Japanese game makers five years behind - Inafune

Capcom developer says TGS showed "everyone's making awful games," Lost Planet 2 was "too Japanese" to appeal in the West.

The last decade has seen the balance of power in the gaming industry shift Westward. American company Microsoft carved out a beachhead in the console wars, while developers like Scotland's Rockstar North and California's Infinity Ward have been responsible for phenomenally successful series like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty.

Inafune thinks the Japanese gaming industry has serious problems.

The trend has not been lost on Japanese game makers. Square Enix president Yoichi Wada kicked off the 2008 Tokyo Game Show by likening Japanese publishers to heavy smokers that won't change their habits until a doctor gives them a diagnosis of terminal cancer. This year's Tokyo Game Show played host to a similarly glum assessment of the Japanese development community, this one from Capcom managing director Keiji Inafune.

Speaking with the New York Times, Inafune said, "I look around Tokyo Games Show, and everyone's making awful games; Japan is at least five years behind." He was particularly critical of game designers who find success in a genre and then stick to their established formula, saying that approach no longer works.

The industry's woes are by no means limited to creative shortfall. According to Inafune, there isn't enough financial support behind Japan-developed games as well.

"The business side is not keeping up with investment," Inafune said. "You need to be prepared to invest ¥4 billion ($47 million) or more on a game, and then spend ¥2 billion ($23.5 million) more to promote it. But Japanese companies can't do that. So we're losing out to the West in terms of investment in games. It's a vicious cycle, a deflationary spiral. Because you don't invest, you can't sell games, and because you don't sell games, you can't invest."

While Capcom has had success in the West in recent years with hits like Resident Evil 5, Super Street Fighter IV, and Dead Rising, Inafune said the publisher was "barely keeping up" with the changing industry. Lost Planet 2 in particular was a step back for the company, as Inafune called the developers who made it "misguided." He said they made it too much like Monster Hunter, which is exceptionally popular in Japan but has met with limited success in Europe and North America.

"I want to make games that travel overseas, but Capcom hasn't taken globalization seriously," Inafune said. "I want to study how Westerners live, and make games that appeal to them."

Inafune also pointed to other Japanese game makers who are succeeding. He noted Nintendo's leadership organization, saying 80 percent of the company's board of directors came from a development background and understand what is needed. He also praised Dragon Quest IX and Professor Layton developer Level 5 as forward-looking, saying, "In the future, they're going to top us."

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698 comments
ant_4everlove
ant_4everlove

One of Japan's main competency has always been "copy from others but keep your own flavor and re innovate and evolve" and i hope their gaming industry talks about globalisation along these lines. For Christ's sake I do not want to see japanese Halos and CODs in the future and see them partake in a "see who can produce more shooters" competition with the west. There should be a distinguishing line of divide between East and West and i do not want this line blurred.

ant_4everlove
ant_4everlove

the day of Christ's 2nd coming will be the day when a westernized Japan gaming industry starts pumping out mindless shooters and the global trend becomes "if it isn't a gun shooting in first person view then it's not a game. " That will also be the day i quit gaming for good

MurderMode
MurderMode

@Alex_09 I pulled it from my own experience, I own alot of games and of the ones that maintain a large online player bases (which gives me a benchmark to go by, I don't raid peoples houses and check out their stash) generally follow these kind of trends. I like all kinds of games dude, western or otherwise, it's just that Inafune is talking about studying 'western' gamers so japan can create more sales-chart topping games... and these are the key things I think he would find... how do you disagree with me? What do you think are key factors that make a western game different to a japanese one?

drswank
drswank

I've noticed my own tastes shifting recently. I'm playing a lot more Western games than Japanese games. Games like Fallout 3, Borderlands, Red Dead, and BF:BC2 have taken up a lot of my time over the last couple years. I realized once I started getting into FFXIII and RE5, things just felt different. Japanese games do feel a little "behind" to me nowadays. Inafune definitely hit the nail on the head and recognizes that. I love Japanese devs like Capcom and Konami...I hope they can learn to one-up the western devs soon.

anthonycg
anthonycg

I just hope they don't take the easy route and just produce crappy baby games every year. We have enough mindless shooters as it is. How about some adventure games, or platformers, or even a freakin puzzle game. Something other than shooting anyone that doesn't look like me...

