Preface of the remaster：
This was not an article, but a Tieba thread.
Published: June 24th, 2013.
This post was instantly crossposted to multiple gaming Tieba, and was reposted by various videogame and non videogame media. Some major websites reposted this article without paying a single cent in royalties, but as if I care about that. This article probably ranks top in terms of actual viewership among all of my articles, although most of the views came from uncredited reposts.
Thanks to the large amounts of reposts, this article was one of the few that did not get lost in time on the public internet, as a simple search brings up the article from everywhere. This was exactly my intention.
Honestly speaking, this was a rather lax writing. It was a post on a forum, not an article submitted to a website, where both the wording and illustrations were finely tuned and selected. No, it's a simple post where anyone could copy away, but the energy that came out of it in an explosive manner was far beyond my imaginations. In fact, I was already expelled by most Nintendo-topic Tiebas thanks to my other prior, highly "infamous" speech, the "Sin Atonement" post, and that was when I shifted my focus to Weibo. Given the circumstances, it was truly surprisng to see my next Tieba post continue to flourish in a such lively manner.
This article is also available entirely in English, thanks to ChineseNintendo for the translation and shout-out.
Note: That would be the translation you're reading now.
Still, I must introduce the circumstances at the time of writing, as all things need to be put in their times. Back in 2013, Nintendo only [offered Chinese support for] the badly crippled iQue and Hong Kong 3DS models. The Chinese game library was stuck in a difficult situation unimaginable to gamers today due to the region lock. It was a totally different atmosphere compare to the abundance of Chinese language games in the Switch library today.
This remaster aims to represent the original article faithfully and thus no words were altered.* A lot of the opinions and speculations in this article have already become reality. However, keep in mind that this was a writing from the older times, and there may be missing historical facts, overly radical opinions, and speculations that did not become reality.
*Note: The repost and translation on this site added a few sidenotes in blue just like this one.
Readers today may view and judge this article from a historical perspective at their own discretion.
In 1994, Nintendo collaborated with the toy company Mani from Hong Kong to distribute Nintendo products.
In 2002, Nintendo kicked Mani aside in Mainland China and established iQue to collaborately release Nintendo products.
Today, in 2013, Nintendo is struggling in China.
For almost every ten years, Nintendo would encounter a huge bump on its journey in China. After 20 years of ups and downs, how does Nintendo still strive till today in the Chinese game market, a "terrible place from the consensus of the entire game video game industry"?
First, we must familiarize ourselves with the names of some distributors. They are iQue, Nintendo (Hong Kong), Nintendo Phuten, Mani, and Hakuyu.
All of them are Nintendo's distributors in the Chinese-speaking region, shouldering the historical mission of bringing Nintendo products to the Chinese gamers.
However, in fact, they fall into two categories: Distributor and Publisher. The former can be understood as the localizers, and the latter could be understood as the releasers.
Actually, that's not the most precise explanation either. The most accurate terms for them should be: Subsidiary and Agent. The "localizers" are Nintendo's subsidary: some are wholly-owned, and some are joint venture, but they are all fundamentally Nintnedo. As for the agents, they are only collaborators in charge of marketing, release, and stock supply. They almost take no part in the operation strategy and game localization, and are only in charge of selling games.
Under this theory, these distributors should be:
Subsidiaries: iQue, Nintendo (HK), Nintendo Phuten.
Agents: iQue, Mani, Hakuyu.
Among them, iQue, as a subsidiary, was in charge of the development of some N64/DS/GBA/3DS games in Mainland China.
As for Nintendo (HK) and Nintendo Phuten, they did not have businesses on the "localization" level until the Wii, and most of the localization done in the Wii era were outsourced to iQue. Only since the 3DS era did Taiwan and Hong Kong start to have independent localization projects, separate from iQue's support. Among the two, the situaTAItions in Hong Kong and Taiwan were also different. Nintendo Hong Kong was in fact a puppet, as the actual work was done by Nintendo Phuten of Taiwan. Its products were sold by the HK distributor, and imported into Mainland, so we [the Chinese gamers] commonly refer to them as the "Hong Kong Edition", when they are in fact Taiwanese editions (the region code is T).
While we are on this topic, it's inevitable to bring up Mani. To discuss it, we have to rewind time back to the distance 1990s--the decade when Nintendo first entered the Chinese market.。
The first time Nintendo entered the Chinese market via official channels (that is, excluding Famiclones like the Subor or Micro Genius, and unofficial import channels) was in the year of 1994. At the time, Nintendo of Japan had Hong Kong's toy distributor Hong Kong Mani Toys Ltd. (香港萬信玩具有限公司)to distribute its products. However, the scope of the target wasn't limited to the region of Hong Kong, but included all the distribution business in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Since there were no work on Chinese localization, and neither of the three regions and any restrictions from policies, and Nintendo had little interest in promoting its product outside of its traditional markets (Japan, America, Europe), so Mani could earn a fortune of a decade just by helping to release Nintendo products officially.
