PAX 2008: Ryan Payton on Kojima, Japan

The former English-speaking face of Metal Gear Solid 4 talks about his duties on the game, the real reason Japanese gamers aren't buying the Xbox 360, and more.

SEATTLE--When Konami makes the next Metal Gear Solid game, Hideo Kojima won't the only noticeable absence on the development team. Earlier this week, word arrived that Ryan Payton had left Konami's Kojima Productions after three years.

Best known for his English-language podcast, Payton worked his way up from handling international coordination on Metal Gear Acid 2 for the PlayStation Portable to working as an assistant producer on Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Along the way he also earned credits on Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, and Lunar Knights. He increasingly found his role drifting from marketing duties toward more hands-on development work with Portable Ops and Guns of the Patriots.

GameSpot caught up with Payton at the Penny Arcade Expo to talk a bit about his past with Konami, his plans for the future, and get some insights into the state of the Japanese gaming industry.

GameSpot: In a role like you had with Konami, what's the more important role: providing a Western perspective to a Japanese development team, or providing a development perspective to a Western marketing/PR campaign?

Ryan Payton: That's a good question. It's a little bit of both. My main responsibility at Kojima Productions was making sure that we were up to speed with what was going on in the West. What you had was basically a repeat of what happened with Metal Gear Solid 3. It sold pretty well, but it came out at Christmas 2004. You had GTA: San Andreas, Halo 2, Metroid Prime 2, Half-Life 2, and so many other titles. And as we were looking at the release calendar for MGS4, it was originally going to come out at the end of 2007, when we had The Orange Box, GTAIV, Halo 3, Metroid Prime 3...it was basically the same thing. We knew the competition was going to be very heavy, so one of my main responsibilities was making sure the game was up to speed and clicked with American and European players.

GS: Was the competition the biggest reason for the game being pushed into 2008?

RP: I think we just needed more time. We weren't really thinking about the competition at that point because when we decided to push it back, we still didn't know what was happening with GTAIV. And there weren't a lot of big titles coming out on PS3 that Christmas. We just wanted more time with the game.

GS: Were there concerns about releasing it outside of the holiday window?

RP: If you asked me that a couple years ago, I think yes, it would have been an issue. But the industry has evolved so much and grown that you can support titles throughout the calendar year, which is something I think is so encouraging. I was talking to a friend saying I feel so lucky to be in the industry because coming back to the US, you're surrounded by anxiety or negativity about the American economy. On the other hand, you have the game industry which is so healthy, and it can support a game like Metal Gear Solid 4 that came out in June, or GTAIV, which came out in April. It's all very, very encouraging, not only for the gamer but for the industry.

However, it's tough trying to figure out what quarter you want to have a game come out, because games slip. Publishers are starting to realize that. EA talked about it recently, saying they were doing trying to shove something out that wasn't finished. So you have things like Mercenaries 2, which comes out next week. I haven't seen the review scores, but I suspect that was time well spent in making the game come out in whatever form it comes out in.

GS: Mercenaries 2 and Metal Gear Solid 4 are games we've been hearing about for years. Do you think there's such a thing as too much hype? Do people get hype fatigue to the point where they don't want to look forward to something anymore?

RP: I don't think so. Any kind of press like that where the game title's in the collective conscious of gamers for an extended period of time is good. There are rare exceptions of it, where things hit big instantly and everybody needs to try it out, like Braid. But how long have we been talking about Spore? How long have we been talking about Too Human? I think those two games are part of gamers' vocabularies simply because they've been around so long.

At one point I had a theory that there was some kind of fatigue related to hype with Halo 3. I thought it was getting out of control, then they launched it and it was a massive success. People couldn't get enough. That's kind of made me rethink that theory. I don't think you can get "too much press" for a game.

GS: Generations ago, it seemed like almost all the hit games were Japanese. But now we've got games like Grand Theft Auto, Guitar Hero, Halo, God of War, and Madden topping the year-end sales lists. What happened to cause the Western shift and why?

RP: In one sentence or less? [Laughs.] I think the bottom fell out of the notion that the Japanese consumer is always going to be interested in the newest gaming technology. This generation was a big shellshock to a lot of hardware makers and publishers because Japanese gamers aren't first in line for HD-gaming, or next-generation gaming. We're still feeling the aftereffects of that.

To me it's amazing because I come back to the States and HD is in the vocabulary of everybody around. They get it, for the most part. In Japan, it's all about portable gaming and Wii gaming, which is good, to a certain extent. But I think the main culprit is this apathy to new technology.

