Mega Man Creator on Japan's Culture of Fear

He who has overcome his fears will truly be free.

197 Comments

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?

...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.

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 Slannmage
Slannmage

The problem is with Japanese culture on the whole, we've even seen it drive major accidents. With copilots fearing to speak up against the Captain who is leading them all to their deaths or a Train Driver being too scared about being 10 seconds late.

Things need to change in Japan, had a whole generation of men too scared to have sex with women. So much oppression, so much media control and them not speaking up and reporting on real issues because they're scared of being fired. The ecology around Japan is dying because no one is being taught to speak the truth or to speak up, all too scared of not being polite.

Then you just have to look at the suicide rates to see something isn't right.

Avatar image for Gatchan2
Gatchan2

@Slannmage: too much beta males

This a country that invented man bras, Visual-K, the phrase "2D women are better than 3D women", waited till 1999 to abolish child porn, have a current low birth rated epidemic and invented kneeling pillows for men to pee while kneeling so they dont upset their wives by getting piss on the seat. Good lord men grow some balls...where's your SAMURAI PRIDE

Avatar image for SingletreeAve
SingletreeAve

@Gatchan2: I think I'd get more piss on the seat if I peed while kneeling.

Avatar image for Kiaininja
Kiaininja

@SingletreeAve: Show off. :P

Avatar image for deactivated-58bd60b980002

@Slannmage: Things are really different than in the US. Of course they are polite, there is far more people around you ... if you aren't polite and have some sort of social law it would be nightmare.

Not so long ago they had a natural catastrophy and they waited in line to receive some food, water and a blanket until they can go back home. In America everyone would have rushed there like headless chicken and need heavy police enforcement.

Suicide rate is high because the pressure is high at school and all that. They go to school a lot more than us and need to be good.

Avatar image for Gatchan2
Gatchan2

@Zero_Maniac: WWII era Japanese men are probably rolling over their graves or the ones still alive are facepalming every day at whats going on over there.

Avatar image for SingletreeAve
SingletreeAve

@7tizz: So how do you explain Manga?

Avatar image for hystavito
hystavito

@7tizz: I have heard that many times.

Avatar image for southsouthsac
southsouthsac

@Slannmage:

completely agreed. Japan really does need to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

Avatar image for gameoftrolls
GameofTrolls

Nintendo take lessons...

Avatar image for _plaguelight_
_Plaguelight_

@gameoftrolls: Nintendo were the ones who have been constantly reaching out to the entire world since the NES.

Nice try though.

Avatar image for RSM-HQ
RSM-HQ

Inafune san repeats himself every year while ignoring the quality original games from The Land of the Rising Sun.

Always with the "five years behind". What bull! Nothings more last gen than Assassins Creed and Call of Duty. And let's be honest, Street Fighter V and Guilty Gear Xrd have shown way more improvements over the monopoly system that is the other two.

Guess it just stings when he realizes he's been remaking Mega-Man for most his career. Making him the definition of the issue he never stops talking about.

Perhaps he's loosing it because Mighty No.9 is set for failure. & hes always known.

Just a note of great developers in Japan-

Platinum Games, Vanillaware, FROM SOFTWARE, Nippon Ichi, Capcoms Itsuno team, Nintendo.

I apologize if I missed any favourites.

Though we can all agree Kojima games will be missed.

Avatar image for superbuuman
superbuuman

@RSM-HQ: tend to ignore him now the same every year, he just bash Japan gaming industry...is he still in Japan or has he move to US? ...might as well just move to US. :P

Avatar image for RSM-HQ
RSM-HQ

@superbuuman: I remember reading he was born in Osaka, beautiful place. Has a small studio here. Shame it has a poor reputation with Inafune sans vision of Ninja Gaiden in recent memory. All they do now is assist other developers with coding. Building looks abandoned when I saw it. .

Though, for almost half a decade he has lived near his studio American branch. The prime studio making Mighty No.9. This explains much if you ask me.

I have no dislike to America, but have always found Inafune san disrespectful to essentially, his home.

His ignorance to anything productive in Japanese gaming is horrific!

Avatar image for Suikogaiden
Suikogaiden

Alienation is a big problem in Japan and other peoples of East Asia but it is not a traditional part of the culture. With one or both parents typicaly working 60-80 hours a week the children suffer from isolation which leads to impaired social skills and mental illness.

Avatar image for 19Gam3NErD91
19Gam3NErD91

Dear Peter Brown, I think what he meant by Metroid Prime blowing up in the community was the new game Federation Force which its trailer has probably the most amount of dislikes in the whole Nintendo channel and there has also been a petition to cancel it.

Avatar image for dyshonest
Dyshonest

It's ironic.. The affluent scamming Japanese moron who has done nothing but profit off of ripping off of his former Japanese company's work is saying how crappy the Japanese market is and how everyone who attended E3 (I guess he attended via ghost?) sucked.