XDan15
XDan15

I remember reading an article about SE and about how they view a RPG story line. One of the developers said that "Japanese want to watch the action happen, while the West want to be part of the action." I think this explains a little why they are falling behind. The Japanese game companies look to satisfy the Japanese players but still hope the game will sell well around the world. Where lets face it we want to be the hero of the story not the loser on the side lines. P.S I been a FF fan since 9, last good one was 10 and ever since then it just got worse

OaklandRaiderz
OaklandRaiderz

i'm starting to dislike the "westernization" of video games. soon everything will be in first person view or 3rd person over the shoulder view and will include some kind of multiplayer mode just to appeal to us. i havent played a good j-rpg or j-anything in quite some time...except for tales of symphonia and skies of arcadia.

Alex_09
Alex_09

@MurderMode ... Where did you pull that information out of? There are plenty of tough games that were made in the West, and most games offer difficulty levels that let you decide how hard the game is. Japanese games are less popular because far too many of them are the same, and the art style is almost always identical. Also, too many of them are RPGs or just Nintendo games. I'd say there is a lot more originality in Western games.

danielkennedy91
danielkennedy91

the only japanese games i like was MGS series and Demon Souls, the rest of my games collection is western

holyghost87
holyghost87

I agree that SE has fallen behind in cr8s/developes/publishes good games

Kyozumi
Kyozumi

Personally I think Capcom and Konami are the only pair of Japanese Companies doing well . They constantly pump out high quality games worth your buck and due to that , they are pretty much leaving Old timers like Square Enix in the dust . I think its not Capcom that has to improve , It is square Enix . To all FF fanboys : Believe when I say SE is the company declining .

king_loei
king_loei

@Yomigaeru , Demon's Souls is actually a poor example for the point you're trying to make. I see what you're saying, but games like Okami and Demon Souls appeal to a more hardcore audience - Demon Souls in particular is infamous for its high level of difficulty. Games like Guitar Hero, no matter how much they're milked, appeal to a casual audience. The 'casual' group is far larger then the audience of gamers who are attracted to titles like Demon Souls. It's about money, and the money, in this case, is with casual gamers. Not that Western games are necessarily of a lower quality, Call of Duy, as unoriginal as it has become, is a very well made game. It's simply that the majority of Japanese games are made for a minority audience. Remember that some Japanese games have done well for themselves, though - Little Katamari, for example. Little Katamari was, however, aimed at a casual audience. On a completely unrelated note, I thought that the reason Lost Planet 2 did poorly in sales was not due to its unrecognized high quality by Western markets, but a weak storyline and variety of glitches. I haven't played it myself, however, so I can not verify this.

MurderMode
MurderMode

For the most part... ...western gamers are lazy. They don't want a challenge, they want to win. They want to be macho, modern things like soldiers, criminals and rockstars to feel like they are getting even with the world. They want simple games that you can jump in and cause a ruckus no matter how new you are to it, they want games that have crutches (op weapons, skills etc) that level the playing field and of course if it suits they want a decent sized multiplayer base so they can always find someone else to kill. Yes... I like japanese games. BUT I also enjoy (and mostly play) western games like modern warfare, etc.... all these games have their place... but if japan wants to eclipse the world market again unfortunately these are the kind of things they would need to address. Personally I'd rather they didn't, we don't need two wests.

Yomigaeru
Yomigaeru

For the record, Lost Planet 2 is one of the most enjoyable games I've played in a long time. It satisfies my desire to play a fun third person shooter, and it throws in fun battles with gigantic monsters. In fact, the ONLY reason I have yet to pick up Monster Hunter Tri is because I've been playing Lost Planet 2. Just because the Japanese devs are behind Westerners in sales, it doesn't mean Western games are of a better quality. They simply cater more to public. Okami, for instance, is one of my top ten games of all time...but I'm not foolish enough to believe it could ever outsell a Call of Duty title, regardless of the quality. It's all business...and the consumer is rewarding sequels and rehashes, not innovation and creativity. Seriously, has Demon's Souls sold as many copies as ANY Guitar Hero sequel? I'm looking forward to Asura's Wrath, by the way. It likely won't be a commercial blockbuster, unfortunately.

blazetiger89
blazetiger89

man, these are some old cats putting comments out. i'm only 12, and i just love this disscussion. i haven't been around that long at all.