The earliest Nintendo product distributed by Mani was the Super Famicom, but it also came back to distribute the Famicom and the GameBoy later on. These three are the main products of Mani. Among them, Super Famicom and Famicom games were distributed and imported in its original form, with only one warranty sheet in Chinese. The warranty itself was also practically useless, since it was easier and cheaper to repair in a video game store (Hong Kong did not have official repair shops until the Wii era). However, things were different starting with the GameBoy titles. Not only did they come with Chinese game covers, but the manual was also in Chinese. Unlike nowadays where Traditional and Simplified Chinese were displayed on different media, game covers at the time were printed with both Simplified and Traditional Chinese.
However, games with Chinese covers are almost restricted to Nintendo first-party titles (which is still true throughout the years), and the game contents themselves are often in English, the precursor of what Chinese gamers refer to as "Hong Kong English Editions".
Unlike present-day subsidiaries, whose localization projects were overseen by "Localization Managers", many of Mani's Chinese titles were arbitrary made up. They were not approved by the Nintendo HQ and are only "for reference only". Such as "撒尔达传说" for the Legend of Zelda, "卡比之星" for Kirby, and "坏莉欧" for Wario. These names have all been deprecate by now, and replaced with Chinese names in line with the original creators' intent and translated under supervision by Nintendo HQ. Some games have severe translation errors, such as the description for the HK release of Donkey Kong Country Returns even translated Diddy Kong as "金刚爸爸" (Kong Daddy)...
This wasn't just the issue of whether a translation sounds nice or not, but was rather the sloppy work of an agent that doesn't understand English. This situation was not resolved in Hong Kong and Taiwan until the late Wii and 3DS era, when agents finally stopped the careless act of having laymen do some random translation and post it on their webpage.
Let's go back to Mani's distribution. The earliest Mani products, Nintendo's Super Famicom and Famicom, were a huge flop in the Chinese-speaking regions. High price, warranty without guarantee, the absense of any advertising, plays only Japanese cartridges (region locked), and expensive genuine cartridges (from the average Chinese person's standard of living and exchange rates at the time). Of course, these were not the biggest issues. The key was that famicomes have gained a deep foothold in both Mainland China and HK/Taiwan, with Subor in Mainland, Micro Genius in HK/Taiwan. These cheap compatibles, along with the multi-in-one bootleg cartridges, have long since occupied the Chinese video game market. With 300 RMB Subor famiclones and 100 RMB high quality action 4-in-1 cartridges, who would still buy a 1200 RMB authorized genuine Famicom, and 1-in-1 genuine cartridges at 350 RMB each?
As for the Super Famicom, first of all, Mainland gamers in the Super Famicom era had all become Sega Mega Drive (Genesis) players. This was also thanks to the "perfect cracking" of the Sega Mega Drive. In 1993, Tianjin Xinxing Electronics (天津新星电子公司) successfully hacked the Sega Mega Drive, and released a very cheap clone of the console (a Genesis equivalent of the Subor). Sega Japan went to court with XinXing for patents infringement. So Xinxing released an education console based on the Sega Mega Drive, selling Mega Drive clones under the guise of "education systems". In the end, Sega lost the lawsuit and could only recover some of the market by releasing the even cheaper Xintianli(新天利) VCD at a loss (Source: The history of TV games in China"电视游戏在中国的发展史"). Players had all went to play pirated Mega Drive games, and the Super Famicom was too expensive. Even after Super Famicom could play bootlegs (using 3.5-inch floppies taking advantage of the disk system acccesory loohople), the cost to play Super Famicom games was still very high. The technology to copy floppies was still rather new, and a Super Famicom masterpiece (like Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest) was as large as 4 or 8 Megabytes, one single game needed a stack of floppies. In the end, everyone other than hardcore Nintendo fans did not wanted to bother with this expensive and troublesome consoles, and casual gamers all went to the Mega Drive. Later, with the release of the PlayStation with better graphics, players got attracted to that console.
Under this historical environment, it's understandable why Mani's Super Famicom had utterly flopped.