Self-resonance... goes a long way Scamafune.

Avatar image for tony56723
Tony56723

@dyshonest: You can't be serious lol

Avatar image for dyshonest
Dyshonest

@tony56723: Except Comcept has yet to release an IP that's just not a copy/paste of a Capcom IP with worse graphics than the decade-old games and a poorer frame rate.

Can't wait for our favorite affluent apparently-not-Japanese scammer to release a Kickstarter for a horror game called "Inhabitant Wicked", or something.

Avatar image for tony56723
Tony56723

@dyshonest: isn't this guy one of the co designers of the mega man? Not surprising that he wants to keep making them, too capcom is just sitting on the IP

Avatar image for dngdangerous
dngdangerous

Sometimes behind 5 years behind is good, but at the same time innovation is important as well.

If we could find a fusion between the two, it would be great.

I am going to be brutally honest, games now a days are terrible. There is too much innovation without the quality ingreadients that we already know and love.

I love next gen graphics, but graphics alone cannot carry true weight when it comes to an enjoyable gaming experience.

I loved mega man X when it first came out, it was the perfect fusion of innovation and traditional game quality when it first came out.

Now lets take a look at games of more relevance to the newer generation of gaming. Mass effect was a very memorable game for me, and I loved the intellectual property until the third installment was released. The game was great but it lacked the story telling elements of its previous predecessors. This is a prime example of better graphics not improving the overall gaming experience.

Avatar image for JustPlainLucas
JustPlainLucas

I can't help but think of Nintendo while reading this interview, yet at the same time, I don't think that this really applies to them. I mean, sure, they pump out Marios and Zeldas and all that jazz, but they also reinvent their games as they do so, and their latest consoles were HUGE risks (paid off with the Wii because of accessibility, didn't with the Wii U because of horrible marketing).

And here comes the double-edged sword. For years, Nintendo has been told by their fans to try something different. They do with Metroid Prime: Federation Force and their fans flip out on them (I will say I'm appalled by the game). When you get a reaction like that, no wonder some Japanese game makers don't want to try anything new.

*shrugs*

Avatar image for ewjiml
ewjiml

@JustPlainLucas: There's a difference between doing something different and doing something that just sucks. That's the problem when your fans Expect something. Companies created that expectation. If you are a company that makes carbon copies of sequels, don't get mad when fans complain when you do something "different."

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hitechgraphs

Japan 5 years behind, did you heard it Nintendo? Nintendooooooooo!!!!!!

Avatar image for deactivated-58ce94803a170

@hitechgraphs: Gyro controls on a console in a new team based online shooter called Splatoon, now tell them to catch up.

Avatar image for dyshonest
Dyshonest

@mesome713: What is "gyro"? Motion controls, or something?

Avatar image for deactivated-58ce94803a170

@dyshonest: Yeah, you hold controller and move torso and wrists. It gives you precise precision when aiming, you can move it in tiny increments, its insane how good it is for shooting games.

It also makes you feel like you have more control, since youre controlling it with motion movement and your also moving camera with camera stick, its insane.

Avatar image for Kiaininja
Kiaininja

@mesome713: Some PS3 games did that with the Sixaxis controller. Uncharted uses it when you aim the grenade.

Avatar image for deactivated-58ce94803a170

@Kiaininja: Yeah, Nintendo did it with GBA. But Nintendo implemented it as a core mechanic in an online team based shooter. This is where people demand the most control. Its more competitive that way.

Avatar image for cboye18
cboye18

@mesome713: I did, but now they are spiraling out of control; get it?

Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

Don't worry Inafune, American publishers have become filled with Yes Men too.....

Avatar image for ralphikari
ralphikari

Good job. Do more of these interviews, not your exclusive 1080p nonsense, and treat the game industry with maturity, care and respect. Then your readers and advertisers may come back.

Avatar image for ewjiml
ewjiml

Japan video games are failing because most of their games are made by big companies that refuse to take risks. Their indie scene was essentially the 1980s and 1990s but ever since companies like Nintendo and Capcom became big entities, there's been a lack of change or innovation on the small level. Most indie games these days are the real innovators on PSN and Xbox Live and they come from western backers. Not many Japanese indie games meaning many Japanese developers don't have that outlet to go to when they are unhappy with their AAA games going south. It's also a big cultural thing. Video games used to be the epicenter in Japan. It's not. People want realistic gritty war games now compared to Japanese fantasy. Dark Souls is an exception.

Avatar image for Oni
Oni

@ewjiml: It's true. If you think about it most of the iconic Nintendo characters came from a time when the company was really small and Shigeru Miyamoto took a lot of risks. Nintendo was pumping out new IPs all the time and always took risks on strange ideas.

