Mega Man Creator on Japan's Culture of Fear

He who has overcome his fears will truly be free.


Keiji Inafune (Mega Man, Mighty No. 9) is well known for his critical stance on the Japanese gaming industry, and his struggles fighting the hierarchy within Capcom caused him to step out on his own in 2010 after decades of employment. At the Tokyo Game Show that year, a month before his landmark departure, Inafune boldly told the New York Times that everyone at the convention is "making awful games," and that "Japan is at least five years behind."

Keiji Inafune
Keiji Inafune

Nearly five years have passed since that interview, so when speaking to Inafune during E3 last week, I had to know: have things gotten any better? The following discussion touches on many topics, including the recent successes of Koji Igarashi's and Yu Suzuki's Kickstarter campaigns, but Inafune's comments there sparked a deeper discussion about the fear culture that's holding back Japan's mainstream developers and publishers. To him, it's not just xenophobia, but also a deeply rooted fear of standing out and taking risks that has prevented Japan from thriving in the global development community at large.

Now that Mighty No. 9 is almost finished, what has the crowdfunding process taught you about the relationship between a creator and their fans?

Inafune: The one thing I learned throughout this campaign is that, during the normal development cycle, you always have the fear that 'what if this game doesn't do well? What if people don't like this game I'm making?' But, you don't have this fear with a Kickstarter project because you already have, in our case, 70,000 people backing you. These people will love my game for sure, so I kind of feel safe and protected in a way. This is a fresh feeling for me, and recently we just saw Metroid Prime [referring to the announcement of Recore, Inafune's collaborative effort with ex-Metroid Prime developers], the whole thing blowing up in the community. In the normal game making cycle, you always have that kind of fear. In the back of your head, that will sometimes really affect you, but that didn't happen in this case.

Before Might No. 9, you had some very serious concerns about the state of game development in Japan. Things seem to be on an upswing, but, how do you feel about the future of Japanese game development compared to the past, when you thought it was in trouble?

Inafune: I think the biggest change since three years ago, not just by myself, but Igarashi-san and Suzuki-san have had huge successes on Kickstarter, and that alone is proving that the North American market wants Japanese games made by these creators. We've totally proved that. This is something that the Japanese publishers should have seen long ago, and I think things are changing now because of these Kickstarters, and the publishers should understand that the market wants us to make Japanese games. So, from here, hopefully publishers will make some movements of their own. Hopefully it's not just the three of us, but more Japanese creators can make their own Kickstarter [campaigns] and make their own dreams come true.

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Kickstarter solves one problem, but what other problems have to be solved for Japanese game development to improve at large?

Japanese creators and Japanese companies need to start looking outside of the box. They can't just stay inside Japan and make their own game and bring it to E3 and hope it will be a hit. That's not going to happen. You have to work with foreigner companies, in North America, Europe, and other places around the world so there's a new taste coming into your game.

The language barrier is always there, that's not going to change. But, if you always stay away from the world market, just because of that, you're not going to evolve. So, the next thing is that people should get out more and see outside of Japan more. You can't just stay inside, hoping that your game will be a success around the world. That's not going to happen.

Does that behavioral tendency come from a place of overconfidence or fear? need to know new things and you need to make new things. Staying inside of Japan and not coming out because you're shy isn't going to help at all.

I think it's definitely fear, to my understanding. Japanese people are shy and they are scared of things that they don't know. Because of that they just stay inside and never come out. That's not the case for all Asia. Chinese people are not that shy compared to Japanese people. You can't hope you will achieve something good but not try because you're shy, that's a bad cycle for anything. Especially for game creators, you need to know new things and you need to make new things. Staying inside of Japan and not coming out because you're shy isn't going to help at all.

What will be the tipping point that causes that shift for the Japanese development community?

