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 doozie78
Doozie78

Kickstarter...saving gaming from corporate vampirism one donor at a time.

Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@doozie78: Kickstarter, saving japanese gaming from the Capcoms and Konamis of the world one donor at a time.

Avatar image for hughthehand88
HughTheHand88

@doozie78: Did you even read the article?

Avatar image for Barighm
Barighm

Er...a little confusing of him to say the world wants Japanese games only to then suggest those same creators should make "world" games. That's what Square did and it ruined him. Overall though good interview.

Avatar image for Kiaininja
Kiaininja

@Barighm: I understood the interview differently. I thought he meant "open to the world" as in marketing/promoting their Japanese products more internationally. Instead of only creating to succeed locally and throwing a bone to Weebos as an afterthought. Like for example how the developers From Software created Dark Souls, it balances well Japanese style game play with a western appeal of Medieval theme.

Avatar image for Ripper_TV
Ripper_TV

@Barighm: I don't get this guy either and I think it's a translation problem.

Avatar image for naryanrobinson
naryanrobinson

Actually I always used to say that the absolute best games in the world are made in Japan. In my own mind it's been getting a little harder to justify that recently, but I think they're still on top.

KickStarter is such a fantastic platform for a place like Japan and their gaming industry. There's so much creativity coming out of there in so many different directions that in my opinion they regularly strike gold.

“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.”

That's definitely true. I've spent most of my time in China, but my experience of Japan is that their population/birth rate is going down simply because they're too shy to even go out and meet a potential girlfriend/boyfriend, so they just convince themselves they never wanted one anyway. Seriously. The shyness is extreme.

Really interesting article.

Avatar image for Swaghard
Swaghard

There are a lot of "yes men" over here too Inafune-san. There are a lot here too. The power of oppression needs to be fought on fronts all over the world.

Avatar image for Oni
Oni

Awesome interview. Makes me hopeful for the future. I would love to see another Japanese game Renascence. I backed all three of these Japanese dev's games on KS. I truly believe this is the way to go.

Avatar image for musalala
musalala

This dude is 4ever trashing Japan

Avatar image for superbuuman
superbuuman

@musalala: Yup, he might as well "Go West!...life is peaceful there".. :P

Avatar image for DanielL5583
DanielL5583

@musalala: Quite rightly so, to be honest.

I mean, I'm a weeaboo, but goddamn does some of their stuff embarrass even me.

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deafwing

I think we should take this as one man, in the gaming industry, point of view based on "his" experiences that may apply to how others may feel while working for corporations like Capcom.

Much like what @mesome713 said "Japanese people are satisfied" with what they have. It's a blessing and a curse IMO.

I think he is pointing out that perhaps this attitude is what restricted "him" from being all that he could be creatively.

Most people like the idea of a solid pay check no matter what. I'm down for Quality / Quantity also but not at the risk regulating creativity.

Avatar image for rapanbub
Rapanbub

The hell is this? The Japanese devs creates awesome games. They're taking things slowly but surely. How it oughta be done. Not throwing a bunch of things into someone's face and hope it will stick. Final Fantasy & Xenoblade are great examples. Quality > Quantity is for me.

Avatar image for santinegrete
santinegrete

@raptor1998: both aspects have decreased man, killing faith and sagas in the process.

Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@raptor1998: "They're taking things slowly but surely. How it oughta be done."

The Japanese game industry is falling apart. Taking things slowly has led to ruin.

Avatar image for rapanbub
Rapanbub

@Thanatos2k: Final Fantasy and Xenoblade as said, are doing quite well. Pokémon and the Supersmash games with most of their respective inspiration are also doing well. Could say that Pokémon is also quite worn out though. Nonetheless there's plenty of Japanese based game companies that are doing well.

Also, ''Slowly but surely'' is the doing of many other non-Japanese companies (BethesdaSoftWorks etc). Taking things too quickly has destroyed more than it has saved or helped. CoD being one to have been consumed into Quantity -> Quality. Yes being too slow (Like Blizzard, namely Starcraft II Legacy of The Void) has hurt some certain companies but taking the slowly but surely path is the as in name, the most assured way for success.