Today it's just a rinse and repeat process. There's a few new IPs here and there but nothing compared to the hayday. Same goes for Capcom, Square-Enix, Konami, Sega etc.

Avatar image for Gatchan2
Gatchan2

@Oni: Have to say as much as I hated them last gen, at least Square-Enix is somewhat trying now. They are more open to fan feedback (Active Time Report for FFXV), working with many foreigners outside Japan (staff for FF XV contains a lot of multicultural people from all over the world), are doing FF XV remake for real after the troll job they pulled at PSX, just created a new Tokyo RPG studio, making Nier 2, have a strong base in Western games (Deus Ex, Tomb Raider, Hitman, Sleeping Dogs etc), and are aware PS4 needs to sell more units so they created IPs to help push console gaming out more. Oh and Wada quit finally.

Cant say the same for Konami, Sega and SNK obviously. and Capcom is barely alive; focused on remasters..

Avatar image for andenogma
andenogma

Paradigm shift, rufus style, woof woof.
LOL, oh dear. Adblock needs to get back onto the scene.

Avatar image for oflow
oflow

They have weird combination of repression and fetish in their culture. Probably makes lots of things difficult. The birth rate is plummeting there because young people there don't like sex, but they also have tentacle fetish pr0n.

Avatar image for santinegrete
santinegrete

@oflow: yeah that's weird. How can they make so much porn and still sell it censored? Overseas are not censored, but they don't put the hot chicks there, like Hitomi Tanaka.

Avatar image for Gatchan2
Gatchan2

@santinegrete: That censorship rule is ironically carried over from a U.S. implemented rule decades ago when WWII ended. As silly as everyone knows that censorship rule is, just proves how stubbornly resistant to change Japan is, even when its something based on something that was forced onto them by a foreign country under occupancy. Like I said, it took until 1999 for the UN to push Japan to abolish child porn distribution and another 5 years after that to make possession of it illegal.

Avatar image for santinegrete
santinegrete

@Gatchan2: too bad from them. I swore to purchase original downlodable content from dlsite if they stopped censoring content. Seems like that day is far, far away.

Avatar image for slefo29
slefo29

Anyone who takes a risk will be shamed on social media.l

Avatar image for Ripper_TV
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 GameboyTroy
GameboyTroy

@Ripper_TV: Yeah he did. It was Azure Striker Gunvolt on the 3DS.

Avatar image for MegamanX97
MegamanX97

@Ripper_TV: Once I play it I will then safely make a judgment if Mighty no. 9 is good or not to me. :)

Avatar image for Monsterkillah
Monsterkillah

Lol the japanese are ok at least for now..yeah maybe they re falling abit here and there but al long as they want to learn from their mistakes theres always oportunity to improve..always learn from your mistakes

When im looking at game like mgs v pp and final fantasy xv it look much better than any other game ubisoft or activision can came up with

What i want is game from mexican developer....after guacamele..i knew it i love muchalibre

They need to create something badass like a open world machete game, desperado, once upon a time in mex or at least a libre fighting game

Also the brits need to step up..i need a new james bond game so bad or at least something new

Avatar image for gamebuyer22
gamebuyer22

The amount of good games out of Japan in recent years is very low. I remember reading a Kojima interview where he is saying the same things about Japanese games. Konami, Square Enix, Capcom have all fallen. To a certain extent Nintendo has as well. Look at the low budget indie quality of their recent games. Lets not even talk about the fall of the JRPG.

I can look right at my bookcase of PS2 games and see tons of good Japanese made games.

Avatar image for gamefreak215jd
gamefreak215jd

@gamebuyer22: Those wonderful times when both Western and Japanese devs made awesome games...

Avatar image for Shunten
Shunten

Good interview, thanks for making it happen Peter.

Avatar image for xcollector
xcollector

The west is afraid to take risks too. The whole video game industry turned into an out of control budget that is kept in check by safe bets only. The end result is crappy games but a lot of people seem to like that kind of stuff.

Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@xcollector: The difference is the "safe" things that the west makes (read: first person shooters) are still popular and make money.

The problem with the Japanese stuff is that their "safe" zone stuff fell out of favor. So when they refused to take risks, they fell behind.

Hopefully one day the age of the FPS will be over, and it will be western developer's time to suffer as the EAs of the world refuse to change.

Avatar image for ewjiml
ewjiml

@xcollector: umm wrong. The west actually are the innovators here especially the indie scene.

Avatar image for deactivated-58ce94803a170

@ewjiml: The Indie scene is coping Japan Culture.

Avatar image for shashank
Shashank

Awesome interview, it's pretty thought-provoking and gives insight on what developers are thinking, I don't know about you guys, but I definitely want more original games in this currently over flowing market of games which are the same thing over and over. (Assassin's Creed, Battlefield, Call of Duty)