GS: So there's nothing about the approach that Western developers take toward games?

RP: Or even Japanese development teams. I don't know how Resident Evil 5 will eventually sell, but the fact of the matter is there are fewer people with the machines to play the game than there were for Resident Evil 4 on the GameCube and PlayStation 2. It's a big shock to everybody.

GS: What are the biggest misconceptions Western gamers have about the Japanese gaming industry?

RP: Maybe that the Xbox 360 doesn't sell because it's American-made. There are reasons it's not selling, but that's not it. Look at people lining up for the iPhone or the iPod in Japan, and you'll see that there's no stigma against American design. And it wasn't because the Xbox 360 was too big and doesn't fit in the living room. That's all some stupid static that came out of message boards or some journalist's incorrect approach. I think these next-gen experiences just don't captivate the Japanese gamer like they used to. Maybe they have more distractions. Portable gaming is just taking a greater hold on people.

Also, there's an issue most people don't bring up but it has a big part to do with why next-gen consoles aren't selling [more]. The Japanese really value privacy, and the fact the Xbox is online and they can chat with anybody is not really appealing. They want to know intimately these people they're playing with. That's one of the reasons the Wii might work so well, because it's not an online experience; it's about getting people into your home and playing with them.

GS: Metal Gear Solid's storyline is pretty convoluted. As the resident Westerner on the team, what approach did you want to see taken? Alter the game to be more accessible for Westerners and risk losing some of the MGS flavor, or be faithful to the source material but risk alienating confused gamers and newcomers to the series?

RP: My approach to the script was ambitious in the sense that I wasn't concerned about having a direct translation. When you do that you get in trouble, you get bad anime. So I went out on a limb to a certain extent by adding a few lines here and there if there was an awkward pause in the Japanese or if the English translation was just too short. Thankfully I had the trust of Hideo [Kojima] and Ken [Mirata], who were willing to trust me with the script, that it reads well and mimics a normal script coming out of Hollywood.

GS: Now that you're done with Konami, what do you want to do next?

RP: I'm spending time with my family basically, and playing a lot of Too Human.

GS: But you want to stay in the industry and in the development side of it?

RP: Yeah. I don't think I'll ever quit this industry, and I do want to stay somewhere in North America where I'll be closer to my family.

For more from the convention, check out GameSpot's complete coverage of Penny Arcade Expo 2008.

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Discussion

152 comments
ViC_BB4
ViC_BB4

Metal Gear Solid 4 is one of the main reason why people should own a PS3. Otherwise you'll be missing out on a great masterpiece. Ryan did an awesome job in this game, his contribution is much appreciated. The XBOX 360 is a good console but the PS3 is a hundred times better.

euphzilla03
euphzilla03

A great interview which has brought into light the differences between the Eastern and Western gaming worlds..very interesting..

bucardo
bucardo

Cool, this is a great interview

martianrobot
martianrobot

All this talk of Japanese this and American-made that and the barely contained racism within these comments (or, in the case of the fool who said that 'Japanese are so smart they are retarded', not-so-barely contained). C'mon folks, lets face it - all these things are made in China, including iPods. They may be 'designed' in California, or Seattle, or Kyoto, or Melton Mowbray, or wherever... but they are all put together by Chinese workers getting paid a pittance.

Darion350
Darion350

Residentzombie2, you guys aren't even correcting grammar... You're correcting his spelling. /sigh Anyway, interesting discussion. I'm hoping the next MGS game will be as good without Hideo Kojima.

Ripper_TV
Ripper_TV

"The Japanese really value privacy, and the fact the Xbox is online and they can chat with anybody is not really appealing. They want to know intimately these people they're playing with." Interesting, Interesting...

Ripper_TV
Ripper_TV

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

norabbitnofun
norabbitnofun

I disagree on too much hype. Spore I have heard of for long, and the first negative statements (though moderate) have definitely got me away from buying it. more graphics != more fun. DVD's were introducing not just video quality but also the convenience of digital, boosted by the addition of bonus clips etc. Ble-ray & co are not adding much to these. The same goes with HD. Expect more take-up if true 3D screens or even more natural controller replacements come out. When the industry stops thinking new technology = better = sales for new systems, we will see steadier game-play progress. (This is true for the mobile phone industry too, by the way.)

ebookerd1
ebookerd1

interesting I actually understand. Not being bothered does seem like it is more appealing in the japanese market. This has a lot to do with RPGs I play them because some times I don't want to be bothered by dealing with tools that won't listen when you tell them the whole team is that way turn back!!! yeah some people are that stupid!! More rpg equals more japanese market no wonder there are so many new RPGs for 360. It is the only way to make a dent.

residentzombie2
residentzombie2

flyingdutchdog aticles should be articles and grammer should be grammar. 2 grammar errors in one post when your post is criticing another's post due to grammar usage is unacceptable.

