Keiji Inafune, the former head of research & development and global head of production at Capcom told an audience at GDC in San Francisco this evening that his "heart and soul is a lot more healthier and a lot freer" now that he has "gone indie."
Inafune left Capcom in 2010 after 23 years at the company to become an independent game-maker. Later that year he launched a new company called Comcept and, in 2013 a successful Kickstarter project for a game titled Mighty No. 9.
"Watching the Western indie movement over the past few years has given me an example to follow," he said. "There’s a great deal of freedom being indie. I like seeing and feeling like I can do anything. It feels like a return to the golden days."
Inafune described what he meant by "golden days" by explaining how he felt something like an indie developer during his early years at Capcom. "I was assigned to consumer division," he recalled. "We were in a side-building, away from the main arcade division and we were treated as such. Our job was to port whatever was made for the arcade." Eventually the team grew dissatisfied with this conversion work and asked to work on a new title. "Mega Man was the first original title to come from our team."
"In a way, if we’re talking about what is or isn’t indie, for us I would say that was our indie movement," he said. "We were a) not housed in main building and b) not doing what we were supposed to be doing. It’s this passion, heart and soul that we poured into that first product that I think shows where the heart of indie lies."
Inafune described his experience of launching the Kickstarter in 2013, and the difficulties for Japanese developers hoping to appeal to Japanese players to back projects. "After the campaign finished I received a huge number of letters and emails from other Japanese developers," he said. "Around half of them had never heard of Kickstarter. If the game industry in Japan doesn’t know about it, then certainly normal citizens wouldn’t."
For Inafune the theme of Mighty Number 9 is breaking down the walls, which he sees as being mirrored in the project's impact itself. "Being the first to do a successful Kickstarter in Japan was an act of breaking the walls," he said. "I hope that when the game comes out it will also break down the wall to reveal the business potential of crowd-funding and digital distribution to other Japanese developers."
Inafune believes that the slowly emerging indie movement in Japan might be the key to the nation's return to the forefront of the game industry. "We are a small country with limited resources and limited people," he said. "In older generations, Japanese made things work by being creative, not by being resource-rich. I feel like that situation is similar to where we indies are today in Japan.
"We may work better with restrictions and limitations because, when that situation is in front of us, we are very creative. I feel like the indie situation today will push our nation to be much more creative direction. Perhaps we will find the next Japanese video game creator hero in this era? I feel that there is a small light that will grow into something bigger in the future. I hope we can push that forward."