News Article

Keiji Inafune Gives Rallying Call to Japanese Developers

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

'It must happen now'

It seems that the Japanese game industry has become a notable topic at this year's Game Developer's Conference. As we reported yesterday there was some controversy around comments made by indie developer Phil Fish, yet some would agree that, despite the bluntness and innacuracy of saying that Japanese game 'suck', there are issues for the country's developers to confront.

Keiji Inafune is perhaps best know for his work on the Mega Man series, and in his presentation titled The Future of Japanese Games he delivered his verdict on the current state of the Japanese games industry and where it needs to improve. After famously declaring in the past that 'Japan is dead', Inafune admits that he was trying to provoke a reaction from his peers.

At that time I was still at Capcom and I believe that they are one of the few Japanese companies that kept up with Western standards. We always strove to develop games with a global audience in mind. Because we were able to see the entire global industry we would see things as they were through an unfiltered perspective. I said those words because I wanted to light a fire under the Japanese video game industry before it was too late.

Inafune acknowledged that Japanese games were 'used to winning', but argued that brands had become overused and bogged down in reliving past glories. In a rallying cry to revive Japan's pre-eminence in the industry, Inafune calls for a rebuilding of new brands and ideas, and a good old-fashioned work ethic.

We must realize the need to develop and rebuild new brands. It must happen now. It will be too late when our brands no longer hold sway. Time is running out and we should have realized this when I made that bold statement a few years ago. When times are good and you have extra money lying around it’s easy to take a few chances and even make mistakes so long as it doesn’t effect the bottom line. However, that never leads to true success. It’s probably because you are not determined or fully prepared. When times are rough and tough, who is willing to take on those hardships, to take the hard route.

Those who succeed never take the easy route. They know success comes after hard work.

What do you think about Inafune's comments? Does the Japanese industry need to be revitalised with new ideas?

[via gamasutra.com]

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User Comments (31)

Expa0

#1

Expa0 said:

Can't say I'm particularly fond of the megaman series, but those are some pretty smart words. Japanese games are still overall miles better than 99% of the crap americans put out, but there has definetly been a significant drop in quality from last- and previous gens.

TrueWiiMaster

#2

TrueWiiMaster said:

I have a lot of respect for Inafune, but I don't know about everything he said. Namely, Isn't it the Western developers who often take the "easy route", producing only what sells, and doing it very quickly?

Also, if I was in Japan, I don't know how I'd feel about a famous developer saying Japanese companies should start catering to a global audience rather than making games for Japan and porting them elsewhere. I'd probably want them to continue catering to me rather than to the westerners.

My view as a westerner, but not speaking for the west, is that Japanese devs should innovate, pump new life into old franchises, and continue what they've been doing. I don't want western-style Japanese games. I want Japanese-style Japanese games, but with new ideas. Games like Xenoblade which revolutionized the JRPG, Pikmin, which re-invented RTS, or Animal Crossing, which created a new genre. All 3 are very Japanese, and all 3 are awesome and unique.

StuffyStuff

#3

StuffyStuff said:

Businesses always need to evolve and strive for greatness, even if they're at the top. Kobe Bryant is so driven by winning and promoting his brand that all of his success isn't good enough for him and he wants more. It sounds like he believes he has a prophetic vision of what will happen if Japanese gaming doesn't step it up, using words like, "It will be too late when our brands no longer hold sway."

WOLFER

#4

WOLFER said:

Well for the "Japan is Dead" im gonna have to respectably disagree with that.... the games that japan makes, everything from fighting games to rpg's, there are the best at what video games have to offer.... and if Keiji believes that they need to improve and revitalise the japan industry by all means go for it.... I just hope they dont focus so so much on western audiences by making everything a shoot em up type of game but who am I kidding.... thats what games are all about these days....

Ajay755

#5

Ajay755 said:

''Inafune acknowledged that Japanese games were 'used to winning', but that brands had become overused and bogged down in reliving past glories.''

