In the past four years, I have become a gaming nomad. Due to my work overseas, I have not been able to partake in the simple things gaming has to offer. Four years of living in Asia has taught me to appreciate one overlooked, discounted, and hardly talked-about concept. This is the year 2013, not 1993. PlayStation 4 and Xbox One will be powerful machines with the potential to essentially be mini-PCs. Still, I don`t care about a new graphics chip, better audio, or what new exclusives will be revealed at E3. There is only one thing that it will take to win the next generation: language patches.
Having lived in Korea and Japan for most of this gaming generation, the lack of proper localization posed a challenge to me as a gamer. Korea has most Western games in English, but anything made in Japan is in Japanese except for a select few titles. Japan is a mishmash of Japanese and English products, and without any indicator on the back of the box, whether I'll get to enjoy my games in English is a bit of a gamble. My circumstance is not unique--there are tens of thousands of Westerners living and teaching in Asia and a lot of them play games. How many times this generation, especially with late-gen Wii titles, have people begged and pleaded for this or that title to get localized? Living in Asia, I deal with the same issue to a novel extreme.
Both PS4 and Xbox One are pushing their own versions of an online gaming experience. With so many games, movies, songs, and patches output during this generation, why has there been no push for language patches? If the eventual, apparent goal is to have everything be downloaded over PSN or Xbox Live, would it not make sense to work on some kind of language patch system for global gamers living or teaching in places other than their country of origin?
Companies talk about the cost of localization versus expected sales figures to determine if localizing a game to English will be worth it. They are apprehensive at the cost of physical copies and shipping them overseas--the bulk of their expense, as unsold copies are capital that companies cannot recoup. But what is preventing them from localizing games with mere patches that can be downloaded? If someone wants to play some obscure Japanese title, they will buy it if there is a language patch. The language of the disc would become irrelevant, and I doubt people would be angry at waiting a couple weeks for imported games to ship if a simple patch would make them playable.
The same holds true for Japanese gamers wanting to play a Western game. Language patches are a win-win situation, as companies don't have to front the expense of shipping and physical localization while gamers enjoy a wider variety of experiences. Of course, the efficacy of language patches also depends on the next-gen consoles being region-free. The console that gets both aspects right stands to attract a ton of disadvantaged gamers, including myself.
PS4 and Xbox One showed off the usual when it comes to console launches--new graphics, new games, new designs, and new attitudes. But this is the 2013. Console manufacturers don't have any excuse for not creating a system that supports easy localization and distribution of language patches for its games. If Sony can patch the PS3 for Trophies, then it can certainly do the same for languages on PS4.
Game consoles SHOULD be all about the games. Sony and Microsoft need to show the world whic is serious about crafting a gaming experience everyone can enjoy regardless of the language barrier.
Written by - Dane Smith, Japan editor for PlayStation Universe. When not out on the streets of Nagoya wondering why no one is looking for a Yakuza-style showdown, he can be found cracking open the newest RPG to hit the shelves. You can follow him on Twitter or read some of his past musings.