Report – Japan Playing Catch-Up With the West
posted on 09.19.10 at 09:37 PM EDT by (@salromano)

As the Tokyo Game Show closes its doors, new words come from the mouths of some of Japan’s finest game developers. While the show had its selection of Japanese games, the domination of western titles was clearly evident. According to these esteemed developers — who are interviewed in a New York Times report — the Japan gaming industry is currently in a pickle as it plays catch-up with the west.

“I look around Tokyo Games Show, and everyone’s making awful games; Japan is at least five years behind,” Capcom Research and Development head Keiji Inafune told the New York Times during an interview at the show. “Capcom is barely keeping up.I want to study how Westerners live, and make games that appeal to them.”

Jake Kazdal, a former Sega Tokyo and Elecronic Arts developer, has expressed his concerns, as well.

“Japan used to redefine gaming,” he said. “Smarter developers in Japan are trying to reach out to the West. They’re collaborating and trying to make games that have more global appeal.”

Shinji Mikami, director of Resident Evil 4 and the upcoming Vanquish, recently announced a new game in collaboration with Grasshopper Manufacturer and Electronic Arts. Shadows of the Damned, which will appeal to a global audience, takes to a more inspirational development schedule than would a western game, which are more reliant on time and date.

“Japanese developers tend to work on inspiration, not so much on a set time schedule like the Americans,” Mikami told the site. “So when EA asked about the game month after month, we felt like loan sharks were coming after us.” Fortunately, EA was very understanding of their differences.

Square Enix President and CEO Yoichi Wada had his own opinion on the matter of globalization.

“How do you truly globalize? I think you have to work with people who grew up overseas, who grew up breathing the culture. It’s impossible otherwise,” he said. “The game industry is constantly changing. Everybody’s joining the market. You just don’t know what’s coming next.”

Do you think the Japanese games industry is in a pickle? The Tokyo Game Show did bring forth heavy hitters like Ni No Kuni from Level-5, The Last Guardian from SCE, and Yakuza: Of the End from Sega. What are your thoughts on the matter? Be sure to share them below in the comments section.

  • Hyuver

    I grew up as japaneser gamer(mostly the game I play is Japanese made game) I still play western game too, but not so really into it.

    Starting this gen I kinda favor western game, most japanese game I play didn’t live out my expectation, the only japanese game that amaze me is only Valkyria Chronicles, Resonance of Fate(kinda) and MGS4. Others like WKC, SO4, DMC4, etc. I think it’s a okay game but definitely far from good.

    I have more fun with Uncharted, Batman Arkham Asylum and Red Dead Redemption. I dunno if I just growing up from japanese cheesy storyline, but somehow I feel Japanese game getting duller.

    The main difference from my POV is, it seems like in Japanese developer there is the “golden boy” team in the company. There seems to be big gap between the developer team. Take SE for example, compare the graphic and production value of FF and KH game with the likes of Star Ocean, Mana Series etc, there seems to be a real big gap of quality between those game. In West I think every game made by the same company have more or less same quality of game, like Ubisoft with Assasin Creed, Splinter Cell etc. Bioware with Dragon Age, Mass Effect etc. All are utilizing the same engine(I think) so the difference gap isn’t that much.

    Personally I think it’s ridiculous SE build the Crystal Engine if it’s only intended to be used only in FF game, I want to see the engine used on many of their game, be it mana, SO, valkryie, etc. It will add more value to the game.

    and about this westernization thing that the developer keep talking about, if it’s for good I am open for it.

  • Zero

    I still think it comes down to money.

    The best selling games in Japan, the ones that makes the big dollars, are portable games. Until they change this, I think JP games will continue to fall behind.

    I’m not saying portable games are bad. Just, most of the gamers in Japan are buying portable titles, why? The games they want to play are portable. Monster Hunter, Kingdom Hearts, Dragon Quest.

    I still think that is the reason the PS3 got off to a slow start in Japan, and still doesn’t see quite the same success the PSP/DS does currently in Japan.

    Final Fantasy 13 for example sold very well in Japan, despite the criticism it received from gamers worldwide. I think if the developers take time to work on the big titles for next gen consoles, they will sell in Japan.