Let's just check all the new brands that the West have come up with, in the best sellers of 2011:

1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
2. Fifa 12
3. Battlefield 3
4. Zumba Fitness
5. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
6. Just Dance 3
7. Assassin's Creed: Revelations
8. LA Noire
9. Saints Row: The Third
10. Batman: Arkham City

warioswoods

#6

warioswoods said:

Mega Man is sadly one of the most prominent examples of a franchise that could never figure out how to stay relevant. All the other big games I played on my NES as a kid--Mario, Zelda, and Metroid, more--have managed to cleverly re-imagine and shift their core concepts each generation. Mega Man pretty much ran out of ideas ages ago.

In other words... odd that this guy of all people is taking about a stagnation.

ThomasBW84Admin

#7

ThomasBW84 said:

@Ajay755 Just to let you know I've adjusted that sentence to "Inafune acknowledged that Japanese games were 'used to winning', but argued that brands had become overused and bogged down in reliving past glories." A small change, but that was what I had intended to write.

I think Inafune makes a good point that perhaps re-branding is needed: in order to survive financially I suspect Japanese devs really need to regain reputations (and big sales) worldwide.

Stuffgamer1

#8

Stuffgamer1 said:

@warioswoods: That's hardly fair owing to the fact that Inafune has previously said that Capcom more or less forced him to keep churning out sequels. I got the impression he would have been happy to shelf the IP for a little while...except for making Legends 3, of course. THAT was the one game he actually WANTED to make. The one game the fans actually wanted to play. Go figure.

Tsuchinoko

#9

Tsuchinoko said:

I don't really know what to think about this whole subject. One the one hand, it IS nice when Japanese companies get success in the international market and their games, I'm really disturbed at how much Japanese companies, in particular the gaming and electronics companies, focus on international sales and appeal. There is something special when a game is made for the Japanese market specifically, without any thoughts to foreign pandering and cultural standards.
As a British-born American living in Japan (I'm not joking, I have the birth certificate, American college degree, and Japanese business card to prove it), I feel I can at least understand the cultures of all three regions. But it does seem that more and more, Japanese gaming companies make huge efforts to Americanize their games, whether they make it abroad or not.
One of the main reasons I think that that Fish guy, and many westerners in general, distance themselves from Japanese games is that they do not culturally appeal to where they think games should be headed, whether its technological advances, user interface, or product licensing. Being in Japan I see many games come and go that I think are amazing, but wouldn't appeal to Westerners simply on a cultural basis (Rhythm Heaven is one of those that actually made it here). I personally don't think there is anything major that is wrong with the Japanese gaming industry, and that if they keep following a "western standard", that is what will cause it to break down, not an inability to "keep up".
I also don't personally see anything wrong with certain games being made specifically for the Japanese market with the intention of keeping it a domestic-only release. There are plenty of Japanese-only games that flourish here, but would die overseas.
I can't completely feel that Inafune is trying to appeal to non-Japanese customers though. His Mega Man Legends series was actually very balanced with the Japanese and non-Japanese cultural appeal.

warioswoods

#10

warioswoods said:

@Stuffgamer1

Fair enough, but the Mario and Zelda teams have also occasionally made references to Nintendo's pressure to move right onto the next sequel each time they complete a game; the difference is that great developers can use the same franchise to push gaming forward in surprising ways, while less talented developers don't know how to combine new ideas with existing elements.

SkywardLink98

#11

SkywardLink98 said:

I couldn't have said it better myself. Nintendo in particular needs to stop milking Mario games, or developing different games and slapping the Mario label on it. I'd like to see them come up with new characters, and continue others such as Pikmin, and they really need to decide what Metroid is going to be.

