The Japanese video game industry is not taking the widely-expanding and lucrative digital games market seriously, shoving smaller projects aside to focus on big budget, boxed products.
That is according to outspoken game developer Keiji Inafune, the former Capcom producer and creator of franchises such as Mega Man and Dead Rising. Inafune's 23-year career at Capcom ended late last year, when he resigned amidst complaints that the Japanese games industry was turning passionate, creative workers into "salarymen."
He has since formed two new companies -- a creative think tank called Comcept and a more traditional video game developer called Intercept -- to help turn the tide and bring the once-dominant nation, which he says is "six years behind" Western development, back up to speed, presumably with digital offerings.
"I think that one of the issues is that creators, the top-notch high-profile game creators, don't seem to want to do digital download titles because they're an afterthought, like it's below them," Inafune said in a recent interview on consumer site 1UP.
"The real 'rockstar' Japanese game creators are only going to do more expensive packaged products and a lot of times, even if the idea internally is to do a complimentary digital download game that goes with a packaged product, it's kind of a hassle to try and spend some of your team and resources on a digital download when you want to keep them focused all on the main project at hand.
"So it ends up being delayed or it becomes an afterthought; it's a self-fulfilling prophecy almost."
The prophecy spreads outside of the company too, Inafune argues, saying that consumers will not adopt these afterthought titles because the creators they are fans of don't usually work on them. He says that Japanese publishers don't realize the potential for digital sales because these lower-tier Japanese digital games have not been hits.
"Obviously digital downloads have a lower profit ratio profit margin than a packaged title, so when they're looking at the bottom line and haven't actually had real success to speak of then everybody gets negative," he said. "If just one publisher would start making digital titles that would sell well in the West, then they would realize 'oh, these are very profitable and this is a very good business model that we can go after.'"
Inafune attempted this himself with one of the last titles he worked on at Capcom: Mega Man Universe, a re-imagining of the franchise he helped build, which would be released exclusively through digital channels. That game was canceled shortly after his resignation.
"I was very disappointed at that outcome for several reasons," he said, chief among them that a digital game using a brand name that has value in the west, like Mega Man, could have been a "very important step" for Capcom to take toward embracing the digital market. "Now they're right back where they started a few years ago in not understanding digital content and not [being] able to keep up with the West in that area."
Inafune has not yet announced what his next adventure -- digital game or otherwise -- will be, though he does say that there is one project he hopes to show at this year's Tokyo Game Show, due to be held in September.