@santinegrete: It's all a game of gambling. Annoying one at that as if you should fail many others will suffer with you. No one likes a sh!!ty game : /

Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@raptor1998: Final Fantasy is doing quite well? The FF13 "trilogy" is reviled. FF14 debuted as a steaming heap of trash, only saved through significant and very expensive work over a long period of time. FF15 has taken forever. Kingdom Hearts skipped an entire console generation.

Slowly and surely isn't cutting it, which is why the JP wing of Square is flailing.

Avatar image for rapanbub
Rapanbub

@Thanatos2k: Yes yes the most notable and old franchise of Square Enix is perhaps doing poorly for now but that doesn't mean they've fallen. I do not play the Final Fantasy games.

FF13, I've seen reviews. A lot of people seem to hate it aye but there's a lot of people who also like it. User reviews speaking.

FF14, perhaps as you say. A bad start, though eventually you claim it to have fixed itself in the end.

FF15, It took 5 years and I've seen it's gameplay and it looks amazing. A lot for 5 years, which isn't too long for an RPG of such size. Fallout 4's production started in late 2008 as they also worked on Skyrim amongst other games as well. Fallout 4, being released on the 10th of November 2015. Took more than 7 years.

Skipping an entire console generation? A sad thing, It returned eventually though.

And I'd say that flailing doesn't mean dying. Perhaps hurt from past injuries. But the JP Wing is crawling back. Also Square Enix is just one out of many Japanese game companies. Square is more known for the FF games (Which I don't like) but that's one franchise out of many many more famous Japanese crated games. You should have more hope for them considering FF15's looks/gameplay.

Avatar image for Gatchan2
Gatchan2

@raptor1998: Where are you getting "5 years from" for FF XV?

Its been in production since 2006 under Versus XIII, which was scrapped in 2012 and rebuilt from Crystal Tools engine into Ebony midware engine (shown in E3 2013) over to Luminous engine (an engine still in dev progress) as FF XV, with a revised Nojima script done by Dissidia 012 scenario writer and under a new director (Tabata).

Its a situation on par with Duke Nukem Forever and Too Human mess and worse than what went on with FF XII (when Matsuno left mid way).

Horribly managed by former S-E CEO Wada who btw just quit the company last week.

Avatar image for rapanbub
Rapanbub

@Gatchan2: Well that's development hell for you. Besides under all those years they did release a bunch of other FFs to satisfy you and most of these problems you claim seem to come from INSIDE Japan Itself rather than some foreigners lel.

@Thanatos2k: Game art, story scripts, what to do and not to do. That is the start of development for a game. You just don't sit down and start writing code instantly. I am experienced with writing code (As I study in such a school) so just the thought from starting a project without a plan hurts me.

FF15 looks amazing and you should give more cred to it. Mobile games? Who hasn't lol. Besides a pocket game every now and then is always fun. Still waiting for Fallout Shelter to come to Android or even PC should it become even bigger than what it is now. (Currently #1)

Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@raptor1998: If you think they were seriously working on FO4 since 2008 I have a bridge to sell you. Someone may have done some concept art and then stuck it in a drawer.

FF15 isn't out yet either. It has taken five years SO FAR. And it could still suck! We don't know.

Square has made more detestable mobile games than real games over the past 3 years.

Avatar image for DuaMn
DuaMn

Word!

Avatar image for deactivated-58ce94803a170

Great interview Peter. I feel Inafune is mistaking wisdom for fear, Japanese people are more satisfied being salaryman instead of being Ronin who live their life on the edge. Clearly he has never experienced the bravery and freedom of Nintendo employees. Many of Nintendos top creators have total freedom in what they want to create.

Takahashi who works on the Xenoblade Chronicles series has total freedom. The dude came to work for Nintendo because Nintendo said he could build robots. After they told him that he was sold. Same thing with Sakaguchi, he left Square Enix cause they wouldnt give him freedom to make a new IP, came to Nintendo and BOOM, new IP made. Like a Boss, Nintendo gives people freedom, but they must also have dedication and give Nintendo something in return. Its a fair exchange. They must build, create, and prepare for the future. Cause not always do people want to play what you want to create, and thats where publishers like Nintendo come in, they offer quality control, they are our regulators.