Tsuchinoko

#12

Tsuchinoko said:

I completely agree with both of you. I am a huge Zelda fan and I think that each time they pump out a sequel with limited time to work on it, the quality worsens. Mario games seem to be neither here nor there for me, since I don't really have to get attached to a story with it. That being said I loved the Galaxy games, and the series has the potential to really instill in me a sense of childlike wonder at times. Churning out quick sequels really seems like a thing that American companies push at more, like what I see with these Call of Duty/Warfare games. In any case, I am someone who doesn't mind waiting a long time if the product coming out will be amazing. Maybe I'm just getting old (26 now! I'm ancient).
I do wish Nintendo would work on their other franchises though. I loved Pikmin, and its a shame I have a NA Wii, since I wasn't able to play the Wii version of Pikmin 2. There are quite a few other franchises that I think could be continued and improved upon. I say give Zelda and Mario a rest for a while...with the exception of Majora's Mask 3D, I wouldn't mind seeing that in the next year or so. haha

DarkKirby

#13

DarkKirby said:

I love many of the Megaman games (Megaman Zero was the best, followed by Battle Network 1-3) but I disagreed with Keiji Inafune when I heard him say Japanese games are dead the 1st time. I think at the time he was saying how great Left 4 Dead was. I think it would be more accurate to say it's more profitable to appeal to the larger audience that prefers American style games, which is that say, more exaggerated violence, more action, much less focus on story, or a multiplayer focused game, preferably one with guns. Personally, I think many Japanese games made outside of the American "norm" of what makes games good, like Ghost Trick, Phoenix Wright, Tales games, RPGs, anime "cell shaded" art style games, that a large majority of Americans think are stupid, are fantastic. I LOVE well made stories in games with well designed characters (something many American gamers couldn't care less about, "GIVE ME A GUN AND LET BE BLOW HEADS UP"). The amount of people I find who mash "skip text" in games with a good story and were complaining about how they couldn't skip cut scenes in Skyward Sword the 1st time they saw it, hate on a game because they say it has "cartoon like graphics only weeaboos and kids would like" was to me, disgusting. Their narrow way of thinking and unwillingness to give anything a chance they didn't already accept was disgusting. There is truth in the audience that prefers "American style" games is larger then "Japanese style" games (massive Call of Duty fan base), but that doesn't mean Japanese game's are dead or need to change, it just means they need to market to the correct audience, market to the correct outlets, and change the way they distribute their product in a way that is less risky to them financially while easily purchasable by the people who want it. It would help the sales of Japanese games they feel are too risky to dub and localize on disks to just translate text only, subtitle the voices, and sell the game digitally, preferably on something like Steam on the PC, which was well designed for downloading full size games, which consoles were not.

Stuffgamer1

#14

Stuffgamer1 said:

@warioswoods: You have to remember that it's not JUST the developer's opinion that matters...the publisher often has even more control over a product. I get the impression that samey sequels became the norm at Capcom because Capcom pushed the developers in that direction, not because the developers were lacking in ideas. Every time an actual NEW Mega Man idea came up, it was run into the ground, with the unfortunate exception of Legends (if only it had been given the same chance). Mega Man Battle Network was a new and interesting game, but by the time you're on number SIX within the limited lifespan of the GBA and with relatively little innovation (particularly GOOD innovation) occurring within the franchise, it's just too much! Star Force only made it to three before they decided to can the whole idea, which was probably for the best. Sadly, they've gone too far in the opposite direction, practically killing the franchise off completely when there were actual promising games in development.

Yes, Nintendo pushes for sequels to popular franchises, but in most cases, they still give greater creative freedom to the developers, and they don't require the sequels get pushed out as quickly. Even an uninspired Nintendo game gets the dev time needed to make it good, if not great. AND they actually ENCOURAGE Miyamoto to create new things, whereas Inafune had to go against his employers' wishes and risk getting FIRED spending money to develop games that had already been turned down by Capcom (as mentioned in my previous link).

@DarkKirby; Congratulations, you just described the business models of NIS, Atlus, and XSeed! Three successful companies that bank ENTIRELY on niche games. If they can do it, why can't big corporations? Mostly because those companies don't make AS MUCH money as the big corporations, and of course maximizing profit is the only thing corporations ever care about. Why make decent money when you can rake in gobs of it? Sickening, really.

Kage_88

#15

Kage_88 said:

At the risk of sounding like a fence-sitter, I would say both Japanese and Western developers/publishers have their issues.

I don't think Japanese developers have an issue with games quality; rather, I believe the main trouble that is plaguing them is somewhat due to an identity crisis. I mean, from my experience, Japanese games are just as good as Western titles - it's just that lately they seem confused as to what they're trying to be. Titles such as Shadows of the Damned & Binary Domain strive to emulate the popular Western 3rd person shooter (even though the Japanese Resident Evil 4 practically reinvented the genre) - which causes a disconnect with me personally.

