on January 25, 2013 by I love Japanese games
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard people tell me that the Japanese games industry is dead, dying, doomed or, in the case of Phil Fish it– ‘just sucks’. And you don’t exactly have to be Phoenix Wright to unearth strong evidence and vocal criticism from some highly respected Japanese developers.
Keiji Inafune for example, or Hideo Kojima – both hugely respected figures who have pointed to a number of factors surrounding Japan’s supposed decline.
What are these factors?
Technology is one, and to be fair, I think that’s a given. With the exception of something like Kojima’s own Fox Engine, Western development tools are way ahead of Japan – our games look better, our game world’s are richer, bigger and offer greater choices and freedom.
What else? Continually flogging the same brands over and over? Fair comment – but who isn’t guilty of this? You don’t have to be a Japanese studio or publisher to be guilty of that particular ‘crime’ – lets face it, if a game does well, you’d be insane not to make another. After all, everyone’s in this for the money, right? We all have to eat. This isn’t a phenomenon exclusive to Japan.
So what else is supposedly indicative of Japan’s development death knell? Perhaps the most common criticism is Japan’s reluctance to make games for a ‘Global Audience’. Japan is, apparently, guilty of making their games ‘too Japanese’ – of only catering to a domestic audience.
It’s this need to pursue a ‘Global Audience’ that I not only have a problem with but, would argue, is a ‘bad thing’ with long term repercussions for the industry as a whole…
Before I go any further though, can someone please explain to me what this ‘Global Audience’ is?
If it exists, surely there must be an individual out there that best represents it – some kind of freakish ‘Everyman’ who encapsulates the tastes and desires all games developers should aim to please in the pursuit of maximising profits.
Find me this ‘Everyman’, and I tell you now – I will kick him… IT… square in the vaginal nutsack. For such a being must be both genders simultaneously, all races, religeons and sexualities combined. It must be…
oh, hang on…
…that’s right – IT DOESN’T EXIST, YOU MORONS!
There is no such thing as a ‘Global Audience’ – only ‘what a lot of people happen to like at this particular time’.
Now, I’m not against a game trying to appeal to as many people as possible – it makes perfect sense, but unfortunately, in the pursuit of this mythical Global Audience developers and publishers alike all too often make the same mistake – misconstruing ‘reaching a Global Audience’ as ‘just make the game more western looking’ or worse – ‘borrowing the success of others’ as ‘Mass Appeal’.
This essentially involves looking at ‘what games sell the most copies’ and then attempting to emulate it in some way. Not necessarily copying it wholesale, but just trying to borrow the look and feel – to nestle your own game alongside it – to make it more palatable to the millions of people who bought whatever game is currently riding high at the top of the charts.
It’s the equivalent of watching a Justin Bieber DVD, learning some of his dance moves for an hour or two, before breaking into his house and then proceeding to rub yourself against him while he sleeps – in the vain hope that some of his scent, sweat and dead skin will make you as popular as him.
What does this approach mean? What if we were to follow it to it’s logical conclusion? It means that everyone will be making games for the same person. Striving to reach the same goals, thematically, aesthetically, culturally and technically. All our games will look the same, be aimed at the same person – we’ll be voluntarily entering into a process of cultural homogenisation, and where’s the fun in that?!
There are few better examples in gaming of this process in action than gaming’s love of Zombies. It’s a topic, long-time readers will know really gets on my nerves. Zombies. Fucking Zombies everywhere. At one point I felt that, somewhere along the line, we were putting Zombies in just about *everything*.
Yakuza, Call of Duty, Ninja Gaiden, Red Dead Redemption – even Suda 51 – who, lets face it, can usually be relied upon to run riot with unbridled imagination, managed to squeeze out a couple of games out with zombies in them. Did I miss the memo that suggested ‘putting Zombies in it’ would guarantee success?
Had we really run out of ideas to the point where Zombies were the only option? Of course not – it’s just people couldn’t be bothered to think of anything else.
So what’s the answer? If you ask me, there are only a handful of things that have truly global appeal – quality, innovation, imagination and fun. When you boil it down to these core elements, there’s no such thing as a ‘Japanese Game’ or a Western Game’ – only ‘good games’, and ‘bad games’ – perhaps we should be spending more time on that distinction, more than anything else.
There’s one little Japanese company that has done okay for itself in the pursuit of these fundamentals. Never once pandering to anyone else, copying anyone else, following any particular regional trends. They forge their own path, and sure they stumble from time to time, but still they stick to their guns – say what you like about them, it’s a philosophy that commands the utmost respect.
ILJG runs the I Love Japanese Games Facebook Page.
His views are not necessarily those held by Rice Digital or it’s partners.