LAS VEGAS--One big trend among Japanese publishers of late has been the pursuit of worldwide appeal. However, few have succeeded in capturing the imagination and money of Western audiences like Capcom. Games like Lost Planet: Extreme Condition and Dead Rising were created with Western audiences in mind and established themselves as hit franchises right off the bat.
This morning at the D.I.C.E. Summit, Capcom creative director Jun Takeuchi--the producer behind Dead Rising, Lost Planet, and the anticipated Resident Evil 5--shared the publisher's approach to making games with global appeal, as well as a few of the missteps it encountered on the way.
According to Takeuchi--who gave his presentation through a translator--the first faulty approach Capcom took was to believe developers just needed to understand how foreigners feel and think. Another was the assumption that if foreigners saw themselves in the products, they would be more likely to buy them. Or as Takeuchi put it, "If we can just get a couple guys on our dev team to dye their hair blond, then maybe we can sell our games there."
The game that came from that line of thinking was Onimusha 3. The Onimusha series of samurai action games had been successful enough, but Takeuchi said sales in North America and Europe "left something to be desired." Capcom's idea to broaden the appeal of the series was to take a face who would be more familiar to Western audiences--French actor Jean Reno--and include him in the game.
"I guess you could say we dyed the game blond," Takeuchi said.
It didn't really work, Takeuchi said, adding that fellow Capcom employee Ben Judd had told him it wouldn't at the time. Then simply an adviser to the company, Judd is currently the producer on the new Bionic Commando game.
Another approach the company took was thinking that success for a Japanese publisher in the US market would be like the success Japanese baseball player Ichiro Suzuki has enjoyed in Major League Baseball. So just as Ichiro has a team full of Western players helping him to succeed, so too did Capcom decide to get lots of advice from foreigners during development on another of its games, Shadow of Rome. The violent gladiatorial combat game never came together, and Capcom chalked it up as another disappointing attempt to court Western audiences.
The lesson Takeuchi pulled from all this was that overcomplicating things only leads further away from success. He turned to a Japanese proverb that states, "In order to defeat your enemy, it's not enough to know your enemy; you must know yourself." So Capcom took a look at the problems facing Japan itself: a near-homogeneous and isolated society that might have little direct contact with outside cultures but enjoys the products of them (iPods, McDonald's, rock and roll) regardless.
Ultimately, Takeuchi and Capcom determined that Japanese publishers were too focused on their own market as a way of reducing risk and wound up increasing their chances of failure. Japanese game makers were concentrating their investment on projects that could make their money back even if they only sold well in Japan, Takeuchi said, a strategy that limited not just the games' appeal but also their total potential budget.
To get around the problems it identified, Takeuchi said Capcom embraced its own 10 Commandments for management.
1. Keep staff turnover below 10 percent per year
2. Maintain ability and cash reserves to increase personnel by 10 percent each year
3. Keep development cost fluctuations within 10 percent
4. Investment in new IP needs to be kept within 20 percent of company-wide development budget
5. The structure and organization of the company needs the flexibility to change in response to growth; goals and objectives must constantly be reviewed
6. Goals and objectives must be adaptable to external forces (see Square Enix's decision to move its Dragon Quest series to the Nintendo DS)
7. Objectives and aims must be set from the top down
8. Reform must always be undertaken from the bottom up
9. There should be no taboo areas when it comes to reform. Reform must be undertaken at all costs. (This lesson from Toyota, where management and developers worked together to create a problem-free work environment.)
10. Set achievable targets; unachievable goals bring down motivation
But more than any of those rules, Takeuchi said the most important aspect of Capcom's success comes down to one simple rule: whether the users enjoy the game or not. All of the company's development efforts must be focused on making things fun, he said. Takeuchi said that's been the company's approach since Street Fighter III, and if Capcom can't do that, it has lost its reason to exist.
Not all cultural boundaries can be overcome, Takeuchi said, but fun knows no borders. As an example, he expressed his love for American-developed games like BioShock and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
"Fun is the one word we at Capcom hope never to forget and the most important thing to take away from this presentation," Takeuchi concluded. Then, in keeping with a Capcom tradition, Takeuchi said to the crowd in English, "Thank you for playing."