I think more success on Kickstarter from Japanese creators should ignite this movement a little but more. Even now, with Igarashi-san, Suzuki-san, and myself having success on Kickstarter, that's just three of us. I think other creators are still scared of the North American market. If we stick with this movement a little bit more, maybe other creators will feel comfortable coming out and trying out the North American market, because there's definitely potential. So, I really hope this can continue.

Typical Japanese, they don't like to be in the frontier of anything. They actually hate doing something new and starting something by themselves. But, they will follow if somebody starts it. If one person raises their hand, others will follow. I do a lot of panels inside Japan as well, in universities and colleges, but whenever I ask the crowd if they have any questions, then they will stay silent for at least five minutes or so, and then someone will raise their hand, ask one question, and then others will start following. So, myself, Igarashi-san and Suzuki-san, we're on the frontier of this movement. If more people can raise their courage and come out, I think that will lead more people to challenge the North American market.

It's very unlikely that anything could happen outside of Kickstarter. You might not understand this, but a lot of Japanese game creators are salaryman, they're just there to do their work. They're not actually creating the game they want to make because that's the order they're given by their superiors. I have been fighting against my superiors my whole [career] because I want to make something that I really want to make, and not too many people really do that in Japan, because worst case, they can get fired. Without the company's support, you won't even have the money to make the game to begin with. So, everyone just becomes 'yes men' in the company, so that's a really bad cycle, and I don't think it's a cycle that can change just because of a couple Kickstarters. At this point, I can't really say something other than kickstart will change things.

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Avatar image for ctlaltbatman

Wait- he's saying the Japanese are afraid of/ need to chanage, and yet he's making a rehash (okay okay, "spiritual successor") to MegaMan?

Avatar image for jazero1987

I think game developer should have vote system to see what games people want. then work on that project only

Avatar image for chippiez

Dear Japan,

Don't change your culture and become more western. Embrace your roots, your rich heritage. It's OK to use tools and middleware from other countries. And maybe even hiring a few expats for localization. Think quality first, put your reputation on the line, and the resulting product will be good.


Avatar image for qman92

@chippiez: its not about adopting western culture, maybe your missing the point. Capcom is not what it use to be the annual profit and sales are down even more this year.

Avatar image for archav3n

"Yes men".... It just proves that Japan as a whole is still a conservative community.

Avatar image for qman92

One example is when capacom ran out of ideas for dmc they had a north american company take over. Even with fan backlash majority of the games support came from north american. The japanese wasnt going to support the game(they're the primary supporters of the previous ones). Probably becuase they feel it was becoming too americanized. a concern that they had since dmc3.

Avatar image for qman92

I like how some people are commenting and dont really see some of the truth in his words. If we look back japan was always tight on having their pop culture released to foreigners, or work with foriengers. Its alot better today, but i remember when people had to pirate to get certain games, watch certain anime, or read certain manga/light novels with a third party translating. It didnt matter if it was popular here either, or there wAs money to be made but more and more legitmate licenses have come through. You still find japanese versions of some games especially ninetendo offering things only to residents of japan. Im not saying the're wrong, but the chinese for the sake of business will do business and they're better off for it.

Avatar image for saosebastiao

Well if current games didn't cost so much to make maybe we'd see some more original stuff. Making profit isn't like the old ps1 and ps2 days, where studios could afford 2 or 3 games making less to no profit and 1 or 2 big games that made some to a lot of profit.
Why take the risk to make something people won't buy? That's what the studios are thinking. too much of a risk = puts the company at risk. That's why some companies are moving to mobile. Low cost to make, big profit, too bad about the originality = 0 in most cases but that's because a lot of players want the same old same old and thus are more likely to pay.
Why did Capcom refused to make another Megaman game? They weren't sure it would sell. They should have gone Kickstarter with Inafune, should have made a deal like: "Ok we'll do it, but we go KS". Imagine a Megaman X game with HD graphics, decent story and a Metroidvania style gameplay. Nope. Don't know if it'll sell. Too much ego from both sides too.

