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[Independent developer Keiji Inafune talks about his new studio concepts, Comcept and Intercept, his feelings on social games, why Japan's publishers are struggling and how "there needs to be something that gets that feeling back."]
Keiji Inafune, best known for his roles in the creation of franchises ranging from Mega Man to Dead Rising, in recent years became an increasingly outspoken critic of the Japanese video game industry.
With his 23-year-long history at Capcom, a company he left last year to pursue independent interests, Inafune is a custodian of the Japanese video game industry. With every bit of public criticism Inafune leveled at the homeland -- whether he was talking about the "awful" Japanese games at Tokyo Game Show, or how the Japanese games industry is "changing its creators into salarymen" -- people listened.
This is after all, one of the most veteran, accomplished and well-known game makers not only in Japan, but worldwide. His opinion counts.
But his criticisms against the Japanese video game industry were colored with a tinge of irony, considering his employment with Osaka-based publishing giant Capcom. While Capcom has been one of the few Japanese publishers to find solid success in the West in recent years, it certainly was not -- and is not -- in a position to be one of those small, risk-taking entities that innovates from the fringe.
Inafune's divorce from Capcom was an indication that he was ready to shed any hypocrisy in his criticisms, and strike out on his own, changing himself back from a salaryman into a creator once again.
You've talked a lot about Japan's game industry and its difficulties. What do you think it will take to get back on track?
Keiji Inafune: It feels like things have just settled down -- or to put it another way, that people just aren't hungry enough any longer. There aren't as many companies, or managers of development studios, that really want to succeed or accomplish something, so there needs to be something that gets that feeling back.
Do you think there needs to be a bigger kind of economic crash within games before people realize the need for this rebuilding?
KI: There might be something to that idea, but talking about economic issues, that's something that is affecting the whole world at the moment, although Japan has had it worse due to the earthquake.
Essentially, though, that isn't as important as the fact we need a game, or something, to give us more courage to go in that direction, and the problem is that game can't be made.
Something that struck me when watching American movies or playing their games is that there's consistently a strong hero who's always the central point of the story. This has been the case for decades, and for games as well.
No matter how bad the economic situation is, there's always that hero, and he helps people and saves the world without really being employed by anyone to do so. That's right at the forefront. A hero who's separate from the economy.
And Hollywood, at the core, keeps putting out these hero stories, and the result of that is you have a nation who thinks to itself "I want to be like that." Compared to the U.S., though, I don't think Japanese games and other media really present that sort of hero to the audience. There were lots of those back when I was a kid, though. So it's a bit of a strange way of putting it, but I think the problem lies in the hearts of the creators. There are other issues, as well, but that's how I feel.
The lead character of Inafune's new game KAIO: King of Pirates for Nintendo 3DS. Is this the hero Japan needs?
Do you feel that management structures in Japanese game companies support the creative development of younger people?
KI: In terms of support, or to go back to the previous topic, in terms of whether they recognize creators as the "heroes" here, that isn't happening. For example, in the U.S., Medal of Honor was a huge hit as a series, and in response to that, Call of Duty started up in hopes of becoming even bigger. It succeeded, of course.
Now, in terms of this recognition, there are several ways management can represent it to creators -- in terms of how they treat the studio, how much money there is to work with -- but the end result is that, because they feel recognized, the creators want to do even better with the next game they make. It's a free sort of approach that, maybe, you could say reflects the whole "freedom" of the country -- everyone sees the respect they're paid, and everyone wants to do better.
In social games, you have outfits like Zynga that blew it out of the park from the very beginning -- they have that hunger, they want to be the heroes, and it's something the management recognizes and nurtures.
In Japan, meanwhile, even if you take the hero role, what it gets you is interviews like this one -- it's not like your salary goes up or anything. You don't get much reward for your effort. You get massive amounts of responsibility -- the responsibility to take this game and make it sell X copies -- but not much in terms of respect. That's why we can't give birth to heroes.
It's the classic style in Japan to respect the company as a whole and not the individuals that contribute to it. It's a hard environment for creators to be noticed in. Especially with the current state of the industry -- it's never been totally destroyed before. There are multiple revolutions through the years in all kinds of other industries, movies and so forth, but games is still a young industry, so that hasn't happened.