However, Nintendo did not lose heart after the Super Famicom and Famicom failed to compete against imports and clones in the Chinese market, but rather made a large investment in the GameBoy era so that Mani could run the Chinese market with more diligence. This is how we got games with Chinese manuals and covers. In fact, gamers from that time would even remember GameBoy commercials on TV, featuring HK star Aaron Kwok (郭富城). This was the first ever and only Nintendo game commercial ever broadcasted on Mainland China TV. To promote the product, the authorized China edition GameBoys even featured Kwok's phto on the boxart, and came with Kwok's shiny calendar card. Some serious efforts were put into the promotion.
Thanks to the celebrity effect and the great playability of the GameBoy itself, the authorized GameBoy model finally got back a lot of shares from the market of imports. By the time the GameBoy retired from the market, Mani has sold Millions of authorized GameBoy consoles in China. It is safe to say that Mani has purged clean the mess of the import market and monopolized the whole industry.
However, it was very clear to Nintendo that, while the Chinese had bought a million GameBoy units, there is less than one copy of genuine software sold per person on average. Everyone was playing bootleg cartridges, and multi-in-1 cartridges towards the end of the era. Nintendo did not let the huge hardware sales get to their head. The software-to-hardware sales ratio was clear to Nintendo that selling consoles was not enough, and something must be done so the Chinese are willing to pay for game software. In fact, as of today in 2013, there are a large number of people who think there is no need to buy games after buying game consoles. They jailbreak their iPhones, and play DS games on flashcart on their 3DS instead of buying a cheap used game of low popularity. Because what most Chinese gamers had in mind what that "I bought the console, so there's no need to buy games."
Nintendo also knew about this fact. Nintendo thought that the reason Chinese games don't buy genuine games wasn't just because of the price, but rather because the lack of Chinese language. At that time, Hiroshi Yamauchi stepped down and made Satoru Iwata the president, breaking Nintendo out of family rule (In fact, Nintendo HK was founded by Hiroshi Yamauchi's niece. His relatives took up executive roles in Nintendo divisions around the world). Iwata was more focused on the overseas market. At the same time, America's chip expert Dr. Wei Yen offered Nintendo an opportunity. The two had a similar idea and both agreeed to start the Chinese localization of Nintendo games first in Mainland China.
As a result, iQue was founded in 2002. That was the most painful moment for Nintendo in the company's chronicle. The GameCube's launch was weak, and game releases couldn't catch up. Nintendo was crushed around the world, with third-parties standing on the sidelines, not offering Nintendo support. If it hadn't been for the outstanding performance of the GameBoy Advance to recover the loss, the Nintendo empire could have collapsed. At this time point, Nintendo and Yen, founded iQue in China with each side offering half of the investment, the real purpose being to truly distribute genuine Nintendo games in China. At that point, Mani was kicked out of Mainland, and only distributed products in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Due to the lack of thorough understand of Mainland's Purchaing Power and the gamer's preference, Wei Yen made a wrong judgement of the situation, speculating the intent of Chinese gamers from an American way of operation. This resulted in the iQue Player, which shocked the who industry.
This was an evolution of the Nintendo 64, with the console and controller merged in one, and a flashcart-like card in place of game cartridges. Games were sold in card-writing kioks at game stores. To do multiplayer, one must purchase a "Multiplayer Console" that looks like a wired router, and each player needs a "Multiplayer Controller" to join the game. Therefore, to put into practice the "Family Fun" Wei Yen concieved, one must purchase an iQue Player over 400 RMB, 3 RMB Multiplayer Controllers and one Multiplayer Console over the price of 300 RMB, and corresponding games. The entire set costed around 1,500 RMB, a huge sum at the time of iQue Player's release in 2003. One could play a lot of PlayStation 2 games at the time.
Later, the iQue Player recieved a firmware update, allowing players to download games at the same price from the internet at home, aside from writing games at the stores. This finally made purchaing games slightly more convenient (but not very convenient still). Most importantly, the game software lineup couldn't catch up. At the time, iQue was very skilled and had highly independent teams, and could freely modify the original Japanese version of the games, providing true localization content (such as Chinese holidays in Animal Crossing, Mandarin dub in Star Fox 64, and Chinese signs in towns in Paper Mario). Sadly, that got caught in the frenzy of China rectifying video games, and iQue entered a tough struggle with the censors after localizing the games. This led to delayed release of a lot of finished games, and many core masterpieces with huge text amount were banned from sale (one of such being Majora's Mask).