One thing is sure: Mighty nº9 isn't original. It's the same old same old. Couldn't it have been more adult, have a decent story instead of the same cutscenes making no sense or filling a gap? They could have made it like a Megaman x4, but better. Games nowadays need deeper stories, more humor and 4th wall breaking. Mighty is as shallow as a small pond.

But there are still Japanese games with a lot of original stuff...too bad the waifu and anime games are the ones making money.

Avatar image for RevLux

Boldly claimed that developers were all making terrible games because they're afraid to stand out and try something new, then starts his own dev. studio, and puts out a prettier version of his old Rock (Mega)Man game. I love you Inafune-san, but come on man.

Avatar image for charlievo

all the money and yet tablet looking megaman.

Avatar image for RSM-HQ

Wow. Some of these comments. . . I forgot this was a gaming site. . .

I've heared of cultural disagreements but this has gone to another level altogether.

But lie to yourself, and believe YOUR country, political system, and fellow citizens have no flaws in comparison.

Avatar image for Fuzaki

@RSM-HQ: As you'd expect from a site like GameSpot; there's all kinds of opinons..ish?

Avatar image for putaspongeon

and Hideo Kojima are gods.

Avatar image for ArabrockermanX

I find it hard to take this guy seriously...

This "fear" he is talking about is true in the industry in general, the only developers that don't have it are ones producing entries in already strong franchises(like GTA or Mario)...

Avatar image for Ripper_TV

Every person working on an AAA game anywhere in the world is pretty much a salary man, so what's his point?

And, as always, he directly contradicts himself in the interview... I dunno if this is a interpreting problem or the guy is weird like that.

Avatar image for Ripper_TV

"during the normal development cycle, you always have the fear that 'what if this game doesn't do well? What if people don't like this game I'm making?' But, you don't have this fear with a Kickstarter project because you already have, in our case, 70,000 people backing you. These people will love my game for sure, so I kind of feel safe and protected in a way."

Just wow, this safety feeling is not useful in making good games. Now we can safely assume MIghty No will be a mediocre game at best.

I gotta say also, that Inafune hasn't made a SINGLE truly good game since he left Crapcom.

Avatar image for tekyondo

But..But.. I like Japanese games for being exactly that...different.

Same thing with foreign restaurants. I hate chinese and japanese restaurants that tries to be more american in their dish. You can really tell the difference in taste if you're a fan like me. So I always goto the more authentic restaurants for being what they really are.

I don't believe games should "cater" to what people want, they always seem to change and most people don't know what they want.

Avatar image for Prometheus

Overconfidence or fear might have been a false dichotomy. The Japanese have influenced the modern entertainment world like no other nation save the US. Hardly proof that the Japanese cower on their own island.

Avatar image for putaspongeon

@Prometheus: The Sweedish are doing a good job at influencing the games world recently ;)

Avatar image for stratfender89

@Prometheus: Honestly, I think if you come here and live for an extended period of time, you'll know what he's talking about. Most of what he is saying is true. I've lived in Japan for about four years now, and I've lived in Tokyo, Kyoto, Saitama, Chiba and Ibaraki. I was a student and I've worked here for three years as an interpreter, teacher, editor and freelance writer. I've dealt with a great deal of Japanese people. So, I can say with confident that a lot of the values he speaks of are true. Of course there are leaders, yes, and these leaders do create change, but I think the problem is this cultural aspect of "yes men" creates a lot of followers, so when there are times of distraught, there are very few people who can offer a solution to the problem.

As for the cower part. Yes, this country is xenophobic. Yes, there is legal discrimination to keep foreigners out of housing, jobs, stores and restaurants. When these things are challenge, Japanese jurisdiction ruled that this is not a violation of human rights. A lot of it comes from fear, and this umbrella term, foreigner, is used to sweep a bunch of people under the rug when there's very little understanding of cultural differences..

Avatar image for RSM-HQ

@stratfender89: Lived in south Higashiyama for six years, and though most of what you say is agreeable, these troubles are not exclusive to Japan.

