Inafune calls Japanese industry 'very closed-minded'

Keiji Inafune gives a GDC talk on Japanese game development, suggesting that it needs to build new brands rather than relying on the old ones.

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Former Capcom designer Keiji Inafune has been vocal about Japanese game development for quite a while. The creator of Mega Man left Capcom amid sharp criticism that the Japanese games industry was creatively stagnating. Inafune's talk at this year's Game Developers Conference, titled "The Future of Japanese Games," was no less critical of his home turf.

"Back in the day our Japanese games were used to winning and achieved major success," he said, according to a report from Gamasutra. "By not accepting that fact we have arrived at the tragic state of Japanese games. The Japanese game industry has become very closed-minded."

Inafune said that people in Japan were critical of his comments, but these days they are "beginning to run out of steam" and see some merit to his prediction. He claims he wanted to "light a fire under the Japanese game industry before it was too late."

"I am ashamed to admit it but when I travel overseas I feel as if Japanese games are becoming a blast from the past," he said. "They have become great memories and little more. But there is a limit to how much business you can do trading on past glories. We rarely see new creations from Japan. So we stick to our memories and we ship an HD version."

He suggests that the Japanese industry should create new brands and foster talent that will be interested in creative control. "Thanks to [our predecessors], here we are today. But leaders of the Japanese game industry must think about developing and rebuilding the brands, not simply maintaining or sustaining the brands."

Inafune is getting back into original game creation himself, having announced Kaio King of Pirates and the social mobile game The Island of Dr. Momo.

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  • reply
    March 8, 2012 9:15 AM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, Inafune calls Japanese industry 'very closed-minded'.

    Keiji Inafune gives a GDC talk on Japanese game development, suggesting that it needs to build new brands rather than relying on the old ones.

    • reply
      March 8, 2012 9:38 AM

      I wonder if part of this is just the Japanese culture of not allowing young talent to have some control and say in the game creation process? I mean, Nintendo hit gold with Miyamoto because he seems to have this inextinguishable creative spark... he seems to be able to keep making amazing games and not get jaded. But he is an anomaly. I've never lived in Japan and I probably don't know enough about their culture to speak about it intelligently, but I do get the feeling that in the business world (even the gaming business world) of Japan.. they are very traditional and strict... and that doesn't seem like a good environment for creativity. If you are trying to make games by the numbers, through a committee, and based on formula's from past successes... that can only work for so long. When the gaming industry was younger over there (and just in general) there were probably a lot of young and talented people making those games we remember from the early days of Nintendo, Sega, Konami etc... but those guys are older now and the companies have gotten bigger and it has become more about the business and less about the games. Hopefully, as the older titans crumble and fall, smaller and more creative studios pop up to to take over... then we'll start seeing great games coming from Japan again. Sometimes you need a shake-up and a bit of fallout to shed the dead skin and start fresh.

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        March 8, 2012 9:46 AM

        It's really quite odd considering they have a living arcade cuture (afaik anyway) with all kinds of off-beat games. Or maybe it's because of that... *shrug* I dunno.

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      March 8, 2012 9:40 AM

      Well said. I still want those HD collections though.

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      March 8, 2012 9:59 AM

      Its a weird combo - theres a lot of respect for the idea of the artist/creator as an individual force (channeled via his team; everything's a team sport in japan), but the process-based stuff does seem slow-moving and heavily hierarchichal by default. That doesnt mean companies dont work outside those trends though, Im sure From Software isnt run like one of the big japanese banks. And theres no way any MGS story would get out of the building without a lot of that first part.

      Theres a big tradition of self-reflection in popular japanese culture, so its not like people ignore what makes things different there, but there certainly is a lot of inertia in business culture (things like being aware of who should/shouldnt talk at a meeting depending on the importance of people there, who has spoken etc. rather than the western free-for-all almost up to the executive level (and note 'almost')).

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        March 8, 2012 9:59 AM

        oops, meant as reply to Gwyndion on Japan

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        March 8, 2012 11:53 AM

        I think your last point is more towards what I have in mind. In Corporate US a lot of companies have a fairly 'flat' hierarchy... meaning.. it isn't necessarily professional suicide for a young/new employee to speak his mind. In fact... being outspoken, fearless, creative and aggressive is actually rewarded in the US (as long as you are being respectful and not obnoxious). In a lot of other cultures this isn't the case. I know in Germany (I lived there for 5 years) there is definitely more of the feeling like... "I'm the boss, you don't speak unless I say you speak.. and go me a coffee". And I could see it being that way to a point in Japan... because of the kind of respect for elders built into their culture etc. I know game companies tend to differ from the norm a little bit... but maybe over time with the companies getting bigger and the average age of employees getting higher... some of these companies are becoming more... traditional.. over time... and it's hurting them in some ways.

