An Open Letter to Japanese Video Game Developers (and Their Critics)

Dear All,

It’s no secret that Japan no longer dominates the video game market, but according to luminaries like Hideo Kojima and Keiji Inafune, the Japanese development community is mostly oblivious of Western tastes and doomed to fail in its current state. Most of the critics mean well, but they paint  a picture of a sinking ship, with only a handful smart enough to get on the last few lifeboats. It’s a grim outlook for a nation that I typically associate with optimistic ragtag groups saving the world and colorful curiosities that emphasize harmony over violence. But is the situation really that dire? It’s a question we’ve been asking ourselves on The Rumble Pack for a couple weeks after GDC 2012, and I think we’ve realized that maybe it isn’t a problem that needs fixing. Maybe we’re looking at the new status quo.

Inafune has it all wrong.

Last year, you would be forgiven for forgetting some of the modest industry successes in the midst of blockbusters like Modern Warfare 3 and Skyrim. Though the payoff can be huge, development costs and advertising budgets for these games are staggering, to the point where many talented individuals are leaving the “AAA” world for indie pet projects and iOS tidbits. But there is some territory in between, and the folks at Atlus and From Software seem to appreciate that. With Catherine and Dark Souls, respectively, they took two seemingly niche concepts and turned them into hits. Neither game is compromising; Catherine is a bizarre psycho-sexual thriller puzzle game, while Dark Souls has made its fortunes by making players cry in frustration. And yet somehow, with reasonable expectations and budgets, these developers were able to find Western audiences.

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