Most of Asia and Europe also deal with cultural bigotry, centers around heritage and historical pride for ones culture. It might be 2015 but tradition has a habbit to repeat.

As I see it all major contributing countries have the pros and cons, and though Japanese culture seems alien to some, and regardless how you feel. It's more stable, economically, than most.

Avatar image for lazybum99

Off topic here, but where is the like button? Not that it's all that important though it kind of makes me feel naked without it. I remember a mod saying there would be one and that was a few weeks ago. And the new comment system sucks a lot.

Avatar image for kgallis21

I have been to japan. The things we like here and in Europe isnt the same in japan. There subways and cities is full of animation billboards and art work. The games they like would be perceived as kids games. Here in America we like more variety like sports and action based games with realism those arent that big in japan. There biggest titles is RPG and puzzles Nintendo is a perfect example of that. Still have sucess in Japan but completely out of touch here. Kutos for Mighty No.9 creater being so honest. I dont care what he says tho that game is Mega Man on crack lol.

Avatar image for jinzo9988

They're no longer in a position to not care about the world if they want to make bigger titles. The budget that these games require in 2015 automatically means that you can't just be a success in Japan and fail everywhere else... not if you expect to actually make a decent amount of profit. That doesn't mean that you have to strip away national identity, but it does mean that you have to actually do your research and get a sense of what people like and dislike around the world and reach some kind of consensus on which way to go when it comes to game design.

I'd love to know how Capcom approached Resident Evil 6. That's the most polarizing game they've done in recent memory. Could that not be considered taking a risk? Could that not be a product of trying to appeal to Western gamers? I don't think the QTE stuff was a product of that as I think gamers have generally hated QTE since the day before forever, but specifically with Chris' campaign I'd like to know if that's Japan being Japan or if that's Japan trying to appeal to the West. I mean any way you slice it, they failed big time because they're ignoring their roots, and that almost NEVER works when it comes to a game franchise. It's about changes that complement the core, not changes that alter the core.

Avatar image for bouchart

"Typical Japanese, they don't like to be in the frontier of anything."

Interesting comment from a man who has essentially made the same game over and over again for three decades.

Avatar image for A8ADD0N


Hmm, you sure about that? Mega Man, Resident Evil, Onimusha, Dead Rising, Lost Planet, Soul Sacrifice, Mighty No. 9 and now Recore. I see a lot of variety there in terms of gameplay.

Avatar image for JoSilver

@bouchart: 1 Don't be an asshole

2 He's speaking about a real problem in Japaneses society, Japan for the most part is unwilling to really explore outside cultures deeply. This is why we see crap like RE5 being made and Silent Hills being canceled. Most Japaneses publishers try to make games that appeal to western audiences without really getting to know what its is that we want or like or simply don't try at all. But it's really a broader issue then just the game industry, Japan needs to adapt to the outside world, but they don't see it that way and don't even see it as if the world needs to adapt to them. It's their view that japan is japan and everything else is not and that's fine.

He's saying that more Japaneses people really need to wake up and see that, exploring and embracing outside cultures and influences is not the same as abandoning your own culture. It's can only give you an edge in todays connected world and that's what Japaneses society needs most.

Avatar image for stratfender89

@JoSilver: I can say safely that you just hit the nail on the head. I think the song "Comfortably Numb" by Pink Floyd describes Japanese culture right now.

Avatar image for Tabarnaque

Japan makes the best video games, western developers have alienated all of its veterans, they are never permitted to flourish, there is a cut between the new and the old. There is no such things in Japan, industry veterans still make games and pass their knowledge to next generations, look at Miyamoto. Capcom is just ran awfully, they will never release Dragon's Dogma on PC.

Avatar image for RSM-HQ

@Tabarnaque: Capcom never promised a P.C. port for Dragons Dogma so that's an odd throw-out. Love the game, but as Japan or even Capcom is concerned P.C.= risky buisness. Namely when you know Hideaki Itsunos sans studio barely made a profit from porting Devil May Cry 3/4. The market isn't on that platform.

