In part 1 I went over when games are released, and how that varies by the North American, European, and Japanese regions. What I’m covering in this post is the distribution of games between regions and how long it takes for a game to reach those regions.
Regions Over Time and By System
Almost every console and handheld game once saw a Japanese release, despite having a much smaller population than either North America or Europe, but now fewer and fewer games do. North America and Europe have both seen a consistent rise in the percent of games they receive. There’s a spike of multiregionalism in 2017 that we will see in many of these graphs.
This isn’t a breakdown of how well each system has sold in each region, but it’s pretty close. While Nintendo has seen more games released in North America and Europe than in Japan, the difference is more extreme for Microsoft systems. The Saturn’s huge number of games released in Japan is the opposite of the Xbox. The PS2 to PS3 is a dramatic shift with around twice the percent of games coming to North America.
The number of games exclusive to Japan has been dropping pretty steadily for 25 years as fewer games are made there and more of them that do need international sales. The spike in 2020 is probably because many games that will see further releases later just hadn’t been yet at the time I gathered my data. There have never been many European exclusives but they have almost completely disappeared in the last 5 years. 2010 was an odd year with North American exclusives briefly overtaking Japanese exclusives.
We’re not likely to ever see another video game system so focused on one market than the Sega Saturn. The Wii U had a ton of digital games developed by one person or a very small team in America that weren’t able to even release their games in Europe. One region exclusives have largely gone out of style, the Switch, PS4, and Xbox One just having a handful in many regions.
Two Regions, but Not Necessarily Exclusively
I know this is an odd category, but it was easy to do. These are the percent of games released in two regions, and maybe the third. We can see that if a game was released in Japan it has always been almost equally likely to also be released in Europe or North America. But more games overall release in both North America and Europe.
I don’t have a lot to say about this one, all systems have kept roughly the same proportions of each combination, except the Saturn.
Two Regions Exclusively
Games released in North American and Europe but not Japan have risen over time as the Japanese market has shrunk. Although it’s just one more language, compared to the several of Europe, there are some unique challenges to localizing a game for Japan, which has made it less worth it for publishers. Meanwhile few games have ever excluded just North America or just Europe and that number has shrunk over time.
No system has bucked the trend of North America + Europe but not Japan being by far the most common combination of regions.
All Three Regions
It costs a lot of money to release a game in the three major regions, and generally only games with the widest possible appeal get the chance. This has increased over time as digital distribution has reduced some of that cost. Even rarer has been the simultaneous release, which requires a lot of coordination and perhaps sitting on a completed game for some time.
The earliest game I could find with a simultaneous release that I could verify (there’s some spotty and inconsistent information on some earlier DS titles) was Gran Turismo for the PSP on October 1st, 2009. It was even sold physically.
It’s clear here that simultaneous releases were unheard of until the 7th generation, but still rare. In the 8th generation they make up a fair portion of all games. Handhelds have been a bit behind their console counterparts on both three region releases and simultaneous releases.
Sorry about the wording and coloring being a bit different, but here are the charts covering all of the data seen so far in this post. Not a single PS4 game exclusive to Europe and Japan, and not a single Xbox One game exclusive to North America and Japan.
Sometimes there is a short amount of time between the release of a game in two regions, and sometimes there is a long amount of time. I am calling the number of days between a release in two regions the “gap”. Games released in only one region have no gap and are not figured into the calculations below, but games released in two regions on the same day have a gap of 0.
These gaps can be for several reasons: a game may not sell well in its initial region, a game has a lot of text, a game may have aspects that are difficult make understandable to a foreign audience, localization teams are busy with other projects, a game may have been made in a way that makes it technically difficult to add support for text that works in different ways and takes a different amount of space, or logistical issues.
The “relative gap” is handy because it also shows us which region gets games first, on average. The difference between positive and negative values is in which region gets a game first. If it takes an equally long amount for a game to reach either region it will stay at 0. This graph shows us that North America has gotten games before Europe on average for every Nintendo system, although it has taken a shorter and shorter amount of time. Games released in Japan used to overwhelmingly be released in Japan before heading to North America and Europe, but this has turned around with the Wii U and Switch.
The “absolute gap”, meanwhile, does not take the first region into account, it is just the total number of days between a release in two regions. Handhelds for some reason have taken longer to leave Japan than console games. Although the 3DS and Switch are handheld neighbors there is a large difference in localization times.
The Playstation has the largest average relative gap with Japanese games taking hundreds of days to reach Europe. Sony’s handheld games have also taken much longer to leave Japan compared to their console counterparts.
The Japanese-European difference only grows in the absolute graph, showing that games released in Europe before Japan take even longer to be localized. Sony’s console games have overall taken a bit longer than Nintendo’s to make the jump to second and third regions.
Despite its overwhelmingly Japan-only library the Saturn’s multi-region games are almost perfectly balanced between how long it takes to reach each region. The Xbox was an outlier for its time, with Japan having to wait on North American and European games instead of the other way around.
Interestingly, the Dreamcast is the only 6th generation console that took longer to release games in other regions than its 5th generation counterpart. The average number of days for a game to reach Japan has stayed very equal between North America and Europe on Microsoft systems.
Here’s the chart for the relative and absolute gaps. The Xbox One wins the award for smallest absolute gap with just 1.77 average days between North American and European releases, no doubt many of them on the same day. Meanwhile Europe to Japan or vice versa took almost a year on average for Playstation games.
I couldn’t resist finding what games took the longest amount of time to cross regional borders for each system. The PS1’s Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22 also came up in my metascore study as being responsible for the worst quarter for any system, scoring a 32.03% and being very late in the system’s life. I was surprised that three Pokemon games appeared on this list, as Nintendo was really pushing it hard.
The game that, as far as I can tell, has taken the longest amount of time to be released between two regions is Breath of Fire III for the PSP. 3,820 days after the August 3rd, 2005 Japanese release (physical and digital), North America got a digital-only release on February 9th, 2016. That’s over a decade – the PSVita was about to celebrate its fourth birthday in North America at the time. Europe got a physical and digital release on February 3, 2006, which makes the North America-Europe gap the second longest regional gap.