At least that is the opinion of Hideo Kojima, one of the most famous Japanese game developpers, creator of the Metal Gear series.
It’s been a frequent chorus in Japanese mags and online sites for a couple of years now. There’s a gap in development skill between Japanese and Western developers; the US and Europe aren’t interested in Japanese games the way they used to be; something needs to be done about this. Hideo Kojima, mastermind of the Metal Gearseries, isn’t so sure about that any longer.”Do we really need to succeed worldwide?” he asked Famitsu magazine in an interview published in this week’s issue. “That’s what I’m really wondering about. Everyone talks about overseas, overseas, but nobody’s really thinking about what needs to be done if we want to succeed. We get obsessed with thinking about worldwide because we’ve had previous success with games and anime worldwide, but none of those successes matter nowadays. When you’re making a game, it doesn’t matter what nationality the team is — I think there was a lack of understanding among Japanese developers on that issue. It all comes down to the team you have. Even if I brought in the best developer in the world, it won’t result in anything if nobody around him understands what he says.”
It may sound a bit like Kojima, whose flagship series has always sold better overseas than in Japan, is hoisting up the white flag. However, he sees it more as simply accepting reality. “It’s hard to feel this when you’re in Japan, but there is a gap opening between the West in terms of pure quality,” he said. “If you’re trying to break out overseas, then I think the only way is to divide your development teams between the Japanese and global markets. It’s impossible to encompass it in a single group — everything needs to be separate, down to the office and pay structure. There are loads of talented developers overseas, but you can’t get them unless you spend the money. If you base your calculations off the standard Japanese salary structure, nobody’s going to come to you. It’s the difference between what you pay a Hollywood star versus a Japanese film star.”
So it’s a money issue, but Kojima also noted that it’s a case of Japanese developers wanting their cake and eating it too — in other words, striving for acceptance (and sales) in the US, but not really making the changes required to make that happen. “To put it in an extreme fashion, Americans like games where you have a gun and you’re shooting at space aliens,” he said. “If you don’t understand why that’s fun, then you shouldn’t be making games for the world market; you don’t need to. I mean, Japanese people might say ‘Why space aliens?’, but Americans will counter with ‘What’s with these games featuring these feminine-looking boys fighting in Japan with these huge swords?’ It’s no wonder the target audience for a lot of games is getting so compartmentalized.”
Diverging genres of gaming — and, in fact, the blurring of genres across the industry — also play a role. “In the 8-bit days,” Kojima noted, “you had to symbolize a lot of things and make gamers follow certain rules. In the West, that did a complete 180 starting with the PS2. It’s no longer the game designer’s job to think up the rules; his job is to dissect gamers’ preferences and build a world they can get addicted to. That’s why having FPSes dominate the US market into the future is absolutely fine by me.”
So where does the answer lie in Kojima’s mind? To him it’s simple: make useful changes. That was somewhat symbolized with Kojima’s reveal of the Fox Engine before E3. “Once that’s complete, we’ll be able to develop games more intuitively as well as far more efficiently,” he told Famitsu “That’s the way games are normally developed overseas, but we just didn’t have that.”