At his Gamasutra-attended keynote at Tokyo Game Show on Thursday, CESA chairman and Square Enix president Yoichi Wada presented a passionate keynote that addressed the problems of the Japanese game industry head-on.
The executive suggested, in particular, that the country's game biz has "lost its position" as the leader in the global marketplace, and offered some possible solutions for all developers.
In terms incredibly blunt for the director of a Japanese industry association, Wada explained of the local game industry, "We do have issues that we are confronted with. ...We have not been tackling these issues into a straightforward manner."
(He noted that his abstract talk would be difficult for the Japanese-to-English interpreter -- which indeed it was -- but managed to explain adeptly why Japan needs a public "knowledge foundation" to really move forward.)
"We have not ignored these issues," Wada noted, but opined that the American and European markets "have developed very quickly" in recent years, and the Japanese market has not kept up. Game companies are in good shape financially in Japan, but not as successful overseas, apart from select titles.
Wada acknowledged that the "cost has become very high" to develop next-gen titles, but that being a worldwide concern, it is not necessarily the problem. Rather, it's the lack of "hubs" and open communities in Japan that is preventing the industry from moving forward. The CESA chairman believes that, with work, "we can catch up once again."
"Why has the Japanese industry lost its position?" he asked, adding, "I as chairman of CESA shouldn't be saying this, but it's true."
He explained that historically, most of the game console manufacturers were Japanese, and hardware/software alliances were strong. So originally, the "hub" was the Japanese hardware producer such as Nintendo or Sony, and all the game creators interacted through that hub.
Nowadays, not only is Microsoft an exception in terms of hardware creation, but there are many other hubs and communities that have been created.
For example, Wada pointed out that the PC industry has many communities, including the mod community, which helped to create Counter-Strike by having an open exchange of tools and ideas. He noted that such a mod scene doesn't exist in the same form in Japan.
In addition, Western conferences such as GDC are important in allowing creators to communicate with each other directly and in person, Wada said. The CEDEC developer conference is trying to do much more, but "we in Japan are not very adept at making good use of these conferences."
He also pinpointed cross-media collaboration with the film industry and working with universities to educate game developers, as well as middleware and tools companies, as further hubs and communities that users can learn from and be clustered around. Again, he stated that the game business in Japan is "a very closed industry," and having more open networks is key to moving forward.
Wada pointed out that this problem is "not limited to the game industry," but rather structurally to the entire Japanese nation. He went on to look at possible solutions -- mainly an opening up of attitudes.
He specifically referenced the potential "psychological resistance" of the Japanese developer to achievement based on "standing on the shoulders of giants," -- that is to say, using external tools and building on top of them.
The CESA chairman attempted to psychologically define and split out the technical and creative parts of game development, and a key point was to be that overly rigid definitions of roles and a lack of willingness to use outside technology are hobbling Japanese companies.
He referred to "creative engineers" as the idea people might be aiming for, and said once again that "inconsistency in terms of systems" is what is holding the industry back in Japan.
The Japanese development industry tends to want to reinvent technology every time it develops a game. That's a major flaw, Wada claims, noting the belief of Japanese developers that "standardization of the interface can be seen as standardization of content." That's just not true, he argued.
In conclusion, Wada recommended that more translation of relevant content is needed, and that both the Japanese industry and government need to take active steps to further promote communities and hubs based in Japan, with further open collaboration and technology sharing needed.
"Unless we change ourselves within the next few years, maybe there will be no expectations for the [output of the] Japanese gaming industry," he warned. But he was also hopeful, adding, "We still have sufficient time to recapture this leadership."