    How would a Monster Hunter, or Dragon Quest on the PS3 not sell? If they started doing this with the big franchises, they would have more tech to work with when making other PS3/360 games, and the shareholders would put more faith in next gen development as well.

  • AdamBoy64

    I’m one of those who vastly prefer Japanese games.

    If I want to know whether a game is good, I’ll check whether it was originally made in Japan or not. Go ahead an criticise me for that, that’s fine. That’s just how I am. No apologies there.

    I have played a few ‘western’ games though, but generally I don’t enjoy them as much.

    I usually cringe when I hear developers saying that they’re going to “western-ise” their games.

  • http://gematsu.com/members/admin/ Sal Romano

    Last generation was much more abundant with Japanese game successes than this generation. The majority of the games I own from this generation are western titles, with the few Japanese titles I own being considered either niche or failed in terms of sales. I think the only exception is Final Fantasy XIII which, even though fans may have mixed opinions about the game, was a global success sales-wise.

    I think Japan is slowly climbing their way back up this generation, though. Like I stated at the end of the article: Ni No Kuni, The Last Guardian, Yakuza, and so many more are just the start of Japan’s revival. Capcom’s contributing, as well, with the recently announced Asura’s Wrath in development at CyberConnect 2. And let’s not forget games like Gran Turismo 5 and Phantasy Star Online 2.

    I think the problem that I’m hearing from Japanese developers are when they try to appeal to western audiences by making a game more, well, western. Honestly, I believe western developers should create western games while eastern developers should create eastern games – and when they want to collaborate like they’re doing with DmC Devil May Cry or that unannounced Square Enix project and provide their audience with the best of both worlds, then that’s great, too. But don’t try and take the culture out of an eastern game just to make it appeal to westerners. We already saw that with the western release of Yakuza 3 — which removed the hostess bars from the game. You remember the uproar that caused, right?

    I believe globalization is all about proper marketing. Namco Bandai’s latest Tales games were barley advertised in the US, from what I saw. However, for Enslaved (western-developed) I’m seeing advertisements left and right for the game.

    I could be wrong, of course. I’m no company honcho. But those are just my two cents on the matter.

    • Hyuver

      Nice point, but adapting western style is also needed to grab larger audience.

      Honestly I don’t think MGS will sell million of copies if instead of war veteran they choose an emo androgynous with spiky hair as the main character(Well Raiden was androgynous but Snake is still the main selling point of the game…).

      Although most westernized game turn to be flop like lost planet or bionic commando, there is some gem like Castlevania. People should just remain calm about this kind of statement from Inafune, the company want to broaden their market so they will undergo some change to appeal them.

      Although Inafune sounds like a d*ck lately he is not dumb, he not gonna let Okami or Ace Attorney to western developer. So far the game that been westernized is just action game anyway.

  • JTX09

    I’m generally one to laugh at these types of statements from Japanese devs. Like AdamBoy64, I also do cringe a bit when I hear about JP devs wanting to westernise a game.

    Whether your a JP dev or a Western dev, if you can give me a good game with good gameplay mechanics and a good story, I’ll buy it. Keep your development techniques unique to yourselves as you should and just pump out the good titles.

    S-E is doing it, more or less, that is. Mainly with handhelds. But you’ve seen how long we’ve been waiting for Versus 13. We’ll get it eventually and when we do it’ll be amazing.

  • Falsate

    It does not require much thought to actually condense their industry: Encompass and employ all the tenets of their own culture as they did before instead of shoehorning Western game philosophy into their creation.

  • Falsate

    (It is a condensed solution rather than forcibly feel many fans yearn for western game aspects in many of the eastern developed games.

  • http://myanimelist.net/profile/PrinceHeir# PrinceHeir

    i thnk this is the problem from today’s japanese game. they’re more into portable gaming now. seriously not only it’s more cheaper than the console but you can actually profit more than a console version, like monster hunter, dragon quest, and pokemon.

    i think the japanese developer want to appeal to the west since it’s more console target. though i hate it when they change their games just to appeal to them:

    Castelvania

    Silent Hill

    DMC

    Resident Evil *Soon to be.

    i really hate this “westernize” thing. why can’t japanese developers just make japanese game and western developers stay western. im okay with collaborations. but they need to do it right(Prime Trilogy)

    it’s sad that gaming today is mostly all about shooters. we need games that take risk and don’t follow the norm. games like killer 7, okami, shadow of the colossus, Catherine(from the looks of it).