Both internal and external troubles, the gamers' mindset of piracy, and the strict intervention from the government above, led to a struggle of the iQue Player, which went out of the market in 2006. The iQue Player was in the market in 3 years and had a total of 15 genuine Chinese games*. This wasn't a number to boast about, but in retrospect, that was the time when iQue was the most hardworking. Among the 14 titles, there were quite a number of masterpieces with huge amounts of text, but sadly, the line of thought for the iQue Player's marketing operation was problematic from the very start. First of all, in 2003, the Nintendo 64 was a console released 8 years ago and out of date, its graphics and processing power far below that of the then trending PlayStation 2 console. Secondly, the channel to purchase games was complex, and anyone aside from hardcore Nintendo fans did not have the patience to calm down and study how to purchase games, and therefore gave up buying the console altogether. Finally, multiplayer gaming with the Multiplayer Controllers was a total deviation from Nintendo's original idea Family Fun, which became an empty talk thanks to high costs unable to reconcile with software support. In the end, the iQue Player became a huge flop, and Nintendo failed on its very first attempt to officially enter China. This was not the fault of the gamers, as Nintendo itself did not really get what the gamers wanted.
*Note: The iQue Player only had 14 released games. This might be a typo by MetalManiac.
At the same time, Taiwan and Hong Kong still had their goods distributed by Mani, and official GameCube and GameBoy Advance consoles were released at this period. However, none of the games were localized, aside from maybe the covers, and like the GameBoy games, the translations were a mess, and mistakes or arbituary names are everywhere. However, that was no the case in South Korea, which had Nintendo of Korea established at the time, and launched the first set of localized Korean games. The representative work of the time were the Pokémon titles on GameBoy Color. While the Korean market was a mess like that of the Chinese market, but it eventually went on track, and after the accumulation of growth throughout the DS and Wii eras, it now stands on equal footing with the European and American market, a rising star way ahead of the Chinese region market.
There were two reasons why Nintendo kicked Mani out of Mainland and established iQue: one was mentioned in the previous text that Nintendo wanted not only to sell hardware, but also get the Chinese games to buy software; the other reason was Mani had condoned bootleg cartridges, putting Nintendo's genuine games and bootlegs on the same shelf. This was a disrespect to the original supplier, at least the act of Mani turning a blind eye to selling pirated games at authorized Nintendo retailer. This gave Nintendo the impression of Mani as an unreliable agent, and thus Nintendo terminated Mani's business in Mainland China.
The iQue Player had a internal region lock, preventing piracy from the source, and even genuine games had to be written at official retail stores. This not only prevented piracy, but also blocked imports out. This went starkly against the mindset of Chinese gamers, and thus was inevitably abandoned by the gamers. The fault did not lie entirely on the player: Nintendo had went too far and the Chinese could not stand this at all.
To get out of this predicament, iQue released the iQue GBA (小神游) in 2004 (the second year of the iQue Player). Why could the iQue GBA become a huge hit and quickly dominated the market? One reason was the low cost and after-sales warranty, and the other important reason was region free. iQue GBA, and later the iQue GBA SP, were fully compatible with genuine Chinese cartridges, genuine Japanese and English cartridges, bootlegs, fan translated bootlegs, and flashcarts. This is the most fundamental reason for the iQue GBA's popularity: Compatibility with pirated media.
From this perspective, iQue releasing a non-region-locked iQue GBA had signaled the failure of Nintendo's China stragety. Why? The reason why Nintendo kicked Mani out of China was because Mani had condoned piracy, and Nintendo founded iQue in its stead. While it couldn't be said that iQue GBA "condoned piracy", but the huge hit of the iQue GBA series could not exist without piracy. In the end, again due to the censorship system and pricing, iQue's GBA titles ended up in a absolute disadvantage, and again went back to the vicious cycle of "selling only hardware and not software". Chinese players chose brand-new, cheap, and warranty-cover iQue GBA SP, and then purchase cheap fan-translated bootleg GBA cartridges. This was the most popular phenomenon in China's game industry in 2005.
After the iQue GBA family, the iQue DS and iQue DS Lite consoles released in succession. From almost the same reasons, iQue's DS consoles purged the import market, leaving no room for imports soon after its release. However, due to almost the same reasons, the games could barely release, and could barely sell if they were released, and thus there were no more releases after the first batch. This was the same as the GBA era, and it's safe to say the iQue was in a predicament not far different that that of Mani in the 90s. Nintendo could only observe in helplessness
iQue's GameCube and Wii consoles both failed to pass the censors, and iQue had totally lost the theoratical status of releasing authorized home consoles. This put the very awkward Dr. Wei Yen in a speechless situation, and he finally could not stand any longer, quitted iQue, and sold his share to Nintendo. From that time, iQue has become the guise of Ninendo of China, and had lost its independence. This happened roughly in 2008, when the iQue DS had released no more games for an entire year.
Nintendo acted quite quickly in response to this situation, as that was the time when Nintendo suddenly expelled simple agents in Taiwan and Hong Kong markets as well.
