Western charts now are split 50/50. There has definitely been a shift in which European and North American developers have found out how to make quality games.

Me: Given how popular the DS is in Japan, it seems like your upcoming DS version of "GTA" ["Chinatown Wars"] could have more potential there than anything else you've done.

DH: It's funny I was just talking to some people 10 minutes ago and saying we need to speak with potential partners about how to do the DS game in Japan and how we'll approach it there. I think that game has enormous potential everywhere. It's unlike anything else, but it still works well so if you like DS games, you'll like this game. Our feeling is it should work really well in Asia and Europe and in the U.S.

But we have got to find a partner and see what’s going down with our options there. We haven’t spoken to any yet because we wanted to get "GTA IV" out of the way first.

Me: On another topic, I have to ask you about the "GTA IV" downloadable content you're doing. Do you still expect that to come out this year?The_professional

DH: I'm not sure. It's going well. But we don’t know a date. We hope to be announcing that in the next few weeks. We're still figuring out a few things. We're more focused on quality than dates, always have been. But the development is going really good. It's shaping up to be something we're very proud of. That was our goal

Me: Do you think you'll talk at all about what the DLC will be and how it will fit into "GTA IV's" story?

DH: We want to give people a rough idea so their expectations are roughly in line. We don't want them to imagine it's this enormous thing that it can never be...

Doing a big digital launch is something we've never done before. It's virgin territory, but at the same time, we feel very exposed because there's no case history. No one ever came out with major DLC for a major game like this before.

It's new territory for everybody. We're making it up a little bit as we go along. That's always fun, but it makes you nervous.

Me: Like how do you price something like this?

DH: How to price it. Whether to release it day-and-date everywhere... Europe and the U.S. I'm sure will be day-and-date or within a few days, but I'm not sure about Japan. It's a small Xbox market...

You even have to ask what time to release it at. We have some experience of doing through releasing our trailers. It can slow down sections of the 'Net. What works as a great time on the east coast may be late for

Europe and too early for the west coast. Those are all things we wouldn’t normally think about.

[FYI, Houser's statements are all quotes, just edited slightly for clarity. I did re-arrange the order of a few questions for flow. I also cut here and there, indicated by ... when appropriate. I wasn't able to write down my own questions as I asked them, since I was busy keeping up with what Dan said, so my questions are approximations of what I remember asking.

News-Source: weblogs.variety.com

360-Hq Game Database: Grand Theft Auto IV
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