NukleaWorfair
NukleaWorfair

Things go in cycles. The west is moving things forward in the gaming industry, but it had to take that for the Japanese to take a look at themselves to realize where they are going wrong. Then the Japanese will make more great games until the West hit a point and wonder where they are going wrong.

mull20641
mull20641

@BrakeyM No!!! That is exactly what we are trying to avoid. The last thing that we need is more Call of Duty style shooters with no creativity. They don't do as well but games that are stylish and think outside the box are the best ones. How many people would call COD6 one of the best games ever? Let's promote genuinely awesome games :D

mull20641
mull20641

I really think capcom is leaving other Japanese dev's in the dust. They seem to be pumping out many high-quality games every year, and other companies can't keep up.

Dynamo11
Dynamo11

These devs aren't stupid, they can see that the West is WAY more prominant in gaming than, say 10 years ago.

Shinkada
Shinkada

I agree that Japanese game devs are behind, but I disagree with his reasoning. Lost Planet 2 is an example of the GOOD games Japan comes up with. Ruthlessly challenging, unforgiving, and thus very satisfying, lots of weapons, lots of customization. In fact it even had a lot of Western influences, such as a decent emphasis on cover, and co-op, which are not things I associate with 'typically Japanese' games. LP2 did poorly because it's not the kind of game that can do well. Any game that challenging will only appeal to people who like challenging games. Inafune's right on the ball with saying it was heavily inspired by Monster Hunter - I said this years ago, when I first saw the trailers and noticed how MH-like even the animations had become. That's not a bad thing. Not every game can sell ten million copies, nor should it. I know that gaming is a business, but I only expect that "this game sold crap" kind of talk from the CEOs, not the actual developers. I think more devs need to sit back and ask themselves, "Do I want to make something that 5 million people will buy, play, and forget to earn a million dollars, or do I want to make something that 100,000 people will buy, play, and remember forever, and make a respectable income from it to boot?" Personally I'd take the latter. I know not everyone would but not every game can be a beautiful cult title, either.

MetalMan300
MetalMan300

Uhh... Japan has ALWAYS been behind the US in game design. Anyone who's played Dynasty/Samurai/Orochi Warriors/Gundam or any Final Fantasy game in the last couple years should know that......

Kou-Nurasaka
Kou-Nurasaka

Trying to "dumb" down successful franchises for American auidences isn't the way to go. FF XIII is nigh unplayable because it just fails on every account. If Japanese developers want to be successful, they have to evolve. Not just alienate thier fans while attempting to garner new fans.

BrakeyM
BrakeyM

"I want to study how Westerners live, and make games that appeal to them." That should be easy. Just make some generic FPS with lots of blood and gore, and spend the next 5 years releasing a sequel for it once a year. The US is dominated by FPS's so if you want to make money, start making those.

tu2pac
tu2pac

Lets be honest ... they only reason the first Lost Planet did well was because there was nothing else to play at the time ...

mhder
mhder

While I agree Japanese game developers haven't been very original lately, I think Inafune is a bit confused. Yes Japanese developers are stuck in a rut with similar genres which they see success in (with many of the copycats turning out badly). But isn't this the same with Western developers? Yes western developers have different genres that find success but amongst them, there are dozens of copycat titles which reflect the Japanese game industry. They are just copycats of different genres. Each region has the same problem - few pioneers, too many copycats, and even more gamers that seemed satisfied with the same old formula presented in a different costume.

wiidominance
wiidominance

as far as the japanese audience is concerned, I believe that the Japanese developers are more than catering for their gaming needs, with a very healthy choice of games with varying degrees of polish, not to mention that probably 50-60% of these games are exlusively made for a japanese audience. The japanese gamers are very spoiled, they're very few in numbers compared to europe or the US, yet they've got a plethora of super dedicated developers at their finger tips. Its kinda like a take-away video game industry. They demand something super niche, and they get it made in superb quality. This TGS is a good example for that. outside japan, thats a different story.

