The Opinion Herd: Saving Japanese Game Design
Keiji Inafune has been in the news a lot regarding his thoughts on the Japanese game industry and how he thinks they’re falling well behind the west in terms of popularity. He’s been making these comments for a long time before his departure from Capcom. He thinks Japanese game developers need to be faced with humility or they will never change and they will continue to fall behind. He’s not alone in his thoughts as Canadian game designer Phil Fish said at GDC this year during a Q&A that Japanese games “suck.” Our question this week is this, “Do you think they’re right and if so what can Japanese developers do to change the direction their segment of the industry is going?”
Shelby Says: I wouldn’t say Japanese games “suck” and I’m not sure being faced with humility is how I would word it but I do feel Japanese game development could learn a few things from western developers. Let’s get one thing straight right now; I don’t think Japan needs to copy everything western developers are doing. I don’t want Call Of Japan Duty or Gears Of Japanese Wars. Japanese developer make some really unique games; Deadly Premonition, No More Heroes, Captain★Rainbow, Chibi-Robo!, Ouendan, etc. I don’t want those games to stop. Keep’em coming, Japan. However, when you look at something like Lost Planet 2, it’s clear some Japanese developers haven’t quite grasped the idea of online games. I think I understand why. It’s just a different culture over there. Japan is an island with a lot of people on it. So in big cities like Tokyo, they all live on top of each other. If you ride the bus with your PSP, there are dozens waiting to play Monster Hunter with you. The need for online gaming isn’t as strong, or at least it’s different. I see the same thing here in America. Several games now come with online co-op but no couch co-op. On the east and west coast this works out fine since those areas play more games online. But here in Oklahoma, we want to be in the same room as we play together – at least in my circles.
Cultural boundaries like this are become more apparent as humanity grows into the internet. Everyone is connected to everyone else. Cultural dams are being punctured every waking moment and it’s only a matter of time before all the water runs out and mixes together in one big pool. Video game development isn’t the only thing feeling this change. We have already seen it happen to car manufactures, electronics developers, cartoon animations and it’s slowly happening to things like music and food. Japanese culture is heavily based on tradition. Changes take time. I think there is a lot of room for improvement but I don’t think Japanese games are doomed. One look at Lollipop Chainsaw proves that.
Micah Says: Personally, I don’t think Japanese games “suck” at all. More often than not, I think some of the most unique andexciting titles come from Japan. I know my taste is pretty unique, but I’m always looking for something truly new and exciting, and most Japanese titles will fit that description. Not including my beloved fighters and shoot ’em ups, genres that Japanese developers certainly excel at – many of my favorite games – include Nintendo’s first-party titles and the Yakuza series.
Tony Says: I wouldn’t say that Japanese games suck at all. Many of the best experiences of the past few years came from Japan. Games like Catherine, Xenoblade Chronicles, and Dragon Quest IX are just a few. The biggest issue that separates Western and Eastern development teams is the cultural differences. Japan and America like two completely different types of games. Japanese gamers seem to be more about story, developing characters and relationships where as North American gamers seem more interested in blowing crap up. When companies like Capcom try to make a Call of Duty style game it just doesn’t work. Those development teams aren’t practiced in making that type of game. At the same time, if a North American company tried to make a game like Captain★Rainbow they’d be laughed out of the country. There will, of course, be some cross over but for the most part Japanese developers need to stick with what they know best. Bring up Lollipop Chainsaw, Final Fantasy XIII and Resident Evil. Let North American developers bring us the next Call of Duty, “World of Battlefield: Bro Edition 7 Extreme” and Mass Effect.
Also, a lot of it has to do with the corporate mind sets in the two different regions. When things don’t work in Japan it’s the management that takes the hit. The 3DS is a good example of that. It didn’t sell as well as Nintendo expected early on. Did the company go crazy and fire everyone? No. The executives took huge pay cuts; they dropped the price of the system and apologized to customers by giving them free stuff. Over here it seems like the blame would have been passed back down the chain. People would have been fired and the company would have tried to sweep it under the rug.
Japan and North America have very different cultures and philosophies. They have different strengths and weaknesses. When companies take advantage of those differences and work with them, beautiful things can be made. I want the crazy, Japanese-centric stuff that comes from there, but I also want the latest brown military shooter as well.
You’ve heard from us, now we want to hear from you. What do you think of Inafune and Phil Fish’s comments? Are they right? Does Japan need to do something to change the course they’re on or should they continue, make some adjustments and keep going?