“This is my personal guess, but many Western gamers don’t play Japanese games anymore or maybe they never played Japanese games. They have no interest in Japanese games.”
So sayeth Tak Fujii, known Konami employee, producer of Ninety-Nine Nights and infamous for some questionably bizarre E3 presentation in 2010.
As if to further his point, Tak Fujii went on to say the most successful models in the industry right now are the likes of Modern Warfare, with annual installments and regular DLC.
But really, I’m struggling to agree with the guy.
It is true that financially, Modern Warfare 3 will make a not-tiny amount of profits, but it must also be said that the profits from the Call of Duty franchise, whilst large, are also dwindling – as Activision have numerous legal cases in the wings, the issue that Blizzard is no-where near as profitable as it used to be and need to have their latest projects bankrolled, and the very real issue that they have to start production on a new games engine for the next-generation (not cheap either), Activision doesn’t actually make nearly enough right now.
Hence the whole Elite service – which is set to inject a couple of extra billions into their reserves.
And when it comes down to things, Activision clearly must know that the cash-cow will, one day, dry up. And what then? They will have to do what Japan is most famous for – developing new IPs.
Japan has a very long history of creating new and exciting ideas and games, some don’t go anywhere and others do, but it’s a long way from the Western tradition of coming up with one bright idea and riding it until your legs have been ground off onto the floor. Japan has nothing to be ashamed of on this front – just this year, we’ve had Xenoblade, Catherine, The Last Story, Ni No Kuni and of course, Zelda: Skyward Sword (also should be noted, most of these are on Nintendo, which is kinda bigger in Japan than it is in the West – much the reason why X-Box 360 is dead in Japan).
And when it comes to comparable games, next week we get Skyrim from Bethesda. Sometime in 2012, we get Dragon’s Dogma from Capcom.
Whereas Skyrim will be completely awesome and we all know it, it’s again another show of extreme graphical grunt from a traditional first-person perspective, with a story that borders on various D&D Tropes. It will be technically brilliant – but, if anything like Oblivion and Morrowind before it, it will likely still be a tad on the clunky side to play, and lack… well. Real style.
Which is where Dragon’s Dogma will compete. It may not have the budget or the engine that Skyrim will be throwing about, but DD from what we have seen so far oozes style, with a combat system that is a bit like Dark Souls if you left it in a room with Devil May Cry, and came back nine months later to find the offspring of their illegitimate romance. And the Japanese do come up with some properly mental plots to go with their games.
But then you come to what the best selling games so far this year are and the reality hits you. Pokemon, Monster Hunter, Mario, Yakuza and Zelda – all Japanese games, all ranking highly mixed in with various offerings from EA, Activision, WB Games and so forth.
Thing is, we DO play Japanese games. It’s just the overlap between Western and Eastern gaming isn’t a big one – and it never really has been, we’ve often suckled at their JRPGs, we like their action adventures, we sometimes even like their horror games and their wackier things. And quality sells – it always has, and always will. It’s not a surprise that lower-budget games don’t translate well either way.
But what we play here in the West, the Japanese don’t. Call of Duty is tiny in Japan, with pitiful sales figures. They’re not interested, unlike the US and UK, who are the two biggest markets for the game (why am I not surprised?). Equally, the Japanese have a love for quirky games exploring the boundries of taste and decency – we don’t, we don’t want to think about why we’re blowing someones head off. We just want a game to give it to us.
Both sides are guilty of having a “Territorial Complex”, where we tend to stay largely with our own stuff. But some games translate here, some games translate to Japan.
It’s just of late, the stuff that is going both ways has been rotten, stale or just plain bad. Is it any wonder both sides of the Pacific, companies are worried about the territorial exchange closing down for good?
Quality, quality, quality. From Lufia 2 to Seiken Densetsu, from Clock Tower to Resident Evil, from Vagrant Story to Infinite Undiscovery, quality matters. Japan needs to realise Catherine did so well here because it’s of such high quality, such a well-designed, well-scripted game. We WANT Japanese games. We WANT the old Japanese sensibilities back.
But they have to be good. And if Resident Evil 5 is indicative of anything, it is that Japan is now trying far too hard to be like American developers…
And that, unfortunately, is what is killing the market here in the West…