1UP: What Japanese Devs Really Think

1UP published a two-part article on what Japanese devs really think.

There’s some pretty interesting feedback here from what the Japanese industry is thinking right now. I’ll offer some comments on the points being raised, based on what I’ve seen here in the country so far. Granted, 6 months of casual observation isn’t exactly the most comprehensive study, but I figure it’ll be interesting to look back on this in 6-12 months.


 

Japan’s business right now is currently ruled by portables, with the home consoles a definite second in terms of hardware and software sales.

I agree. The portable presence I can see is pretty unmistakable. Every day when I’m on public transport, I see at least one person with a portable out. PSPs are definitely getting some love. I see groups of gamers at fast food outlets with their PSPs plugged into the complimentary wall sockets, and they’re usually playing Monster Hunter Portable 3 co-op. Occasionally I see girl gamers with a DSi XL in their hands, usually tricked out with multiple fluro colours. When Pokemon Black / White came out, I came across a Union Room where players could trade, battle and interact with each other:

Shit is crazy.

As for consoles, there’s only so much I can say. The few houses I’ve visited didn’t seem to have any consoles set up beneath their rather expensive TVs (although there was probably a Wii tucked away somewhere, and possibly a PS3 in a kid’s bedroom). My local Bic Camera / Yodabashi Camera puts the portable titles out front giving them primary exposure, followed by Wii titles and PS3 titles, and then Xbox 360 titles waaay up the back. There were some attempts to get Kinect marketing going in stores, but the demo stand was deserted. People appeared slightly more interested in the PlayStation Move, but it’s the Wii version of Taiko no Tatsujin that I regularly saw people giving a bash.

That being said, the 360 still has some kind of presence here. I was surprised to find that some of the kids at my school prefer the 360 because those kinds of games “are more interesting”, and they talk to me about AAA franchises like Halo, GTA and Civilisation. One of them even had a Kinect set up. (However, I suspect his family is very, very well off.)

I’ve seen comments saying that Japan needs to relive the glory days of consoles. I just think that the focus has shifted to portable units because it just so happens that’s where people want to spend their hard earned Yen.

 

“…if you ask me whether I want to be involved with social [i.e. Facebook-style casual] gaming, the answer is no.”

The concept of Facebook doesn’t seem to gel well with the Japanese. The exposure of data and information that can identify you personally is seen as a bit too much. That’s not to say that social networking in Japan is completely non-existent.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule and you’ll see plenty of Japanese people using Facebook – The Social Network, for instance, has helped to increase awareness. But as a platform for driving things like social gaming? It’s hard to say, but it looks like that it could definitely happen, if not already happening, despite the comparatively slow uptake.

So yeah, I agree that Japanese gaming in a social networking environment probably isn’t going to take off overnight. Japanese views on social networking and media need to change.

 

Many Japanese devs are skeptical of the notion…that Japan’s game designers must adapt themselves for the world market or face irrelevance in the game business.

Irrelevance from whose perspective? It appears that Japan’s developers cater to an audience that is accustomed to complex, difficult titles. Japanese gamers are expecting something vastly different to Western gamers – the bar has been raised that much higher here.

Case in point – Mobile Suit Gundam: Bonds of the Battlefield, the arcade game. When I go to my local arcade to play, I usually go in with the mindset to fuck some mechs up, and generally not think too much about it. On the other hand, the regulars that play this game take this shit seriously. I’ve seen other gamers bring a notebook and pen to take notes on how their last match went and evaluate their stats. I’ve heard of subscription services that allow you to view your in-game telemetry online, such as the number of times you’ve fired a certain weapon. I’ve seen flash games that allow you to practise the timing of in-game melee attacks so as to execute the full combo for maximum damage. I’ve seen people do lock-on / melee / grenade combos that would’ve taken days to perfect…and that’s just one mobile suit.

You see what I mean? Gamers here aren’t necessarily the most naturally talented, but they’re persistent enough so that they want to continually improve. Japanese devs feed that hunger. I believe that Western gamers seem to work towards achievements, unlocking items and kill/death ratios.

This market is vastly different to that of a Western market. Western games are slightly more forgiving – there’s auto aim, there are objective markers, there’s simple inventory management. As the Acquire dev said in the article: “Japanese games are all about stressing players out.” I’m of the opinion that if you try that on a Western audience, you’ll find a lot of pissed off gamers venting on their preferred forums about how clunky and complicated the inventory system is, and how shitty the whole package is because it’s just too hard. (Of course there are exceptions – I recall Demon’s Souls got some pretty solid reviews from the West – but it was still a very niche market).

Trying to make games that go against the cultural grain of Japanese gaming can be business suicide. Walk into a shop and peruse the handheld section, and you’ll see a plethora of games all fighting for attention (mostly based on a plethora of anime and manga series that also had to jostle for first place). If a game is not challenging, too short or not engaging, it’ll quickly crash and burn (see above point). The market is saturated and dominated by AAA titles (again, often based on AAA anime and manga). I don’t get any impression of an indie dev scene, although maybe I just haven’t been looking hard enough.

The gamer culture is simply not the same. If Japanese devs wanted to make games for a foreign market, they would simply move to the country of their choice.

 

“…new legislation being debated by the Tokyo metropolitan government could lead to new regulation of Japan’s notorious erotic-game scene.”

Just Tokyo? How about the rest of Japan?

If they were really, truly serious about this, then it’s going to take a looong time before it takes effect. The porn industry here is astounding. At my local convenience store, the porno mags are readily available and pretty explicit, without any attempt to use masking plastic. The culture is firmly set, no matter how shocking it may be to the West – if regulation starts, this will all just go underground. I think it goes without saying that a rating doesn’t automatically take care of your kids.

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One Response to 1UP: What Japanese Devs Really Think

  1. Pingback: News Round-up: June 24, 2010 | pseudo-macro

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