Most gamers will know that recently the Games Developers Conference or passed by almost a month ago now. The event in itself didn’t really catch my attention, almost slipping under the radar if it weren’t for one man and his blunder.
It all began with a somewhat outspoken game developer called Phil Fish. Might I add before I go on that he won the grand prize at the conference, giving him £30,000 to develop his platformer Fez. So he might seem like a well-informed developer, after all why give him £30,000 to develop a game if he were nothing more than an orangutang with minor programming capability?
Well, whilst accepting questions from the audience on a GDC panel, a Japanese member of the audience (who happens to be a game developer also) asked him for his opinion of the Japanese games industry. Fish very tactfully answered with, “Your games just suck.” His attempts to apologise on Twitter went equally as well: “I’m sorry japanese guy! I was a bit rough, but your country’s games are ******* terrible nowadays.” I’m not sure if he meant those shipped in English or just all Japanese games, but either way it’s purely ignorant. Now after lots of hate from gamers and tweets comparing him to Kanye West and Hitler, Fish seems to have broken down to a bitter and angry man and perhaps he rightly deserved it. He certainly is no diplomat.
So this whole incident got me thinking. Are Japanese games terrible now? If you take a look at what is selling right now, it’s not the Japanese games. It’s stuff by EA and other American publishers. Why are Japanese games not selling then?
The answer isn’t obvious, but right now it’s a mix of Western games being as much a bad influence as a good one. You see western developers are making really good games for large audiences where as the Japanese industry really makes niche stuff. My best example of this would be the new Armoured Core. It’s a game for such a specific audience that the developers actually expect the audience to know how to play, and omit any real explanation in detail for all the stats, bars and numbers floating on the screen mean. Unfortunately, this also means that new players won’t buy it —but that isn’t the only reason. There are good games, too, which are fine for new players to pick up.
Games such as Catherine or Yakuza have received generally good to brilliant reviews. Yet no one plays them. This isn’t the fault of the developers, it’s the fault of us. The consumers. You look at the game charts now and the games are all sequels — very few will be the first iteration. Unfortunately, we’ve created an environment where the stuff that sells is the stuff we know. Proven by more than anything Call of Duty, which has gained ridiculous praise despite only minor changes each sale. Soon these games are going to be opium for the masses, whilst the smaller games fight for the little they can.
Hideo Kojima, developer of Metal Gear Solid, once said that if he were to pitch his game now, it’d be rejected. Are the times gone where a new idea of an original game can thrive unless it’s $10 and downloadable to your iPod? Maybe so. Even Japanese giants are suffering. The new Resident Evil: Operation Racoon City was a poor attempt by Capcom at trying to tap into the action game market.
Speaking to Gamasutra, Masachika Kawata, producer of Resident Evil Revelations, actually stated that in order to keep the series going they need to make it action orientated. “Looking at the marketing data [for survival horror games] … the market is small, compared to the number of units Call of Duty and all those action games sell,” he said. “A ‘survival horror‘ Resident Evil doesn’t seem like it’d be able to sell those kind of numbers.”
The bottom line of it is: Whilst Western developers remake and update, the Japanese innovate. So no, Mr. Fish, Japanese games don’t suck, you just haven’t heard of the good ones. Let me remind you of classics, like Shadow of the Colossus and the Mario games. They certainly don’t suck.