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      March 8, 2012 10:03 AM

      This is the GDC of shitting on Japan, it seems.

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        March 8, 2012 12:13 PM

        Japanese games just suck, man.

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        March 8, 2012 12:21 PM

        thing is this guy has earned the right to say what he says about Japanese devs; he's got a bunch of games under his belt, both as a developer and a producer. Mega man 2 was made in basically everyone's free time in a year and ends up being one of the best NES era platfomers.

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      March 8, 2012 12:25 PM

      I agree with him but I also would rather not see them try and just copy the western model either like Capcom seems to be doing. They need to be able to advance their industry while maintaining stuff like the styling, world views and characterization that usually sets Japanese games apart from western games.

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      March 8, 2012 1:03 PM

      How is this different than the western games industry?

      Call of Duty?

      Madden?

      Halo?

      Gears?

      Resistance?

      Ass-Creed?

      Any racing game?

      God, I'm not even scratching the surface. How much of this is just perception, and how much of it is reality?

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        March 8, 2012 1:05 PM

        That's like the last 10-12 years of games for those titles, less for some of those. The Japs have been going on for longer.

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        March 8, 2012 1:18 PM

        Take any and all of the PC titles developed in the last 20 years because almost none of those were japanese.

        So let's see, EverQuest, Ultima Online, World of Warcraft, Portal, Team Fortress 2, League of Legends, almost anything using Flash or Facebook games, major mobile titles.

        What they have is a very myopic set of games they like producing. RPGs, fighters and wackadoodle fun ones (Anything on the Wii, horse dating simulators, Katamari Damacy, etc.) You will never see anything multiplayer come out of the country besides Mario Party or Mario Kart. They aren't going to make a CS or TF with a large dedicated mp community or a large scale fighting game like Battlefield or Planetside.

        Sometimes they come out with an exception to these rules, maybe an Ico or Okami here or there. But for the most part, they don't have an indie scene like the western world where new game ideas are incubated in flash format (Angry Birds/any TD game), as a mod(CS,TF, DOTA) , pc (Minecraft) or mobile.

        Also, there is almost no cross pollination with developers from Japan to the west. I've never even seen a resume from someone who worked in Japan at a game company. Yet I've routinely seen them from all over europe, canada, australia and even china.

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          March 8, 2012 1:54 PM

          I can definately say, there is almost no PC game community here in Japan. A lot of it is chicken and egg though... probably something like 90% of PC games never get translated to Japanese. And why would they get translated, with a market so small?

          My point though, wasn't neccesarily about a specific platform or innovations on a platform... just that, there are plenty of stale brands in the west that follow the same pattern than Japan has followed.

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        March 8, 2012 2:12 PM

        I'm not sure you're making the point you wanted. You listed a bunch of franchises which are relatively new (modern CoD is a very different beast from pre MW) and selling multi millions with each new release, generally garnering critical acclaim. While they're sequels they also often add new and innovative modes when they themselves were innovative from the start too. Halo proved console FPS worked and many other things, then added great online MP, map editing tuned for consoles. Gears made the modern cover system and horde multiplayer mode. Assassin's Creed did free roaming parkour like no one ever before and then added some pretty innovative MP. Bringing up sports and racing games just aren't very good examples since his criticisms were about new IP and those titles are inherently ever improving simulations of something that exists.

        Make a similar list of Japanese IP created in a similar timeframe, especially in the current generation. What have they influenced? How have they significantly improved on earlier games and influences? How have they adapted to the global market place, online features, etc?

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          March 8, 2012 2:52 PM

          You make a lot of excellent points, and I can't disagree with them. I will point out one thing to consider though...

          The very innovations you pointed out, are also innovations in a genre that most Japanese gamers have no interest in. Namely, first person shooters. I wouldn't expect a western developer to innovate (or even attempt to create) a modern fighting game like Tekken or Street Fighter, any more than I would expect a Japanese developer to create or innovate on the next GTA or Halo.

          Not because Japan or the West doesn't have the "know how"... obviously Valve or Blizzard or someone else could create a Soul Caliber. And Japan could easily license the Unreal Engine to make an FPS, and iterate it into something decent (see Platnum Games' Vanquish). But the original DESIRE to even create said genres in said territories doesn't even occur to the developers.