Japanese culture just wants good fun games just like us. Not everybody can be GTA5 or Minecraft, these big cult games can come from anywhere, the next big one could come straight from Mexico and sell over 20 million. I agree with him that innovation is needed to survive and that many have forgotten this. They get comfortable with their hits and start to not want to take risk, but thats what i love about Nintendo, they understand that you must use balance, you must take risk and make safe bets. This is something i hope Inafune can learn in life, he must find his balance. Sure people want new innovation from him, but guess what they also want, a less risky and more safe Megaman game.

I wish you luck Inafune, its a complex world and i hope you find your happiness. Just dont bring down Japanese culture doing it. Please understand it.

Avatar image for gameoftrolls
GameofTrolls

@mesome713 He is also talking about Nintendo because they are stubborn and arrogant. They don't want to get with the times. They make comments like how games should look and be like we are still in the 80s and 90s. Nintendo only makes Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Pokemon spin offs which are repetitive and boring for hardcore and mature gamers. My daughter can't tell the difference which makes the Wii U the best console for her. Nintendo's E3 was 90% trash except for Super Mario Maker which is likely one of my GOTY.

Avatar image for gamer7736
gamer7736

@mesome713: The culture, from what I know, is very different from American culture. In many Asian countries I've done business in, if you have a significant failure on your record, you will be labeled as a failure and it will follow you as a black mark forever. It's like how some countries use entrance exams for college, and if you fail to get into a good one, good luck getting a decent career. As a result, people tend to be very risk averse.

Avatar image for demon-returns
demon-returns

@mesome713: ummm you do know the guy is japanese right?

And also I respect everyone's right to liking what they want but your blind devotion to Nintendo in anything I see you write can be described as a microcosm for what is actually wrong with nintendo and why they are out of touch and failing recently.

Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@demon-returns: Aw snap.

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Doozie78

@demon-returns: +10

Avatar image for Oni
Oni

@demon-returns:

+1

Avatar image for deactivated-58ce94803a170

@demon-returns: Im also a Valve and Blizzard fan, tell him to come visit these companies also if he wants to experience balanced.

Avatar image for coop36
coop36

Interesting read. Its always sortof baffled me how Japanese culture can create such unique and incredibly imaginative art, and yet the society itself is still generally traditional and reserved working stiffs like he said. It also surprises me how relatively low tech most Japanese are considering all of the electronics companies that originate there like Sony & Samsung.

Avatar image for deactivated-58ce94803a170

@coop36: Samsung is from South Korea i think.

Avatar image for naryanrobinson
naryanrobinson

@mesome713: Yeah, it's Korean.

Avatar image for LuzerGS
LuzerGS

I Agree with others, this was an excellent article; oddly motivating too. Much respect to Inafune-san.

Avatar image for Boddicker
Boddicker

Great article.

Can Japan get over its fear of outside cultures? Only time will tell.

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freedom01

this was a really good article

Moderator
Avatar image for Bread_or_Decide
Bread_or_Decide

I imagine this is what Kojima has been dealing with over at Konami.

When he does a kickstarter the internet is going to implode then explode then implode again.

Avatar image for Arkhalipso
Arkhalipso

@Bread_or_Decide: Considering MGS 5 now has microtransactions, I guess something like that happened between them.

Avatar image for luncherstratos
luncherstratos

I suspect people outside East Asia (esp. Japan and Korea) won't be able to fully grasp the depth of the problem he's hinting at.

Avatar image for demon-returns
demon-returns

@luncherstratos: of course not. It'll be like trying to explain to a japanese the problems we have here in the US as black people. Will be hard for them to grasp on a much deeper in depth level since they have never lived here...

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luncherstratos

@demon-returns: Good point man. Sucks though.

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GamerYnoX

Nice article Peter

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Acillatem1993

Now this was a good article. Didn't read the whole thing, but from what I did I liked. Keep up the good work!

Avatar image for davillain-
DaVillain-

Thanks for the article Peter Brown, I really enjoy reading that.

Also I fear that Japanese are all going for Mobile gaming [yes looking at you Nintendo] and won't care for console gaming anymore. Look at Konami, they want to go on making games on Mobile cause it's a Japanese thing and not looking at NA interest. This is sad for Japan indeed.

Avatar image for franzito
franzito

So japanese devs' comfort zone actually is bringing them problems? Mr. Inafune is very corageous for saying this..

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BravoOneActual

Not a bad read a'tall.