Vanquish, Bayonetta & Street Fighter IV- now THOSE are games the Japanese should be proud of. They take an established genre and infuse them with an urgency and flair only the Land of the Rising Sun can provide. Additional titles that deserve to be mentioned are Dark Souls, Okami, Little King's Story, & Resident Evil 4.

Oh, and I haven't forgotten about Nintendo, of course. They have remained a constant bastion of innovation amid the the seas of Japanese game development. It seems as though they exist in their own bubble, and are unnaffected by the cultural issues of their country - maybe they can give a few pointers to their peers?

The_Fox

#16

The_Fox said:

I'm just waiting for the inevitable "All Western developers make are FPS titles blah blah blah...." comments.

Oops, too late.

TKOWL

#17

TKOWL said:

This coming from the same credible mouth that produced three games that ended up being cancelled!

DarkKirby

#19

DarkKirby said:

@Stuffgamer1

You've missed the point. Keiji Inafune says Japanese games are dead because they don't sell in equal numbers to stuff like Call of Duty, Left 4 Dead, Gears of War, Grand Theft Auto, etc. There is simply a larger Western population, so appealing specifically to that Western population is more profitable. It's not that Japanese developed games are not good, it's that in most cases they were developed on purpose to be sold to the Japanese audience, which population wise, is simply less then then American audience (and the rest of the world). Yes there are companies that sell Japanese games to the American audience, but for every game they localize there are 10 more thought to be too risky to spend money manufacturing disks for because it is believed they will not sell. Digital distribution removes the biggest hurdle to games people are afraid will not sell, manufacturing costs.

Stuffgamer1

#20

Stuffgamer1 said:

@DarkKirby: While I do not dispute that manufacturing costs are a big hurdle, I don't know if they're really THE biggest. Localization isn't exactly cheap, especially for RPG's.

But the fact of the matter is that Japanese games will never sell in those huge numbers, because the titles you listed sell to mainstream gamers with stupidly limited tastes. Nothing anyone could ever do will change that.

Punny

#21

Punny said:

Honestly, I think Japan is doing just fine. I just think Sam Fish made a dumb comment about his opinion. As long as the games are good, whether or not a series is being milked, I'm okay. Still, it would be nice to see some new game series...

ThreadShadow

#22

ThreadShadow said:

I applaud Keiji Inafune! Eastern dev/pubs need a kick in the rear end, not to make "western" games, but to make GOOD games.

It's not really about eastern games, or western games, it's about GOOD games. Thats where you get your globalization, and universal appeal. East-west it's not really about culture, it's about having the brains and the courage to create a genuinely good, fun, game!

I believe he's calling out to the industry for GOOD games. Creativity, innovation, and down right good gameplay- that's where you get the global appeal and bottom line out of the red.

(side note: Where is it written that eastern devs aren't allowed to make FPS?)

Now we need to find someone to kick western devs in their rear ends about their issues. The details are different but once you boil it down it's the same result. The call to make good games.

DarkKirby

#23

DarkKirby said:

@Stuffgamer1

But that's the main point Keiji Inafune in making, which is why I disagree. He says Japanese games are dead because they refuse to specifically target the obviously larger population of people who think those types of games are the best, and are willing to pay for them.

And localizing games the normal way companies have been doing for years does cost money for the localizations costs, and paying for the rights of the game's content, that is, if it's done the normal way. The "normal way" being the Japanese owner of the rights of the game's content sells the right to distribute the content of said game, or in some cases, part of it, if the localization company doesn't want to pay for all of it, for a large fee, then what the localization company chooses to do with said rights of the game is their business and the original Japanese owner of the rights is no longer involved. The localizer then uses the rights to the game they now own for a certain region and work to use it to make as much money as possible, hopefully covering the original costs of purchasing the rights. Things such as manufacturing costs, translation costs, etc. are considered.

