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GDC 2012: Japanese industry has 'lost the tenacity to succeed' says Inafune
GDC 2012: Japanese industry has 'lost the tenacity to succeed' says Inafune
March 7, 2012 | By Simon Parkin

Ex-Capcom designer and founder of Comcept Inc. Keiji Inafune alleged the gap between Japanese game developers and the rest of the world is growing all the time, and the industry must take action or face destruction during an impassioned speech delivered at GDC this evening.

"Back in the day our Japanese games were used to winning and achieved major success," he said. "But at some point the winners became losers. By not accepting that fact we have arrived at the tragic state of Japanese games. The Japanese game industry has become very close-minded."

During the talk, titled The Future of Japanese Games, Inafune reflected on controversial comments he made a few years ago saying that the Japanese game industry is over.

"At the time, everyone in Japan gave me the stink eye for making such a bold statement," he said. "However, these days I am seeing some of those folks are beginning to run out of steam. They are in a situation where they realize that perhaps my prediction was true."

"At that time I was still at Capcom and I believe that they are one of the few Japanese companies that kept up with Western standards," he continued. "We always strove to develop games with a global audience in mind. Because we were able to see the entire global industry we would see things as they were through an unfiltered perspective. I said those words because I wanted to light a fire under the Japanese video game industry before it was too late."

Inafune claimed that his challenge was largely ignored. "The feeling and desire to want to win and come out on top has departed [Japan's games industry]. What efforts are needed to win? It sounds pretty obvious and simple but somehow we the Japanese have forgotten all about how to do that.

"Back in the day our Japanese games were used to winning and achieved major success. At some point the winners became losers. 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 urged the Japanese games industry to admit its failures and return to basics. "Before you can win again, you must first acknowledge your loss. And then be prepared to start over again. For many years Japan was the winning team. Thanks to those victories we became big-headed. As someone who spent many years at a major company I was able to see that first hand. But I am ashamed to admit it but whenever I travel overseas I feel as if Japanese games are becoming a blast from the past. They have become great memories and little more."

"But there is a limit to how much business you can do trading on past glories," he said. "We rarely see new creations from Japan. So we stick to our memories and we ship an HD version. I feel thatís the upper limit that we are showing to users today. It's not what they want."

Inafune claimed that the way out of the current situation is to rebuild Japan's old brands with determination and innovation. "In Japan I believe that we still have some of the power to create brands. But what we don't have are the people who will pour in a huge amount of effort. What we have is the result of us having relied heavily on brands in the past, neglecting efforts to create something new.

"Perhaps those folks running the show in Japan are the ones who simply jumped on the bandwagon and those creations that measured up to global standards were created by our predecessors. We have a lot of those in Japan. Thanks to those folks, 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."

"We must realize the need to develop and rebuild new brands," he said. "It must happen now. It will be too late when our brands no longer hold sway. Time is running out and we should have realized this when I made that bold statement a few years ago. When times are good and you have extra money lying around itís easy to take a few chances and even make mistakes so long as it doesnít effect the bottom line. However, that never leads to true success. Itís probably because you are not determined or fully prepared. When times are rough and tough, who is willing to take on those hardships, to take the hard route."

"Those who succeed never take the easy route. They know success comes after hard work."

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Curtis Turner - IceIYIaN
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Just curious what language do they write their game engines in? English, Japanese? And I'm not sure about their engines, but for English speakers, Valve, id, Epic reveal a ton of code. Once you've got a powerful 3D FPS'er, it's simple enough to slap some third person code on for any angles you want. With map making programs providing the rest of the camera angles.

For myself, the language barrier can easily come up in gameplay. Besides that, genre of game is the main thing I look for.

Overall Japan has strong brands and can easily create new ideas, just like everyone else

Alexander Radkov
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If you mean tools, they're usually in Japanese, not everybody on the team knows English that well. If you mean just code, variable and function names are usually in English and easy to understand, with occasional comments in Japanese.

As for Inafune's talk, I mostly agree with him, but they're other issues we have to consider as well. One problem with many titles in Japan is the target audience. The market is quite different and most teams have to decide do they want to make a global title, or one that targets the Japanese market. For instance, Monster Hunter (Capcom) is huge in Japan, but as far as I know not very popular abroad. Which doesn't mean it's not a good game - it's just different.

k s
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I can't agree more with the last sentence of this article, success really does come from hard work.

Rey Samonte
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I think the culture of Japan has so much to offer still. There was a statement he made though that seems to be cropping up in western developers as well and not just limited to the Japanese. The unwillingness to take risks is evident within our industry too. Look at the recent portfolio of the top publishers and you'll see sequel after sequel released year after year. If we're not careful, we might fall into the same trap.However, I do believe we're in a transitionary period where we are starting to see many independent studios led by AAA veterans coming out of the failed studios who are willing to take that risk and innovate in small and big projects. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

David Holmin
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I would like to know more about the perspective here. Do they talk about sales? Critical reception? Because personally, I think there comes a bunch of great games from Japan, still. Most I don't touch, of course, but that goes for western games, too.

Jack Nilssen
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Wait, did Inafune just validate Phil Fish's comments?

Tawna Evans
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If the well known games from Japan, such as Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy and Metal Gear, continue to sell well, why change them? If it ain't broke...

Perhaps Japan struggles at creating innovative new IP.

Jason Canam
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That's interesting, because in some recent discussions I've had with fellow developers, the question was asked "are there any developers who specialize in creating ONLY new and unique IPs (not including indie devs)?"

And the only answers that we could come up with were Japanese developers (Platinum Games and Grasshopper Manufacture).

E Zachary Knight
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I think that is what Inafune was getting at. While they still do relatively well with tried and true franchises, they are seriously lacking in major investment in new IP.

Alpha Diop
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I'm sure he was thinking about the Final Fantasy series during this speech.

And yes, he did validates Phil Fish's comments, maybe people will give the guy a break now that an actual Japanese agreed with him.

Roderick Hossack
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He was thinking about Capcom. He left the company because the only way he could get them to actually fund a new IP was to force them to complete a full game by overspending on its prototype. That's how we got Lost Planet and Dead Rising. Otherwise, he would have only been making sequels.

Jonnathan Hilliard
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Japan has a huge amount of creative potential, just look at past games, and current style, cultural, art and fashion influences from Japan, the problem is lack of openness to developers and new ideas, inflexibility. Re-hashing the same old games, and not an open large indie developer community.

I'd like to see Japanese indie developers embracing iOS and Android, even steam, and XNA....
and big Japanese publishers should allow cloud publishing of indie games on their platforms.... no more proprietary disc formats.

Steven An
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Demon's/Dark Souls is a pretty awesome new IP. Yeah would love to see more stuff like that.