          So if you look within those territory specific genres, I do think you see some good innovation. Street Fighter 4 is this generation, and is really the first modern fighter with online play. Looking at the RPG genre, Final Fantasy has a incredibly innovative combat system. Another would be Monster Hunter, a game not popular in the west, but hugely popular here (and with good reason). Dark Souls is another. Ninja Gaiden, Bayonetta, Metal Gear Solid (which had AMAZING online play BTW), and El Shaddai. There are also other niche titles like Persona and Deadly Premonition. Pixel Junk series and uhh... god, I can't remember the name... The Rez revamp.

          I would argue that a lot of the games I mentioned have something unique and original, or even innovative, going for them. BUT, many are also not big sellers to the U.S. mainstream audiences... and so I think people forget that they exist.

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            March 8, 2012 3:21 PM

            Well, to start, we're painting with a broad brush so obviously there will be exceptions on both sides. You bring up Demons/Dark Souls which is a great new IP with some innovative ideas. At the same time, it does exactly what you're saying many Japanese devs won't do which is address the global audience. Obviously those games didn't sell 5 million but they had solid critical and sales success despite being somewhat weird and undeniably Japanese. They took some of those traditional mechanics like memorization and moved them into a more modern format and saw a lot of success with it, appealing to fans of Elder Scrolls more than Final Fantasy.

            Final Fantasy is an example where they really haven't innovated enough or in the right way. Yes there's a new combat system. There's always a new combat system. But otherwise they have constantly gotten trapped in similar methods that have seen JRPGs as a genre practically disappear outside Japan. It wasn't long ago (PS2 era) that that was a vibrant, blockbuster genre and not only because of the FF franchise. Now their most recent entries are getting panned by critics and the rest have faded away (remember the push for JRPGs on 360 early this generation? then it turned out that genre simply isn't producing on any platform anymore).

            Ninja Gaiden did a great reimagining of the franchise last generation. Since then? Rehash, rehash, rehash. After an initial flurry people are no longer excited for new ones because all they've done is kept released NG 2 6 Sigma HD Remix or whatever the fuck and seemingly getting worse except with the graphics. Compare that to the God of War franchise. What happened to Devil May Cry? Bayonetta was a good effort but sp ridiculously Japanese they lost out on a lot of mainstream appeal.

            You mention MGS but like GT and Team Ico who were consistent performers last generation (each getting 2 titles done in a reasonable time frame after the PS2 launch) they've struggled to maintain mindshare now. It's crazy how forgotten the MGS franchise is when people talk about exclusives.

            One you didn't mention was Resident Evil. With 4 they managed to stay true to their roots in a lot of ways and find that global appeal to get a huge seller. Then 5 felt like a cash in and 6's anticipation seems muted as a result. The 3DS version got mediocre reviews as it tried to just rehash the console games into a control scheme that didn't fit. I think that's where Inafune and co are wondering what's going on. There's clearly opportunity for some of these shops to do great work, and some of them are delivering, but a lot only in the context of existing IP. Ninja Gaiden has plenty of appeal at a conceptual level. Is it that hard to take it somewhere new with less awful 1990 era Japanese story telling? Resident Evil got off the tank controls and it worked. So isn't there a new IP you could try to build with some of those ideas and escape the shackles of existing RE tropes? Likewise for JRPGs, they're all so locked in to building the same type of game as always and when they tried to understand what it was that was missing and making western RPGs more successful they failed to understand.

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              March 8, 2012 6:11 PM

              Agreed about RE and Ninja Gaiden. Original and cool in their first few iterations, but then start to get stale. Which is Inafune's point, I think. And my point is, the Western market has the same problem. (Noone can convince me that Ass-creed is not the same game, from game to game :P ) BUT, in both markets, we ARE getting innovation from developers. But I feel like a lot of the criticism towards Japanese developers is due to people just not playing their games... because tastes are different between territories.

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                March 8, 2012 6:24 PM

                Assassin's Creed has done exactly what those Japanese franchises have failed to do. They expanded significantly, adding lots of new gameplay options, an innovative multiplayer mode, and now with the next iteration completely switching up the locale/tone. They certainly churned out a game or two more than necessary per se but they didn't just straight up rehash the same things, add some new areas, etc. Like RE5 added some basic co op and...? Co op wasn't full of interesting 2 player specific puzzles, there weren't a slew of new mechanics or anything, it was just new areas and new mercenary maps. And then they did the same for the 3DS and then that multiplayer game looks very much like a standard shooter with an RE skin.