Bboyjhin
Bboyjhin

I love Monster Hunter 2 G

tidyspidey
tidyspidey

some fair points Ket87 - but the fact that Japan "can fit inside California" is completely irrelevant... What does a country's size have to do with anything? As a Brit, may I point out that apart from the last 100 years or so, it was our tiny country that ruled the majority... Before that Rome was also rooted from a tiny country. It's all about influence, not the land mass... I do agree with you that perhaps the western games companies should stop worrying too much about what Japan is into, as we have enough market share now to do our own thing, but I have to remark on your point about Country size. Just because everything in the US is big doesn't make it greater than everything around it...

Ket87
Ket87

I think its time we stop caring about what Japan thinks, a country that can fit comfortably within California should not be the sole focus of a worldwide industry anymore. And its painfully obvious that this gen of consoles just isn't for the japanese market. They don't have huge 60" HD sets, they are not set up well for online gaming either as DSL is the major internet connection used. Let them have their DS and their Wii and we will stick with our 360's and PS3s.

DeltaSpirit
DeltaSpirit

Online gameplay is one of the futures of games plus you don't really have to use a Mic (a lot of people don't on the PS3) so I really doubt it's that reason. Also it's hard to compare a Xbox 360 or PS3 (console) with an Ipod since the Ipod only has to deliver on a simple thing music no exclusive songs that you can only play on the ipod. Thats IMO

shadowking34
shadowking34

Japan can play what ever videogame they want and so what Japan not playing xbox360

shadowking34
shadowking34

i can wait to play my ps3 and play on online

Zacek
Zacek

My wife is Japanese, and she uses the 360 to see movies, the Wii to play Dr. Mario, and the DS to play a lot of games... she's always taking the DS on the bed.

Compilation
Compilation

Alright then. That was pretty informative. This whole misconception to the Japanese and the Xbox 360 definition was a mystery to me before hand. I had a hunch it was because they were tied up in some other distraction(s) - technology other than gaming, iPhone or iPod usage, or attentioning towards high tech gadgets, which is tolerable lol.

killakin
killakin

I have both the 360 and the PS3, and both are good consoles. Unfortunately I only have one HD T.V. so I only plug it up with one of them. (Don't tell me to switch it up it's a hastle and I'm lazy) When I chose which console to put up on the T.V. I didn't look at the games, because both systems have great games out and great games coming, I looked at the potential. The 360 is a strong console with a powerful processor, but it just isn't on the same level as the PS3's cell processor. The cell processor is so powerful that it is being used for the next super computer. When I looked at that my choice was obvious, the PS3. One thing should be mentioned though, in about eighteen months, or less, your average desktop computer will have the power to match and even exceed these consoles in graphics and physics. Just look at Crysis, the plants grow in that game. THEY FING GROW!!!! so save up a couple thousand dollars and buy a PC in a year and a half if all you care about is graphics.

killakin
killakin

I have both the 360 and the PS3, and both are good consoles. Unfortunately I only have one HD T.V. so I only plug it up with one of them. (Don't tell me to switch it up it's a hastle and I'm lazy) When I chose which console to put up on the T.V. I didn't look at the games, because both systems have great games out and great games coming, I looked at the potential. The 360 is a strong console with a powerful processor, but it just isn't on the same level as the PS3's cell processor. The cell processor is so powerful that it is being used for the next super computer. When I looked at that my choice was obvious, the PS3. One thing should be mentioned though, in about eighteen months, or less, your average desktop computer will have the power to match and even exceed these consoles in graphics and physics. Just look at Crysis, the plants grow in that game. THEY FING GROW!!!! so save up a couple thousand dollars and buy a PC in a year and a half if all you care about is graphics.

McGregor
McGregor

Kane04 said, "i think 360 doesnt sell on japan cuz its just crappy electronics with 37% chance of red ring, like the guy said, iPhone iPod no problem (apple built them right) microsoft just has the eyes on the money they can suck out of people." Have you ever owned an ipod or iphone? They had significantly more problems than the 360. I've owned 3, and all 3 have been garbage (broken harddrives every time). iphone's are the same, nothing but problems, I didn't even have mine for 30 days before i got rid of it. Especially after what has been happening with the iphone firmware updates. Just saying that crappy hardware will not stop a sale from happening, even though apple products had millions of issues, they still sold millions. On a lighter note: It was nice to read an article where I have to agree with most everything being said. I even thought it was cool that he was playing too human...a game that I think is still very underrated.

