[In the first part of an informative two-part Gamasutra series, pseudonymous Japan-based game creator JC Barnett looks at exactly how Western developers can enter Japanese game development, with tips on how to apply, visas, savings, language prerequisites, and more.]
If you work in game development it is likely you enjoy playing games yourself. If you have that passion for games so many developers advertise for in job listings it is also quite likely you’ll have an opinion on Japanese games. If you are like the vast majority of people that inhabit our internet it is also quite likely that opinion is fairly positive, bordering on idolatry and adoration.
As such I wouldn’t be surprised at all if you have, at some point in your life, considered the possibility of moving to Japan to be part of the Great Japanese Development Machine. You may have only toyed with the idea, dismissing it as too radical a move, or maybe you’ve been put off by the many obstacles you perceived standing in your way. Well, I am here to tell you it doesn’t have to be a pipe dream.
Moving to Japan and breaking into the industry here is absolutely possible and a lot less difficult than you may imagine, but you need to be informed; you need to know what you’re getting into and, if you still decide it is something you really want to do, how to go about it.
There are foreign developers in Japan, quite a few actually. I keep hearing of other foreigners working in other companies, and aside from my own circle of friends and contacts who meet up occasionally to blow off steam over expensive beers, there are a few groups that stay in touch. That said, there aren’t many of us. Most foreigners I know are the only foreigner at their company and if they’re not they’re usually the only Western foreigner there.
There seems to be a fair influx of Korean developers, a lot of whom are strongly involved with games, anime and manga. Chinese too are represented, but also in low numbers. Companies with whole groups of foreigners are the exception and even if you count all non-Japanese nationals as foreign, as you should, our numbers are still ridiculously small. But we’re here and we may be increasing our membership. I, for one, hope we will.
Whatever the reasons we happy few have for packing up all our belongings and moving to a different country, away from friends and family to start life anew, there is no single overriding factor. Be it an unrequited love for manga, a significant other (escape from, acquiring or placating thereof) or simply being desperate to work in the industry responsible for so many of your good memories, your reasoning had better be resolute; it is quite an undertaking that will take up a lot of time and effort. What are some of the better reasons to consider such a drastic move?
For one, you’ll be learning another language and experiencing a new and vastly different culture than your own. This kind of cultural exchange can broaden the mind. You’ll see a bit of the world, or at the very least experience clock-watching in an open-plan office in a country other than your own. You’ll add valuable experience to your resume which can help you stand out from the crowd should you ever decide to move back home. Apart from anything else it’s a bit of an adventure.
On top of that, life in Japan can be pretty rewarding, with delicious foods, relatively low crime rate and an open mind when it comes to tobacco and alcohol consumption. Where else in the world can a drunk man fall asleep in the middle of the street and wake up with his clothes and wallet in tact? And though some things can be more expensive in Japan than elsewhere, with a decent tax rate to offset the non-existent bank interests, it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to carve out a comfortable existence.