                Peoples' tastes differ and there will always be some crazy Japanese games that have no appeal here and aren't meant to. But in the past those developers were finding IP and implementations that reached beyond Japan. The world has only gotten more interconnected and more influenced by every other culture and yet their reach in gaming has shrunk. There are more people than ever in the US who've watched anime, played JRPGs, etc so why are JRPGs suddenly so unsuccessful compared to the past?

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                  March 8, 2012 7:36 PM

                  Aside from the Persona and Final Fantasy series, I would be hard pressed to name any JRPGs. Though, Dark Souls might be construde as one.

                  It's funny though, because if you go to the PSP or DS section of any electronics shop here in Japan, you will see 5000 JRPGs on the shelf. But the PS3 section is strikingly barren of JRPGs. Even Sony's own "Game Design Chief" Shuhei Yoshida was mentioning ( http://www.wired.com/gamelife/2012/02/shuhei-yoshida-dice-interview/ ) that Japanese developers focused on PSP development over next-gen... partly due to the amount of resources it takes to create a next-gen console game. Makes sense... JRPGs weigh in at 40 hours or more of gameplay... when you multiply that by the amount of resources to required to make a next-gen (current-gen) console game, your costs skyrocket.

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                    March 8, 2012 7:57 PM

                    Dark Souls is a Japanese RPG, but not a JRPG ;)

                    Interesting note about the DS and PSP. While the dev resources are one factorl if I were to be cynical I might point out that those systems also let you get away with rehashing previous gen ideas in a much more acceptable way than you could on current gen consoles

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              March 8, 2012 7:06 PM

              Bayonetta drew me in, and I traditionally play PC FPS games. I originally wasn't going to get it because I didn't have a console, and then after I got the PS3, I checked out the quick look, and said, "Damn, that looks fun and insane." Being ridiculously Japanese was sort of an asset, admittedly, and Bayonetta as a character struck a chord. The Sega homages were also something special; I never had a Sega Master System or a Genesis, but I did play on a Space Harrier arcade system once (and went into "game over" after two minutes), so that Space Harrier remake chapter was a nice trip down memory lane. Definitely not for everybody; I have a friend who tried it, but couldn't get into it. But it did sell over a million on launch, and has a bit of a cult following, and commonly gets called up in discussions of bizarre insane gameplay.

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            March 8, 2012 3:28 PM

            Vanquish was on Platinum's internal engine, not Unreal Engine 3. You might be thinking of Shadows of the Damned, which Shinji Mikami also worked on, and WAS on Unreal Engine 3.

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              March 8, 2012 5:58 PM

              Woops, you're right, I was thinking of the Havok Physics engine.

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            March 8, 2012 6:44 PM

            most of them aren't even big sellers in their country of origin. in fact I'm pretty sure that, for some of those titles, the US versions sold more than the japanese versions.

            and, no offense, but I think monster hunter, FF, and SF4 are pretty poor examples of innovation in the japanese section of the industry.

            I'm not about to wholeheartedly throw my weight behind the idea that the western part of the industry not being fairly stagnant as well, but the Japanese industry is almost on an entirely different level of stagnation. In the US you can see the signs of poor health and decline... but there's still a pretty big chance for shit to turn around. In the Japanese industry, you can already smell the rotting corpses. A lot of huge developers and publishers in japan are probably in real danger of just being straight up gone by the time everything recovers over there (and with the performance we've seen them put up in the past few years, I say good riddance). Many already are long-gone, basically. It's that bad.

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              March 8, 2012 7:01 PM

              also: keep in mind when you're defending the japanese industry, you aren't necessarily defending the efforts of japanese developers, and the same goes for the US industry. and the same goes for attacks, as well (which, by the way, is why it's even more stupid for people to construe Phil Fish's comment on the matter as being personally insulting)

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              March 8, 2012 7:22 PM

              Which developers do you think are already gone?

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                March 8, 2012 7:45 PM

                well, maybe this doesn't count, but the consolidations of enix, square, and namco were all pretty significant, and those companies could easily be argued to basically no longer really exist in the capacity they once did. Hell even the Sega-Sammy merger probably had some effect on that company. Some others were bought outright, like hudson and taito. Some have basically evacuated the industry or folded completely, like Compile and Irem (they're bit players though, and not entirely worth mentioning). Not all of these are significant names, but they all produce fewer real traditional video games these days.

                anyway I don't like to get too much into business analysis 'cause I'm terrible at that (and I recognize also that what's good for games isn't necessarily good for business, at least in the short term), I'm just most aware at what games are being produced by these guys compared to the past, and it's... not a lot of good stuff!

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      March 8, 2012 3:18 PM

      at least hes recognizing it

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