The cast – 1. The studio boss

In a new series of posts I hope to highlight a few of the differences between developer roles in the West and Japan. Now obviously I can’t tell you how to be a boss, though having more money than sense seems to be a minimum requirement, I can hopefully shed some light on the role your boss will play in your everyday working life.

There are, of course, as many different types of boss as there are bosses and each studio head will have a different approach and relationship with his staff.

One noticeable thing is that there is a gap between the staff and the boss, which can sometimes be less noticeable at smaller UK development houses. He is always referred to as “(name)-sacho”, never “(name)-san”. Even when out drinking the boss can act like one of the lads, get drunk and embarrass himself at karaoke, but there will always be a palpable sense that he is your superior, no matter how pally he gets.

When it comes to the projects I found the bosses back home were a little more distant. Aside from publisher and producer interference, it was left up to the leads and designers, with the occasional nudge to keep the project in line with company direction. In Japan the boss will often decree changes over the heads of the team leads, art director and designers. To ask for “more cowbell” is one thing but to demand drastic changes on a whim can seriously affect the schedule and game design. Often these decisions seem arbitrary or obtuse, but it’s something you’ll have to get used to.

Though I don’t have any hard figures to back this up with it is said bosses in Japan make a lot less money than their Western counterparts. They do, however, have access to the company funds, so they’ll still turn up in expensive cars and clothes. How this all works is a bit of a mystery to me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some suspect tax maneuvering is going on.

If you’re lucky you’ll get one of those bosses who worked his way up; who created some classic titles and runs his studio like an auteur. That can be a very inspiring work situation. If you’re unlucky you’ll get a boss who is backed by old money and runs the company like his personal vanity project with seemingly little regard for long-term business plans.
Also, the previous role of the boss can have a serious impact on how the company is run. If the boss worked his way up from being an artist you’ll find the artists in his company rule the roost. If he was a programmer, than his programmers are his darlings.

All in all, what kind of boss you’ll end up with is always a bit of a gamble. Just be prepared to deal with his influence on the project in manners you aren’t used to in the West, for better or for worse.

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