If you want to know how free-to-play, mobile, social, and other emerging game industry trends have affected Japan's console game development scene, perhaps Akihiro Suzuki is the best person to speak to. The veteran Koei Tecmo executive and producer is best known for the Dynasty Warriors
and Orochi Musou
franchises, a couple of the best examples of the Japanese game industry's strengths and weaknesses.
Suzuki is not an outspoken critic of Japan's game industry, nor is he unashamedly enthusiastic about the prospect of carrying on making Japanese console games in the traditional vein (at least not compared to his Dead or Alive
colleague Yosuke Hayashi
, who wants to "serve damn good sushi").
Instead, Suzuki offered Gamasutra a perspective that came from the center; critical but not overly harsh, grounded in an understanding of what Japanese developers are good at doing, and what they need to get better at doing.
On social and mobile games
"As a console developer, we can see that the market is shrinking compared to years past, but we know it's not going away. We're not back in the times where the PlayStation 2 was the best-selling console of the year, and to bring numbers back to those days would be really hard, but the Wii U is coming out, which could bring people back in, and the next generation PS3 and Xbox 360 might be on the way, so we can see that the console market isn't going to disappear. With social, mobile, and free-to-play coming up, I think they're going to exist together with consoles. Our numbers might shrink, but they won't take us out.
"Last year, Gree and DeNA were really starting to blow up, and I heard that they were offering much higher salaries, so we definitely saw that people weren't looking towards us but at the social devs instead. This year, well, that seemed to really be a one-off thing, now they don't offer as high salaries, and we don't seem to be affected as much."
"Gree and DeNA weren't making games. They were making games more like the lottery -- things meant to make money, not meant to think about the end-users. Our end-goals seem to be different, and it seems like social companies are hitting a wall here. But there are lots of people here who want to play games on their mobile devices, and if they can change their goals to make better games, I think they can break through that wall."
On the triple-A franchises and the next console generation
"The first few Dynasty Warriors
titles sold well overseas because of the appeal of the central design, I think. But since then, it has been harder to sell. For the numbered versions of Dynasty Warriors
and Orochi Warriors
, we'll expect them to continue on just like Call of Duty
, since in Japan they are top-tier triple-A franchises. But in the overseas market, it's not even mid-class, so we can see that it'll definitely be very hard for the series to survive there, and when it comes to trying to attract a larger audience, we might not be able to do that."
On Japan's industry-wide shrinkage
"The industry does seem to be on a downward trend, and the number of people playing games has decreased, as well as the amount of time the existing user base is playing games. What we need is something to pull people back, and right now what we have isn't enough."