wiidominance
wiidominance

@ maximumbarmage : You got one thing right there, there has/is certainly a whole lot more variety in Japanese games overall than western ones. That's why when I am sick of everything, I just see what's Nintendo's offering, and there is always something different there..

wiidominance
wiidominance

I think its not a case of japanese developers becomeing worse, its just that western development has improved a great deal. Having said that, Nintendo is still no.1 globally... no ? And Sony no.2 .. ?

im-a-roustabout
im-a-roustabout

As a Westerner this makes me proud. I still have mad respect for the Japanese gaming industry, but about 6 plus years ago the thought that Westerners could make such amazing video games was the equivalent of catching the great white whale.

YankeeDan345
YankeeDan345

I agree with him, Capcom, Nintendo, and the series FF are exceptions but otherwise Jap games have been coming up short a lot recently.

StArDr1fTeR
StArDr1fTeR

I thought Jap games were doing great on this side. Hmm. I just like games. I don't care where they come from. As long as they are good.

maximumbarmage
maximumbarmage

Inafune is full of crap as ever. The guy's clearly bitter about Lost Planet 2 being such a massive retail and critical failure, to the point he's flat out deluding himself. Too Japanese? That game was about as Western styled as games can be, with the sole conceit for Japanese audiences being the mechs and even then, those were pretty toned down in design terms compared to the original Lost Planet, which WAS a lot more Japanese focused in it's design and was also ten times as much fun as the awful sequel. Considering Japan has produced the best RPG(Demons Souls), fighting game(Super Street Fighter IV) and best platformer(Mario Galaxy 2) of this generation alone in the past 12 months and is the only country keeping certain genres alive at all when Western developers approach to game design seems to be to toss a coin to decide whether they're going to make an FPS or a sandbox title, I think the Japanese industry's output is as strong as it's ever been. Perhaps if Inafune was spending a little less time licking Microsoft's backside and a little more on actually producing a half decent game he'd be in a position to talk, but this coming from a guy in Inafune's position right now smacks of bitter jealousy of his peers. He basically implies the best games have the most money spent on them at one point, the guy is an IRL troll. Here's hoping Capcom review his recent output performance and couple that with his biting of the hand that feeds him and do what needs to be done.

2bitSmOkEy
2bitSmOkEy

Ya agreed with cornerback3. Also, I think this guy is misguided praising a game like Call of Duty. That is the last thing we need more of honestly. I would take Demon's Souls over many many western games tbh.

BrazNomar
BrazNomar

Ok, so maybe Japanese companies haven't been creative. But let's raise some more questions. What were Pokémon Black/White sales numbers in Japan last week? (You have to check it out to believe it.) Now tell me, does that push any company there to invest in (big-time) innovation? Yeah, that's more like stimulating derivative titles. But... isn't it kinda the same around here, if you take the FPS genre? It's not like this side of the world is all that different. Maybe Japan is just in need of more independent developers, but with huge companies like Nintendo right there, it's hard to stand out. And just how much culture and tradition are really playing any part here? Anyone with data? @mos2000 I've been studying game testing for my final job and have come up with the exact same conclusion about playtesting (Tracy Fullerton's book, if you mind). That's the kind of test that any local dev should be doing, let alone devs from a country at the other side of the world.

cornerback3
cornerback3

interesing...but really the whole game industry is going backwards and getting worse

Infendo
Infendo

What?! Boys who look like 18 year old girls and girls who look like jailbaits do not appeal to the western market? THIS IS AN OUTRAGE! Glad someone found that out over there. People here seem to be getting too emotional because they thought Japan was where all the innovation took place. He was PRAISING the only few good games to come out of Japan. He clearly has thought about what he is saying so I don't see how you, who are in no position to criticize or defend the Japanese can bring up any facts for a counter argument against what he is saying, because he is connected to the Japanese game-making world and you are not. Deal with it.