Back to the other topic. Previously, I mentioned that Mani was in charge of distributing Nintendo's consoles and games after it was kicked out of Mainland, and this lasted until the DS era. Since Mani did not have the ability to localize, the DS series in Hong Kong and Taiwan only went as far as the DS Lite. The reason was that the Nintendo DSi had a smart system, region lock, and many pre-installed software, something beyond Nintendo HK/Taiwan's ability to localize at the time. Plus, Nintendo wasn't willing to allocate a dedicated region T or set up a DSi Shop for the Nintendo DSi in Hong Kong and Taiwan, as they could only be wild wishes for the Traditional Chinese market at the time. As a result, the Nintendo DS family in Hong Kong and Taiwan only got as far as the DS Lite.
However, things were different with the Wii. It was the time when Nintendo acquire full control of Mainland's iQue, and iQue's localizers were stuck with almost nothing to due to difficulty of having their games passed the censors, so Nintendo decided to release the Chinese Wii in Hong Kongand Taiwan, attempting to rescue Nintendo in the Chinese region using HK and Taiwan as footholds. In fact, all of the iQue Wii games were localized by iQue*, which could also be seen on the covers and in the credits (unlike the localized 3DS games which did not show iQue on their covers). Sadly, all Chinese language gamers were not so difference. While Hong Kong/Taiwan Wiis were compatible with Japanese games, their sales couldn't wipe the floor with imports in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and even in Mainland. Heck, it might be more true to say that they have entirely flopped. At that time, the Wii has been perfectly cracked, and could play bootleg discs free from region lock. There were also fan translations and emulators, and later, playing straight from hard drive. The commercial flop of Hong Kong and Taiwan Wii models were predictable.
*Note: Except Mario Party 9, which was localized entirely by Nintendo of Taiwan.
At the same time, despite the Wii failed to make to release in Mainland, iQue had actively started to market the DSi in China. On one hand, Nintendogs was finally approved*(an 2005 game released in 2009). To avoid the fate of a commercial flop for game cartridges, iQue decided to pre-install the software digitally on console, a method still used in present day.** In other words, in the eyes of Nintendo, this was the only means to force Chinese gamers away from piracy. Later, iQue (which was by then already a puppet of Nintendo), started to operate the iQue DSiWare (iQue DSi创软) business, and started selling large amounts of digital mini games, sold in the form of redeeming point cards in the iQue DSi Shop. However, in the end, due to the poor quality of software lineup (which was not iQue's fault, as the DSiWare lineup in general could not compare with the current eShop lineup), almost all of the 30 digital iQue DSiWare became a commercial flop. The only exception was iQue's only original game The Sea-Hare, and the reason why it did not flop was because this "game" was a freeware. This game became a joke among gamers, since iQue's official website was still going all out advertising The Sea-Hare when the Nintendo 3DS had already released in Japan. It was both a ridiculous and pathetic sight to behold.
*Note: This was not exactly true as the approval information in iQue Nintendogs showed the game was already approved back in 2006.
**Note: This was referring to the iQue 3DSXL (2012), which came pre-installed with full versions of Mario Kart 7 and Super Mario 3D Land. Neither the Nvidia Shield (2017) nor the Tencent Nintendo Switch (2019) came pre-installed with full games.
As Nintendo was stuck in a melee with Chinese gamers and government, Nintendo of Korea had quitely risen. Almost all of the Nintendo DS masterpieces, including third-party ones, came with official Korean localization, and many of them sold 300,000-500,000 copies (figures from Nintendo's fiscal report in 2008, which readers could read for themselves). The cumulative sales of all official Chinese localization games of all times might have been less than that of a DS game in Korea. Thanks to strong support of the video game industry from the South Korean government, Nintendo of Korea soon rose to become a large region on equal footing with Nintendo of Europe and Nintendo of America. Eventually, Korea became part of the Nintendo's world class regions, started with the release of the Korean game Maple Story, climaxed at the same-day Korean release of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and ended with the same-day global release of Korean Pokémon X/Y. At the same time, the Chines region was still stuck in the same pitiful place.
Now let's go back to the issue of agents and subsidaries in Taiwan and Hong Kong. While many people see everything as the doing of Nintendo Phuten, that was not the case. iQue, Phuten, and Nintendo HK were all second-party subsidiaries of Nintendo, and are in some sense on the same level as HAL Laboratory and Intelligent Systems. Mani, Hakuyu, and Weblink International were just agents. I could still remember vividly the news of "Auntie" Tzeng Ai-yu kicked out of Taiwan by Nintendo. In fact, Hakuyu was only the publisher, and Phuten was always the distributor since the 1990s. The only thing that had changed was the agent, from Mani to Hakuyu to Weblink international. Hakuyu was in business for the longest period, but it hurted Nintendo's interest through actions such as selling products across regions, and was "kicked to the side by Nintendo" (in auntie Tzeng's own words), and got its distribution rights handed to the Taiwanese electronics appliance supplier Weblink International.
