The latest Smash Bros came out on the 3DS in Japan on September 13, three weeks before its release in the West. The Wii U version came out in the US last week. It won't be out in Japan for another week. What gives?
In his semi-weekly column in Weekly Famitsu, series creator Masahiro Sakurai took apart the release of his most recent games. "Actually, the software for both the Japanese and Western versions was completed at almost the same time." Sakurai noted. So why the disparity in release dates? Firstly, Sakurai broke down the manufacturing process for the physical games. "ROMs are made in factories. It's not like I order one today and a few days later it's done, plus, not only is there the game, but there's the packaging and the print material as well."
As Sakurai concludes, accumulating the necessary stock for a simultaneous worldwide release and shipping all of it to retailers would have meant a worldwide October 3rd release for the 3DS version and a December 6th release for the Wii U version. So what that means is that Japan got the 3DS version early and the West got the Wii U version early rather than the opposite versions late.
"In Japan, there's Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (October 11th), and Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire (November 21st). Summer saw the release of the two versions of Yokai Watch 2 (July 10th). That's 4 potentially double-million selling games all within less than 6 months." Sakurai explained. "If you line up the games' release dates, you'll notice they're spaced apart."
According to Sakurai, in Japan, it was determined that the best time to release the 3DS version of Smash Bros. would be September. Any later would have overlapped with other heavy-hitting games and could hurt sales. "Other countries did not have such a situation, so that's why release in Japan was prioritised. There is, after all, only a limited number of copies that we can make."
The Wii U
For the Wii U version, it wasn't a question of rival games so much as it was a question of economic timing. "In Japan, we have the 'Christmas sales rush' where the best time to rake in sales is towards the end of the year. However, in places like the US, this sales rush comes earlier: During Thanksgiving." Sakurai explained. "It's said nearly a third of all commercial game sales are made during this time, so it's necessary to make sure a product is available."
Japan on the other hand does not celebrate Thanksgiving or the dreaded Black Friday (yet), so for the Wii U version a Western release was prioritised, leaving Japan with the base release date of December 6th.
In conclusion, Sakurai wrote, "If a simultaneous worldwide release is possible, that is always the better option, but that's not always the case." With things like manufacturing and market timing, I guess it's a miracle things can get released simultaneously on a nationwide scale, much less a global scale. So chin up! You folks in the US didn't get your 3DS copy of Smash Bros. late, I just got mine early! Besides, I still have to wait for the Japanese release date of the Wii U version... So, yeah. I guess it kind of sucks either way.
Here's hoping for more simultaneous global releases.