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 that’s 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 it’s easy to take a few chances and even make mistakes so long as it doesn’t effect the bottom line. However, that never leads to true success. It’s 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."