Nickolai1979
Nickolai1979

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Nickolai1979
Nickolai1979

Grammar. Grammar is the word you're looking for.

flyingdutchdog
flyingdutchdog

@YoJim8obaJoe Pertaining to your criticism of Gamespot Grammer: 1. It's non-existant not non existant 2. there should be a space after your comma 3. articals is spelled aticles. Three mistakes in a two line submission.

flyingdutchdog
flyingdutchdog

@EnaVRi Please stop with this RROD thing. It's getting so very old and irrelevant. The PS3 certainly isn't problem free. The irony here is I have all 3 systems and it was my PS3 that went up in smoke ... not the Wii and not the 360.

xgalacticax
xgalacticax

I think the Japanese prefer things that are simple. All this turning your 360 and PS3 into an oven and a washing machine and all that doesn't click with them. They just want a machine that plays games.

residentzombie2
residentzombie2

If Microsoft where to come out with a handheld game that had big 3rd party support from Japanese developers then Microsoft would sell in Japan and grab their attention. Don't think that Microsoft wants to get into that particular market though because the DS and PSP are so rooted already, not sure if Japanese would buy a third handheld.

bg_solidsnake
bg_solidsnake

damn i'll miss ryan p. his work on mgs4 was awesome. best of luck ryan p!

Birdman1333
Birdman1333

I know Japan gets PSP games that are not released in the US, but there are only a few PSP games worth playing. Many of the games are short compared to a console game. For a culture that spends a lot of time on the go, there aren't enough quality games to stay busy. If they are using the PSP for other purposes, then they are not very hard core. Maybe the Koreans are more hardcore(?).

akiwak
akiwak

Having lived in Japan for a year and a half I can understand why portable gaming is so popular. Talking on a cell phone while on public modes of transportation is frowned upon. So on those long trips you have to have something to do.... meh being in the military and pretending to be a lost tourist worked sometimes on the Japanese ladies.... well ok once.... well ok but I know a guy....

buzzguy
buzzguy

BTW...I love the fact that Ryan's into a game that GS found so average. Revenge of Too Human...

buzzguy
buzzguy

I can totally see why the Japanese embrace portables so much. I commute to work sometimes, and my psp is my go-to device. Not just for music on the bus, but for gaming on my lunchbreak as well. When you're on the go, nothing beats a device that does so much. Much easier to have a go at an RPG when you can take it with you. That being said, I still love my 360, and the whole concept of Live. I love seeing what my friends are playing, challenging them to a game, or simply messaging my wife. They're missing-out on that side of the pacific.

Ez3k1eL_360
Ez3k1eL_360

This is why Japanese gamers won't get used to the 360. Japan is stuck in the land of fantasy, they will never grow out to play something different that's not related to RPG's. To me I think that Japan has a "childish fun" way of thinking when it comes to gaming, don't get me wrong I like Nintendo and everything but it's too much when it comes to the North America. That's why alot of people complain about Nintendo doing poorly with 3rd party games.

Ez3k1eL_360
Ez3k1eL_360

@ Luna Chanfui Your comment is confusing. So you say if you want something "special" you should get a PS3? That doesnt make any sense. Gears of War and Halo franchises are "special" to the 360 because like you said the console is for hardcore FPS gamers. Its like saying the PC has nothing special because mostly what people would play are MMORPG's like World of Warcraft. Your actually thrashing the console, PC etc. because of their specialties.But since you "know" what your're talking about then, what's the PS3's specialty in game wise? To what group is it focused to? Don't tell me because of something new, because if you want that I would say the Wii's motion sensing capabilities (which I have).

Ez3k1eL_360
Ez3k1eL_360

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Ez3k1eL_360
Ez3k1eL_360

@Luna Chanfui Halo n GOW r great games, but it's not enough to pursuit me to buy 360. I don't think they're special. Wat we want is special, same as Ryan Payton words. we want new gaming experience like HOME, bluray, HD, GT, Little Big Planet, wii gaming experience. Not hardcore FPS. Your comment is confusing. So you say if you want something "special" you should get a PS3? That doesnt make any sense. Gears of War and Halo franchises are "special" to the 360 because like you said the console is for hardcore FPS gamers. Its like saying the PC has nothing special because mostly what people would play are MMORPG's like World of Warcraft. Your actually thrashing the console, PC etc. because of their specialties.But since you "know" what your're talking about then, what's the PS3's specialty in game wise? To what group is it focused to? Don't tell me because of something new, because if you want that I would say the Wii's motion sensing capabilities (which I have).