  • http://www.youtube.com/tezchi TezChi

    With all these great comments left already, theres not much new I can honestly say here, but I thought Id comment anyway.

    I definately agree that I cringe when I hear a Japanese developer wanting to “Westernise” their product. I think Japanese development and style should always be, by its very nature – Japanese.

    Sal hits the nail on the head with marketting and advertising too. Here in the UK, you seldom see ANY advertisement for a Japanese game at all (I have seen the grand total on ONE advert and that was for DQIX). Marketting is important, especially to those who aren’t as heavil invested in the Industry as someone like myself or others here, who would otherwise have not heard of the game.

    I’m not sure where I stand on the portable side of things, as I know for a fact that the Japanese have always loved portable gaming so it’s perhaps only natural that a lot of development would follow suit.

    All in all, I think the biggest problem facing Japanese developement is, as echoed so many times before, their mis-guided practices regarding aiming to a “Western” audience.

  • FAUNA

    From a western gamer: TGS 2010 was 1000 times better than E3. Tons of BEYOND MIND-BLOWING titles soon to be gifted upon the world. I can’t even describe it in words. Japan, PLEASE NO MORE OUTSOURCING TO WESTERN DEVELOPERS. Please, I play Japanese games BECAUSE they are Japanese. Always better art & stylization. I mean, nothing can even touch the pure masterwork that is VANQUISH (Ok MGS RISING yes…) But the list goes on: PROJECT DRACO (standard controller option PLEASE!), THE LAST GUARDIAN, ASURA’S WRATH, KNIGHTS CONTRACT, MAJIN, EL SHADDAI, FF VERSUS 13, NI NO KUNI PS3, QUANTUM THEORY, KINGDOM UNDER FIRE 2, SHADOWS OF THE DAMNED, DEUS EX, CHILD OF EDEN, YAKUZA: OF THE END… I REALLY wish CASTLEVANIA & DmC were Japanese made (DMC 4 was an art masterpiece), yet they’re both gonna be the COOLEST games ever. & Japan, please include a Japanese voice track option in all games, hand-drawn cover art, & NO MOTION CONTROL OR 3D. Anyways, thank you so much for blessing the world we the kind of art games that we should be playing. Don’t imitate the west! Art & heavy stylization over ‘realism’….

  • RolePlayingGames

    Japan is being beaten by the West? (Vomiting)

    I’ll take Japanese games over Western games anyday.

  • Zero

    I tend to agree with the comments about westernizing JP games. I think they can learn something from the games here, sure. The tech, and maybe event some innovative features. That doesn’t mean they have to change a series completely, or remove all the features that made it what it was in the first place.

    If a game is all around fun and high quality, gamers will buy it, even if the reviews are mixed, or it has some glitches and such.

    I’ve always said I love innovation and new ideas, but I’ve also always thought they should stick to new projects when they want to do something drastically different/new. I think this applies to all game developers.

    Would we want Kojima to make a new Metal Gear game and remove all the cinematic’s, change it to a call of duty clone gameplay wise, and cut the story way short and have it focus on multiplayer?

    The answer is an obvious no. A spin off or something, sure, but if Metal Gear Solid 6 or 7 or whatever was the game I described above, long time fans would be pissed.

    They say a title can sell just by the name, like Dragon Quest in Japan. Why? Fans have loved the series for years, and they expect it to be fun, have new ideas, characters, and plot, but also they expect it to be more of the same.

    I’ve always thought the Tales of series did a fantastic job at what I’m describing. Each new game brings new great ideas all around, but they add it to the formula fans know and have always loved.

  • AiQi

    I guess in few years time we will all have to forget about jRPG games and play only good, old-school titles…a little sad, and hopefully it won’t happen.

  • vic_viper

    Amen Fauna, I totally agree. Take heart on Castlevania though, Kojima had the final say in it’s development and KojimaPro members helped in it’s creation so it will still have that Japanese flavor.

  • matsuki

    i blame the wii xD