Dragons Dogma online will be on P.C. this August all the same. I'm already getting the pre-order extras :P

Avatar image for Yomigaeru

@Tabarnaque: I'd say it's stagnant in every territory. Japanese games largely cater to the same crowd with the same types of games, and Western developers do the same. I really can't think of any reason other than "stagnation" that companies would need to tout things like "the first female athlete" or "gender neutral plot" as selling points. They need something to make them stand out from the pack, and sadly it's not the overall content of their games.

To me, it seems like "indie" (or smaller devs in general) are making the best games. You've got stuff like Axiom Verge, Nidhogg, and Freedom Planet proving that you don't need a massive ad campaign or a multimillion dollar budget to make quality games.

Avatar image for Tabarnaque

@Yomigaeru: No, indie is way too low profile, there are some cool RPG maker games out there but seriously, would you stop buying the next Assassin's Creed because you played an indie game? No, because they are definitely not the same market. What can drive true change are AA studios who make full fledged games, like Divinity Original Sins or Demon Souls. But every western AA studios gets bought by EA then closed down, look at Maxis. You are left with the same players because competition is stamped out and marketing costs is in the dozen of millions if you want your game to be played, an ability that AAA have a monopoly on.

Avatar image for ewjiml

@Tabarnaque: "Japan makes the best video games." Hard to take you seriously when you make such a statement. They make the same boring JRPGs every year.

Avatar image for BradBurns

@ewjiml: I actually agree with him. I definitely prefer Japanese games. They always have superior art design and character modeling when compared to the plastic-ey, "realistic", Western character models.

They can go from super realistic characters like Snake or Chris Redfield to cartoon-ey anime characters at the drop of a hat. And in an appealing way. The last good looking Western game I played was the ICO-Inspired Prince of Persia 2008.

Avatar image for drake08

@ewjiml: real funny because here they keep making the same shitty 1st persons shooter like modern warfare and call of duty and people eat it because the add jet pads, exoskeleton suit, parkour and the big seller zombies but not just any zombies this time they made them with f***king exo suits what's next zombies with guns.

Avatar image for Kiaininja

@drake08: Not true. Little Big Planet, Heavy Rain, Skyrim, Forza, Lego, Disney Infinity, and others are all successful western games that aren't 1st person shooters.

Avatar image for drake08

@Kiaininja: I know man i was just talking about the 1st person shooter those other games you mention are great haven't play Disney infinity mostly because i don't like to collect figurines and I am not that big of a fan for Disney stuff I like the old stuff .

Avatar image for Tabarnaque

@ewjiml: Except they made Dragon's Dogma and Demon Souls, truly great JRPGs. Now say what you want about Dark Souls, maybe it's becoming a yearly series, the first game was excellent and a breath of fresh air especially for PC and Xbox owners who couldn't play Demon Souls on PS3.

Really I have to think, what edge do western studios have? Maybe FPS though not my cup of tea, the other genre would be strategy, I'm not even sure if XCOM or civilization is published in Japan, or even Total War Shogun. Only strategy they got is in turn-based JRPGs probably because Japan is limited to console and mobile platforms although I did hear that Valkyria Chronicles was inspired by X-com.

You know, hard to take someone who hates a genre seriously when talking about said genre, chances are, since you hate it, you know next to nothing about it.

Avatar image for BradBurns

@Tabarnaque: Dragon's Dogma rocks!

Avatar image for juboner

I blame it on the hormones pumped into all our food, it has made a couple or a few generations scared, pathetic, weak men. Its low testosterone caused by the hormone filled meat we all grew up on.

Avatar image for Gatchan2

@juboner: They say 40% of Japanese men do not want to be in relationships lol

Avatar image for juboner

@Gatchan2: Hell I dont blame them, its a lot of work.