VengenceZero
VengenceZero

Wow, He just shut up alot forum members.

noelveiga
noelveiga

Cool. Here's a pro, a guy who actually knows what he's talking about, and he's telling everybody that the 360 and the PS3 don't sell too much because they're too online oriented and Japan doesn't like that (nor do I, by the way, why does people have to know what I'm playing or if I'm online?). He tells us they don't care that it comes from the west. And then, comment thread people still insist on the same stupid conspiracy theories. Because everybody knows real wisdom is in anonymous message boards on the internet.

aupipboy
aupipboy

I do not think that if the Japanese market stopped RE games etc, that we would as well. Micro$oft and $ony (see what I did there) would both still sell to EU, Oceanic and North American regions. They would still make games such as Halo, Resistance etc. Yes alot of the designers are from Japan, but look how many are from Western countries as well. Wind the clock back 15 years ago and that statement would have been true. Now, it would just mean that there would not be as much profit if they did not sell to the Japanese market, or if the designers stopped, then it would set tings back a bit....but it would not end.

Tiefster
Tiefster

I like his view on 360 in Japan. It pretty much sums up the story for PS3's sales too. While there are spikes we're talking about a culture that is incredible mobile and a business culture that is very on-the-go centric in major cities. For many its nice to have a DS or PSP or some good mobile games while taking the train to work or a bus. America isn't like this since public transportation isn't used much outside of cities which is why rather than seeing 20 somethings playing their DSs and PSPs in public in America, we see younger kids and young teens playing them. Different cultures, different styles of living.

epormada
epormada

OK then... How bout Japanese gamers don't like the 360 because it's viewed as an American made console and it's made by Microsoft! Heck, a lot of Americans don't like Microsoft. Or maybe it's that Japanese people are so smart that their actually retarded. The 360 is awesome and there are tons of cool games for a large demographic. (no I don't work for MS) I have all 3 consoles and right now and for the foreseeable future the 360 has the best games.

Denji
Denji

@dual_barrel You should care. Japan pretty still has most of the power. If it weren't for Japan, we wouldn't have games in the first place. If Japan happens to stop, we all do and that's a fact.

Denji
Denji

@quietguy I completely agree. All that junk that goes over the mic and all of those immature acts and bickering, even turn off citizens of North America. I myself, find that I play more online when I feel it isn't a chore or a hassle. XBox live is something like "big brother" of gaming. I don't blame them for not being too fond of it. It also brings some understanding as to why PSN and Wii aren't like Live. I'm a little bit of both. I love my single player and privacy, but also like to play online from time to time. As long as nothing goes past my alias.

CookieGoat
CookieGoat

"and playing a lot of Too Human" Ha-Ha.

hirotopacman
hirotopacman

Which is why the 360 has the most RPG's so far in this current generation of home consoles...

residentzombie2
residentzombie2

Japan doesn't buy XBox 360 because they are not intrigued to buy it. They like RPGs, party games, and button mashers and XBox caters towards the FPS crowd. Japan is NOT into FPS. Japanese don't hate Americans and that isn't the reason they don't buy 360 over there. The Japanese gamer is into their Nintendo DS and Sony PSP more than ANY console on the market including the Wii. Japan loves it when American things come into their country like Krispy Creme, Burger King, Apple store, etc. They just spend too much time with their handhelds is all.

grf7291
grf7291

tough call...Japan just needs to give it a chance

quietguy
quietguy

Why do I get the feeling that about 60% of GS users posting here didn't even read the article thoroughly, yet instead just skimmed the surface and assumed whatever came to mind... I believe this entire charade of comments stands as a testimony to why a proportion of us will never understand the Japanese gaming culture. What I do understand is that they like their "social" privacy (keeping their own opinions to themselves), sticking to simple, stable games, & love following simple, yet detailed characters. I go play CoD4 or Halo 3 through Xbox Live, you are bombarded by people who just can't shut the **** up for 5 minutes, or a round; And I like a quiet gameplay on basis. =========================== This is blog material, somebody should make one!

OracleXIII
OracleXIII

wow thought they made an article about me there for a second. lol.