Kojima’s Take on the Future of Japanese Video Games

Speaking with Eurogamer at a round table event prior to the Smithsonian’s “The Art of Video Games” exhibit, Konami’s Hideo Kojima gave his views on the lamentable state of the Japanese video game industry. In response to Keiji Inafune’s rant at the GDC, in which he accused Japanese game developers of laziness and complacency, Kojima says “I think the problem really is more about where people are looking and who they’re targeting. A lot of creators are just focused on Japan and the Japanese market and aren’t really aware of what people around the world want.”

He says that Japan has fallen behind technologically because fewer Japanese students are studying abroad where the newest technologies are being developed, but that even regaining the cutting edge they once held will not be enough to bring Japan out of its rut.

He argues that the real problem with the Japanese gaming market is its narrowed, insular focus. “Game creators now are creating games based on the culture they know, targeted at Japan and Japanese cultures,” Kojima says. “So they set it in places like Shibuya or Shinjuku or somewhere else in Tokyo. And it’s not something that appeals to people outside of Japan. Because Japan doesn’t look outside of it’s borders then technologies don’t come, creating this vicious cycle.”

“In contrast to that, most Western studios approach things from more of a Hollywood standpoint where they’re looking at making their games a very global success and looking at how they can sell them in various markets. From the very beginning they have those goals and are able to get the proper budget and commit the proper technology to it.”

Despite the astute contrast, Kojima makes sure to point out that he isn’t setting Japan in opposition to the west, or vice-versa. “I don’t want to break this down to a thing where it’s Japanese games versus non Japanese games. The key is it has to be a global game, it has to be something made for everybody. I want to get rid of all those barriers.”

Of course, Kojima wouldn’t be Kojima without making at least one absurd yet awesome comment, and he delivers this one as his finale: “When I think of my studio I think of it as the Starship Enterprise. The Enterprise had people from all races – even Vulcans! I want my studio to be like that. This is my Enterprise. It just happens that the captain is Japanese and the ship was manufactured by Konami, but it’s a multi-cultural staff.”

Here’s to hoping Konami recruits a few Vulcans to save the Japanese gaming industry.

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  • Well for one thing I know we dont’ want. We dont’ want Japanse developers making games modeled on western games. That’d be pointless and retarded. They just need to evolve their games instead of relying too much on overused tried and tropes(cliches) of game design.
    In every aspect.

    People who love Japanese games, play them because they want to play Japanese games. Not because they want them to be like western games. If we did , we would just play western games and vice versa.

    Why else would games like Yakuza, Bayonetta and Vanquish be so damn amazing?

    Another example is: If a westerner made Metal Gear instead of Japanese you’d end up with something like Splinter Cell, a boring , too bound to realism , steaming pile of poop in comparison to how exciting, unique and creative Metal Gear is.(Splinter cell is still good on it’s own though)

    • Anonymous

      I wholeheartedly agree. The charm of something like Yakuza or Bayonetta would be lost if the games were “westernized”. It’s the same with JRPGs – I don’t get the obsession with people wanting the genre to turn toward more Western RPG tropes with branching dialog and the “make your own story” type thing. That would make them, well, Western RPGs, not JRPGs.

      Sure, I love Skyrim or Mass Effect. Why? Because of what they are, not what I want them to be. I also love very Japanese RPGs like the Tales series (currently playing Tales of Graces f), Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 or the Atelier franchise. Why? Because of what they are – Japanese-style RPGs.

      You nailed it when you said they need to evolve what the genre is instead of turning it into something it isn’t. Cliche mechanics or story points here and there are fine, and they’re par for the course in ANY type of genre or game design – but when developers go above and beyond that to try to evolve the genre – not change it into something it’s not – is when things really start to get creative, and that’s what I’m looking for, frankly.

      Don’t get me wrong, I love a good, traditional JRPG, but what really impresses me is when something new and interesting comes along like Valkyria Chronicles, Neptunia mk2 or the like. It’s seeing the genre evolve instead of turn into something it isn’t. It shouldn’t even TRY to appeal to Western sensibilities, that would just turn it into something fans of the genre dislike.

      • Anonymous

        I also agree. The most successful Japanese games that I’ve played are the ones who weren’t afraid to do something different — they have taken risk.

        I feel like, at the moment, the Japanese market is stuck in a ditch, and they’re having a hard time getting themselves out. Either their successful IP’s that could have bloomed into something amazing have been forgotten, or new IP’s just feel like rehashed everything from other games.

        What made the Japanese market so amazing in the past is their ability to innovate. Not innovate with just technology, but also with regards to creativity in their stories. That’s what separated them — at least to me — from everyone else at one point.