Japan, in general, is not known for a very robust PC gaming scene. Outside of a core of enthusiasts and "gal-game" adventure fans, the PC entertainment market over there is pretty underground, with relatively little room for a breakout hit like Minecraft to set off a major phenomenon. That's why the May 23 Japan release of Terraria, Andrew "Ridgit" Spinks' take on the Minecraft-style explore/adventure/create formula, is notable — not just because it exists, but because it's become a fairly decent hit.
Satoru Honma, producer of the Japanese Terraria release for Spike Chunsoft, explained to Famitsu magazine this week that his company got the publishing rights mostly through his sheer passion for the game. "When we made our offer to [US console publisher] 505 Games, I sent along screenshots of my own PC Terraria game, something I had been working on for a really long time. Apparently they had at least one offer that gave them better conditions, but once Andrew saw those screenshots, he said 'I want to get in on their enthusiasm' and they chose us as their partner."
Advertising a game like Terraria in Japan would obviously require a different approach from the standard magazine-preview route. "It's hard to bring across what makes Terraria fun with still images," said Spike Chunsoft promotional rep Takuro Uchida. "We figured it'd be key to expose the game in video form as much as possible, and so we formulated a plan to show off videos and get them spread around as much as possible."
This process began with uploading videos on the Japan Terraria homepage, then expanded into a large-scale effort on Niconico, a large video-sharing site in Japan. Spike Chunsoft held regular weekly live broadcasts, inviting users to participate in Terraria games and comment on in-progress games in realtime. "It was still a rare thing at the time," Honma said, "but we were able to get permission from the publisher to have people release videos and live broadcasts of whatever part of gameplay we wanted, as long as it was within the terms of service."
The result of this: On the day of the game's release, an astonishing 80% of users who downloaded the PS3 demo made a purchase to unlock the full game. Sales have continued to remain steady through the summer, thanks in part to a free avatar set offered to demo downloaders. Between download sales and the PS3 retail package, Terraria has sold over 150,000 copies in Japan.
"For the PlayStation 3 version, we were able to build synergy between the development and the promotional effort," Honma commented. "This clicked really well and led to lasting results. I'm hoping we can keep it going with the ensuing PS Vita version."