Oracleas
Oracleas

I think japan, and the gaming industry as a whole, is missing innovative developers. Inafune has lost his touch long ago, with RE4, now he is just a rambling japanese guy. Instead of making a japanese MW2, try to reboot RE and not make the lead character a testosterone filled steroid junkie....

apennismightier
apennismightier

He's right, you know. Nothing turns off a "westerner" like some stupid giant eyed character or plots that make no sense when transferred to English. I dont want my characters looking like they came out of some stupid anime.

Jorlen
Jorlen

Hopefully they don't think From Software is 5 years behind. They are one of the few (worldwide) innovators in the gaming business. Thank you FromSoftware for Demon's Souls, keep those kinds of games coming; you've proven to your bonehead bosses that challenging games CAN sell.

Caging
Caging

This has been Japan's perinial problem ever since thier economy has taken a tumble. Their approach across many Industries seem to be the same. What works for Japan will work for the rest of the world. This is a heavily flawed and ignorant philosophy (Except the Car Industry,They learned the hard way there), Especially in a ever Globalizing world. They seem to be still stuck in the mentality of the glory and boom they had in the 80s and 90s. If they don't change thier approach they will be left behind. I mean personally I like Japanese made games But it does not appeal to the new young audience. Its not diverse enough in some cases in Story, Game Play and X-Factor like most games that have been coming out from other parts of the world within the last few years. Since now people have less cash to spend, Game makers are charged with a task of making games with more quality than quantity compared to before. Otherwise they can't get "us" the consumer to buy them. Its a simple concept of filling the voids in the market of what the consumer needs. Not churning out games you think the consumer should have or tried and tested formulas. I belive they don't have this balance in place across the Industry.

PixelAddict
PixelAddict

@yang4200 Random gadgets of questionable design does not innovation make. My 6-year old nephew makes some wild stuff with blocks, but that doesn't mean he's an innovator. Innovation in other industries and applications certainly has relevance here. I'm not making this stuff up. It is generally accepted knowledge in the business space that the Japanese are excellent at refinement, but terrible at new ideas. Didn't invent the car, but made it infinitely better than Detroit. Didn't invent video games, but the NES was sure better than the Fairchild VES or Atari's 2600.

forcesofhabit
forcesofhabit

The person below me couldn't have said it any better (FITRS). The western gaming world is filled with cookie cutter crap with little to no originality. There really isn't much to study.

FITRS
FITRS

He's letting mindless success get in the way of rational thought. Sometimes what is popular and sells well isn't actually a great game. COD MW2 for example is just the same old trash served out again, yet is the biggest seller of all time. Japan has plenty of creativity and thinking outside the box, take Demon's Souls for example a truly innovative game of our time. Contrary to what he thinks, Lost Planet 2 was a great game with innovative cooperative game play, that lacked good timing of release and marketing strategy. What Japan lacks is marketing know how in the west. Demon's Souls marketing was purely by word of mouth. Yes, marketing gets lost in translation from Japan to the USA.

BobTrivioni
BobTrivioni

I think that they have games that will always be awesome, they just need to work on the online games. They really have not been able to kick ass with online games. Their single player games are great though.

gigigolo
gigigolo

 @ant_4everlove 

 

Japanese games do NOT need to become halos and COD's. They need to keep their distinguish flavor of storyline and character-development. I miss the cute anime girls, the quirkyness, and bishonen characters.

gigigolo
gigigolo

 @drswank 

Japanese games just a little more sandbox in terms of development. Think of ArcheAge for the PC from korea. Japanese games shine as creative solo games, korea shines as creative mmo's.

 

Combine these two elements of creativity together with some modern combat and it will be an UNTOUCHABLE force in the west.

 

Korea and Japan need to get together and start pumping out excellent games. I always played japanese games like zelda and they'll be my favorite but i played western games like fallout 3 and Skyrim and those are fun too.

 

 

gigigolo
gigigolo

 @anthonycg 

 

EXACTLY! I'm sick of all the military shooters, the zombie hunt-and-kills, the mindless "save office woman and hit on her later" duke em nuke em attitudes and the star-wars cult franchise thats been bled to death.

 

We need more development, more platformers, more character development and plot twists!