The year was 2012. Both iQue in the Mainland and Nintendo in Hong Kong and Taiwan were silent for so long as if they had been dead. However, to the shock of everyone, a piece of news came about in the April of 2012: The final masterpiece of the Wii, Mario Party 9, would be released in Traditional Chinese. It had been a long time since the last release of a Chinese game on Wii, and iQue in Mainland has been working on nothing but The Sea Hare. The sudden announce of more Chinese games for the Wii at the period in history, a release only 2 months after the Japanese version (JP release: April; Chinese release: June), and a release date given at the time of announcement, it almost seemed as if Nintendo in the Chinese region was suddenly run by a whole new person. Gamers couldn't help but think that Nintendo was finally going to start managing the Chinese regions in a heartfelt way.
Sure enough, Nintendo announced in Autumn of 2012 the Hong Kong 3DS and iQue 3DSXL in succession. The Hong Kong model was announced with 5 Chinese titles at its debut, and the iQue 3DSXL came with limited edition casing and two digital download games (at the time, people didn't know the iQue 3DSXL could read Simplified Chinese text in Hong Kong edition games). Nintendo appeared to be rather aggressive in taking on the Chinese region markets. However, since the 3DS region lock was set in stone, gamers did not have high hopes of the Chinese language 3DS, despite the first wave of Chinese games came at a great vareity: Resident Evil: Revelations for the adult core gamers, Ocarina of Time 3D as a Nintendo classic, Nintendogs+Cats for the Blue Ocean audiance, and the two all-ages signature Mario games, which showed Nintendo's great sincerity and care for all kinds of gamers. Sadly, Nintendo 3DS suffered a lack of games in the Chinese regions not long after release, to the extent that Nintendo had to fill a month with the Japanese version of Naruto Powerful Shippuden, as if Nintendo couldn't keep up the pace. Only after half a year of work, was Nintendo finally able to gained steady momentum, and is now preparing for a burst of games coming this summer, but that's something we'll have to see in the future.
We cannot blame Nintendo's failure in the Chinese regions purely on its region lock policy. Truly, if the HK and iQue 3DS models were not region locked, then everyone would be buying them. Who doesn't love a Chinese interface? However, due to region locking, and the slow pace of game releases on top, the current Chinese game consoles are stuck in a hard struggle. First, the annoucement of Monster Hunter 4 Hong Kong edition in Japanese was a signal that third parties have given up Chinese localization; later, the lack of Chinese support for Pokémon at launch signaled the termination of second-party Chinese localization. Nintendo itself is the only one remaining to support the Chinese region.
This was the fault of Nintendo, the market, and the gamers. This triforce of struggle collectively gave rise to the difficult situation Nintendo had been contantly facing since its entry into China 20 years ago.
In terms of Nintendo itself, it does not understand enough what the Chinese gamers need. They mistakenly thought that the Chinese gamers are the same as their American counterparts, that they all love Mario and went all-out excited for a Mario Game. They also mistakenly thought that the Chinese are the same as the Japanese, without knowing that a few games flourished in China despite having flopped in Japan. It started with Dr. Wei Yen using an American mindset to figure out the Chinese market, forming a wrong path for the iQue Player, and continued with Nintendo's own exploration of the Chinese market, but still failed to understand what the Chinese gamers wanted, and resulted in this predicament.
In terms of the market, Chinese gamers (Mainlanders, Hong Kongers, and Taiwanese alike) had a deep-rooted mindset of playing games for free, and the lack of necessity for genuine games when they had emulators or flashcarts. This led to all of Nintendo's attempts and efforts as futile, and Nintendo no longed continued. On the other hand, due to regulations from the Chinese government, games that could have appealed to the core gamers, such as The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, Fire Emblem and Advance Wars on the GameBoy Advance, got all cancelled. This was not only a loss for the gamers, but was also the hard work of localizers turning futile. In the end, iQue's core software personnel quit the company in succession, and with the layoff this year, iQue was only kept of its localization group and got cutdown on staff in all other departments, and had become essentially an official translation group that does nothing but game translation. As for Nintendo Taiwan and Hong Kong, they got the second pop idol sponsorship in Nintendo's history in the Chinese region--The S.H.E, and bombarded the ads on TV in HK and Taiwan. However, that came with little success. Even today, it is hard to buy a Hong Kong 3DS model even in game stores in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and the game inventory was mostly limited to official retailers, with regular game stores rarely stocking them.
