The Story of Score Studios: Westerners Move East
March 18, 2010 Page 1 of 3
I'm standing in front of Tokyo's Shibuya Station, in the middle of a cheering crowd of radical right-wing nationalists. A man in a black van is shouting about the evil of foreign influence on Japan. I roll my eyes as the speaker spews out a racist stream of historical revisionism and slurs, while never meeting my gaze.
I don't make a habit of attending anti-foreigner rallies; I simply agreed to meet someone in this popular Tokyo neighborhood, and the screaming nationalists just happened to be there too.
It's a little ironic, since the man I'm meeting is James Kay, a Dutch-born British citizen who calls Tokyo home. For all the anti-foreigner hate being screamed, Japan needs more foreigners -- especially those like Kay -- if it wants to fight the double threat of an aging population and declining birth rate. It will take foreign entrepreneurs and workers to save Japan.
Kay and his business partner Paul Caristino are the founders and sole members of Score Studios, a new game development studio.
Both are industry veterans, having both worked as game makers in their native countries and Japan -- Kay at Criterion and Marvelous, Caristino at EA and tri-Ace. Score focuses mostly on iPhone development, though it plans to branch out into PC, Xbox Live Arcade, and PlayStation Network.
Despite the allure that Japan holds for many in the games industry, Kay has no such romantic notions. "If after three years you're taking photos of Shibuya Crossing, there's something going wrong. I'm not here for the Japanese angle. I live in Japan for my own reasons. I work in Japan for my own reasons."
Kay lives in Tokyo not because of any passionate love for Japanese pop culture, video games, or manga, but for more pragmatic reasons. "Every place has its positives and negative. Tokyo comes out on the plus side."
Caristino, who lives in Fukushima Prefecture, chose to stay in Japan for similar reasons. After working as an English teacher in rural Miyagi prefecture, he found himself in Australia once again. "Not much had changed, and I found myself wanting to go back to Japan more and more. I ended up in Tokyo 10 months later at tri-Ace, working as a programmer in their R&D department," he says.
The choice to live in Japan is not, in itself, a particularly exotic or novel one in 2010. While Japan does not have nearly as many foreigners per capita as other major industrialized democracies around the world, expatriates in Tokyo quickly find that they are just one among many.
However, most of the foreigners living legally in Japan are working for someone else. And though many expatriates -- who are willing to leave their home country and make a life elsewhere, are on the whole more adventurous and daring than your average individual -- seem willing or able to brave the Byzantine legal system of Japan and form their own company.
To Kay, there didn't seem to be much of a choice. "I wanted to start a company. I just happened to live in Japan. I live here permanently." The fact that his company was in Japan was inconsequential.
For Caristino, the decision came about as a matter of circumstance. "James was talking about it for a while, and after leaving Tokyo, the prospect of working from home was one I jumped at. It came from long talks about the direction of the company and our own ideas towards game development, and had it been anyone else I doubt I would have done it. You could probably say it was one of those 'right place, right people, right time' things."
Though the fact that Score is based in Japan is almost incidental, Kay did mention that there is at least one added perk to managing a company in Japan. "Once you start a company, you're supporting the welfare state. Employing Japanese, etc. So they won't help you set up a company, but they will prevent you from going bankrupt. The tax office will let you delay payment."
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