July 1st 2003

Here's a brand new text which, like the previous diary entry, isn't from me. The author is Rutger ter Maten, and it discusses the e-Reader's future on the European markets. Please keep in mind that Rutger's opinions and arguments are his own, and that I do not necessarily agree with everything he says in this text. :-)

The future is... Europe

By Rutger ter Maten ([email protected])

During the past few months more and more people have started wondering if the e-Reader was living up to Nintendo's expectations. Some even believed that the e-Reader would die a premature death, like so many Nintendo devices did before it. The recent announcement of an e-Reader release scheduled for Europe, however, sheds some new light on Nintendo's belief in its newest nick-nack.

Area 3, Europe...

In past times many peripherals and game devices have been created by Nintendo, but by far not all of them have been world-wide successes. In fact, a lot of them never left the safe grounds of Japan, Nintendo's home market. The ones that did, like the Virtual Boy, went to the United States, which normally serves as a decent secondary market for Nintendo, only to fail there and be cancelled altogether.

Japan and the US aren't the only two markets open to Nintendo however, there is a third market that creates reasonable profits for Nintendo and their competitors alike: Europe. The biggest problem with European releases however is the diversity of its inhabitants and especially their native languages. Where in Japan everyone can read and speak Japanese, in the US virtually everyone speaks English (native or otherwise). In Europe however there are numerous countries with numerous languages. Although a big part of the Europeans do speak and understand the English language, most of them prefer games in their native language.

The problem for any game developer lies in the difficulties encountered when trying to sell new games and peripherals on the European market. Where they can create one game in one language for the whole US, it is an absolute necessity to develop it in at least 4 different languages to release it in Europe. It gets even worse with the instruction booklets. While markets like The Netherlands and Belgium are fine with an English game, the instruction booklet is often preferred in their native language, Dutch. Germany, France, Spain and Italy require a German, French, Spanish or Italian version of the game. As you can imagine, the costs for releasing a game or peripheral in Europe are considerably higher than anywhere else in the world.

No European release is common

It's mainly because of this that many games and peripherals are never released in Europe in the first place. The Virtual Boy was never released in almost all of the European countries for this reason. And every year hundreds of games released in Japan and/or the United States aren't scheduled for a release in Europe (Animal Crossing for instance will not be released in any European country, and there are already rumors that Animal Crossing 2 will be a European no-go as well). After almost ten years of watching the Japanese, American and European market closely I think it's fair to say that for every 10 Japanese games released, there are 5 to 6 American releases and 4 to 5 European releases.

More problems

The development of the same game in multiple languages isn't the only problem a European release of a game encounters, though. Since Europe, even with it's European Union, is still a large group of relatively small countries, problems on the marketing and legal side occur as well.

Since every European country, even when it's a part of the European Union, has its own laws dealing with violence in games, it's not uncommon for games to require different levels of gore throughout Europe. The UK version of Carmageddon for instance has zombies you should try to turn into roadkill instead of normal people. Lots of zombie-based games, like the Resident Evil series, have their blood color changed to green so that it will be less offending to the parents of the kill-crazed children. Even some other games have special finishing fighting moves taken out of them because of the so-called innocence of the kids playing the games. That they even managed to release Grand Theft Auto in all European countries amazes me to this day.

The combination of different native languages and different laws throughout Europe create the third major problem: marketing. While an ad showing a fictional game character smoking would be fine in the Netherlands it would be absolutely forbidden in France. The same thing goes for the gore level of some game commercials. The different laws and languages of European countries therefore require different marketing strategies for every country. Again it comes down to Europe being a lot more expensive than the US or Japan.

e-Reader does good

Since the release of the e-Reader in the US on September 16th 2002, a European release has been announced, cancelled, denied and announced again. This time though it is really coming. Which means that Nintendo is willing to deal with all the above mentioned problems and invest a lot of money in the e-Reader. This should put an end to all the negative vibes on the internet about the willingness of Nintendo to support its own new toy. The European release of the e-Reader, scheduled for November 2003, proves once and for all that Nintendo is willing to commit to it and the e-Reader's future should be secured for a long time to come.

The European release has another advantage though: A large number of game studios have their home offices in Europe. Since they will now be able to, finally, get their hands on the e-Reader, they too might join the growing group of game developers that want Nintendo to release an e-Reader dev kit. The more pressure there is on Nintendo, the more the "Big-N" will start to see that third-party support is of the utmost importance...