It can be said that, as Nintendo entered the 3DS era, its Chinese localization is far better than any of the previous eras in the past 20 years, both in terms of quantity and speed:, one Chinese game with both Simplified and Tradition script on average every one month or so, and one Japanese language game in the HK region every two or three months. Sadly, due to the region lock of the 3DS, gamers still face a shortage of games despite having a Chinese game lineup far ahead of the previous eras. The Hong Kong 3DS's disadvantage was evident under the comparison of Sony Computer Entertainment Taiwan, which released Chinese masterpieces in the Hong Kong region in high frequency. Within the scope of Nintendo itself, there were a large number announcements of Korean localization for masterpieces, and further the frequent occurence of the same game with Japanese script in Hong Kong and Korean script in South Korea. The Chinese region 3DS had become further stuck in a disadvantaged spot in terms of public opinion.
Even in this predicament, Nintendo still treated the Chinese region and Chinese gamers with its own mindset: if Chinese gamers do not want to support genuine games, then I would postpone the releases. This led to a vicious cycle which put the Chinese region 3DS under public pressure. Nintendo never thought it was wrong: debuting in the market with two Mario games was the most correct thing to do, since in Nintendo's mind, gamers all loved to play Mario, and the Chinese were not an exception. What Nintendo didn't know was that the interest of Chinese gamers were very different than that of the American gamers, and many games that were actually more popular in China were thought by Nintendo as not fun in the eyes the Chinese, and Nintendo thought the Chinese had no interest in Nintendo as a whole when the Chinese did not buy games Nintendo thought they would enjoy. Further more, Nintendo did not realize that most of the games released in Chinese were games that have been released a long time ago, and many had a small mount of text. This has led to an illusion: Chinese fans who wanted to play the games early have long purchased the American or Japanese editions, and therefore did not need to purchase the same games in Chinese. However, Nintendo Japan only recognizes the official sales data, as if they never knew the existence of imports, and thus had the wrong impression that Chinese gamers did not provide enough support. To be frank, this was the result of lack of thorough understanding of the market. Nintendo ignore imports, the tastes and needs of the Chinese gamers, and treated the Chinese market with a total foreigner mindset. This led to Nintendo abandoned by most Chinese gamers. 。
However, this did not mean Nintendo had given up China, since nobody would give up the Chinese market. Nintendo could continue to test the market and observe the results in a very cautious way (although the tests were done in a very bizzare and outdated fashion), collect some very one-sided results (the sales of Chinese language games), and continue the trial and error. This was probably the result of Nintendo's constant family management, and the unwillingness to take great leaps.
However, there's no need to be overly pessimistic. Nintendo has struggled in the Chinese market in the past 20 years, endured all kinds of hardships, and tried to find a way out through various means. They tried to stop piracy using iQue Player digital games, which ended up as a flop; they let the GBA and DS run wild with no restriction piracy, which ended up leaving a poor game lineup from piracy and slow approval; they released the Wii in Taiwan after it couldn't release in Mainland, but was met with perfect hacking of the Wii; they tried to circumvent Mainland censorship by releasing Simplified and Traditional Chinese on the same cartridge, but was stuck with Nintendo's own region lock.
In general, Nintendo tried all means to fight against the hinderance of developing Nintendo of China, and when they finally found a way out after many attempts, they got stuck with their own region lock.
At present, the Nintendo 3DS is still searching for a way forward in China, but the current big issue is the Wii U. If iQue were to release the Wii U, it would be unlikely since both the iQue GameCube (iQue Box) and the iQue Wii (iQue Audiovisual Interactive Player) were successively rejected by the government. I have asked an iQue related personnel on the topic of an official China release of the Wii U, and his answer was a vague "we have alwasy been working on it". To be fair, it's predicatble that the iQue Wii U would not exist, since handhelds could be approved as MP4 players, but home consoles could not escape the console ban by any means. The key now falls to Nintendo Phuten of Taiwan.
Nintendo Phuten of Taiwan was established in the 1990s, but had never done anything of importance. They allowed the agent Mani to release games with arbituary names, and offered no complete aftersales service, pretty much neglecting their duties. Phuten still did little after Hakuyu becomes the agent, as the situation in Taiwan was not that different from that in Brazil, Saudi Arabia, or Malasia--regions covered by pure agents. Only during iQue's reorganization and Nintendo's decision to shift its Chinese localization plans from Mainland iQue to Taiwan (the HK/Taiwan Wii era) did Nintendo start to develop Taiwanese Wii games using iQue's manpower and resources. The process was slow, but some work had been done.