With this system, the original owner of the rights of the game sells them for as much as possible, and the localizer then tries to make as much profit as possible with their purchase.

This is the business model that was used a long time ago because it was too hard to control sales of a product overseas before the internet was popularized. Yet, it's still being used now even though communication across seas is now easy.

However if the original Japanese owner of the rights of the game translated the game themselves and distributed it digitally, they reap all the profit for themselves if the game is successful, and the risk of loss is almost non existent as translations costs are not high, at least, nowhere as high as in the U.S., and manufacturing costs are negated.

However as I said the only platform that is really built for this is the PC, and most developers despise distributing on PC due to easier piracy.

Another solution would be to allow for "order on demand" manufactured games to make sure every game sold already has a buyer, but while that would hinder piracy, would increase the costs of the product as well have a significant wait time between when you purchase it and when you can play it, which may be unappealing to many customers.

JimLad

#24

JimLad said:

Breaking into the mainstream is hard no matter where you're from. Brand power and hype isn't something you can program into your game no matter how good it is.
Personally I preferred Japanese games in the 80s and 90s when they primarily made platformers. Now it mostly seems to be RPGs and Beat em ups, which are my two least favourite genres. I don't mind quirky stuff, or mad Japanese culture themes, but it's got to have gameplay that is fun and not repetitive.

eviLaTtenDant

#25

eviLaTtenDant said:

New brands and ideas ? Oh yes, please.
Forcing washed-out western stuff into your games thinking it will appeal to a global market ? Bad idea.

Do what you're convinced of, what you have faith in. Do not feel insecure just because others are doing it differently.
@Stuffgamer1(#15): Kudos for mentioning NIS, Atlus, and XSeed.

Ajay755

#26

Ajay755 said:

@ThomasBW84 Well that does change things a little but i still think that the West have overused brands/franchises/series' more than the Japanese.

Onett

#27

Onett said:

@Stuffgamer1 Can we be friends? You sir, are brilliant. I learned a lot from this article, especially the comments. This is why I love this website.

Stuffgamer1

#28

Stuffgamer1 said:

@DarkKirby: I tend to think that what Inafune really wants is a cross-pollination of development ideals between regions, not just Japanese developers trying to emulate Western tastes directly. Nintendo has already proven that works well by giving Western developers partial control of some of their franchises (Retro Studios, anyone?), but still remaining at least somewhat involved in development. Capcom seems to let their Western devs just run with things, which is too extreme.

@Onett: Why, thank you! :D

I don't post on NLife as much as I used to, but I try to make sure I contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way when I do (though I do still post a simple rant on occasion). Although my knowledge is FAR from all-inclusive, I do very much like to try to keep up on gaming news, particularly where it involves Japanese development (because I'm in the American minority that still LIKES their stuff).

Also, you get instant bonus points for an EarthBound-related screen name. ;)

SazMelthic

#29

SazMelthic said:

I would say cut Keji Inafune some slack, I mean I do enjoy some of the Megaman titles but I don't bother being upset about him leaving capcom by causing the cancellation of Megaman Legends 3 to the dust. Would want to be in the same situation if you were a part of a game company and there is no way to make enough sales properly by trying to pleas the fans. Its caused by ether pirating or commonly the ignorant western media that over hypes the same crippled QTS or over used genre that involves with the same one dimensional game what your friends at school keep on bragging about to play online. But someday there should be the open minded variety..

CerealKiller062

#30

CerealKiller062 said:

I say if Nintendo wants to beat out the Call of Duty franchise, make a Metroid game that will really rock the socks off us "Westerners" with an amazing multiplayer. If Capcom wants to make a comeback, stop milking the Resident Evil franchise, or atleast make it a little bit scarier. If SquareEnix wants back with the "Western" audience, NO MORE SEQUALS! MAKE SOMETHING NEW OR YOUR NOT GETTING MY MONEY! Bring back more IP's, push for localization of games that didn't make it to the West before, make new IP's, I don't car, but if the West has not seen it, who knows if it wouldn't like it. America (notice I didn't say West) runs on contraversey. Risk some skin every now and then. Dont't assume, jsut take risks with the West. (Not just America)

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