It was not until the 3DS era that Nintendo officially established the T region (Nintendo had always established the J, U and E regions, and added C and K regions for the iQue and Korean releases of the DSi. Note: The Hong Kong Wii was in the J region despite having a few Chinese games). In other words, Nintendo established the sixth region T (Taiwan). Since Nintendo established a new region, it would be unlikely for them to retract this decision.
Therefore, the Taiwan Traditional Chinese release of the Wii U would only be a matter of time, and would probably be announced soon after the release in South Korea. However, Korea and China [Note: Taiwan] would only release the games one or two years after the Japanese release, with the Korean release before the Chinese release. However, the region lock of the Taiwanese Wii U might very much be the unfortunate T region. This would bring about a bad influence, that even with a strong Chinese software lineup, gamers would still find it hard to make choices since they could miss out on masterpieces in the Japanese and American regions. For instance, the Taiwanese Wii U would have gotten Traditional Chinese releases of Mario Kart 8. Wind Waker HD, and the new Zelda game. Very inviting, right? However, at the same time, it might not have third party games Bayonetta 2, Lego City Undercover, Monster Hunter HD. Although, considering that the Wii U might not have a lot of third party support, even the Japanese and American Wii Us could not play a lot of third party masterpieces. Therefore, even if the Chinese Wii U ended up with little third party support, it would not be a huge loss for pure Nintendo fans, since in the Wii U library, the strongest guarantee game from Nintendo's first party games, which would mostly come with Chinese support, but that's something we'll have to see for the future.
Spoilers: The Wii U was never released in Korea or Taiwan, and thus had no first-party Chinese games. There were only a handful of third-party games in Chinese, the most notable being Minecraft Wii U Edition.
Looking back on these twenty years, from Nintendo asking Mani for its crappy distribution of the Super Famicom, to making a name for the GameBoy by getting Aaron Kwok to sponsor, to attempting to squeeze into China with the iQue Player, to the iQue GBA SP mopping the floor with import markets, to the strategic shift of the Wii from Mainland to Taiwan to rescue toe market, to the tug of war of the 3DS where neither side was willing to yield. For the past two decades, Nintendo had been fighting piracy, emulators, the government, people asking for free ROMs, fan translators, Sony fanboys, imports, domestic games, and the deep-rooted mindset of gamers...This was a journey full of bruises, detours, and pitfalls. However, Nintendo did not give up on the Chinese gamers, because the Chinese gamers also never gave up on Nintendo. The relationship between Chinese gamers and Nintendo had always been one of mutual wait and see and mutual conceal, sometimes even mutual restraint and mutural hate. The stubborn Nintendo refused to give in, and the stubborn Chinese players refuse to compromise. In the end, imports still dominated the market, and Nintendo's efforts could only progress with difficulty.
Today, we will soon be welcoming Nintendo's 20th Anniversary in China. No matter if you think Nintendo did the right thing or did a good job, the company has worked hard, and is still hard working, and will not give up on the Chinese market in the future. The Triforce of struggle--Nintendo, the market, and the gamers, with the restraint on each other and the unwillingness to yield on all sides, gave rise to the bizzare status quo that is the Chinese video game market. South Korea made the breakthrough first in the market aspect--strong support of the video game industry from the government, legal bans on flashcarts and bootlegs, regulations on import, resulted in the flourish of the Korean DS and Wiis, and laid down a foundation for the burst of the Nintendo 3DS, which Nintendo see as a signal of hope and yielded (in the form of making heavy budget localizations), and also forced Korean players, which were also not of very high standard, to buy genuine games, so that they could get more accustomed to the legal game market. China has not yet reached this breakthrough on all aspects. In terms of the country(not just Mainland China, but also Hong Kong and Taiwan), there are little restraints on bootlegs or imports; in terms of the gamers, they are more interested in piracy and online games, and there is little room for genuine games; as for Nintendo, it remains in a standstill, not willing to yield. The three resulted in a stagnant Chinese market that is only progressing at a very slow pace.
But I have faith that this predicament will soon been broken. Even if the 3DS and Wii U got cracked in the future, the national policies have become more relaxed, and gamers are having a higher willingness to purchase genuine games. The Triforce of Struggle is collapsing from within. Nintendo's inevitavle success in China is not something that could be stopped by Sony, Microsoft, or Apple, because they are not Nintendo, and they do not have the fierce stubborness of a company that has strived for two decades, and would not be afraid to strive for another two.
I know I wrote this article for nothing. I'm only enjoying the fun of writing and research.