I’ll be honest with you: I hate game shows. The events themselves are noisy, tiring places and the run-up to them busy. The information you want can be found on-line within hours anyway, it all seems a massively expensive waste of time.
But it’s not, of course. As a developer I think it is incredibly valuable to see what else is out there. Often when you are focused on getting a product finished nothing else seems to exist, and no developer is an island. We need to be constantly aware of what the competitor is up to, what products we’ll be competing with and what their code and graphical standards are. And no heavily compressed streamed movie can fully convey the intricacies of a game as a little hands-on experience does; the animation, the frame rate, the controls, these you really have to try for yourself.

Later this week is the Tokyo Gameshow, and I am again confronted by the Japanese attitude towards these events: apathy. When I tell my colleagues what I told you in the paragraph above they always vehemently agree with me. Yes, they nod, it is very important. No designer can work in a vacuum. You need to go out there occasionally and see the bigger picture. But when I ask if they’re going, they mostly grumble and say, nah, I’m too busy. Occasionally the hardcore geek will venture on the weekend, open to the whole public, but few seem intent to go on business day, a day reserved for industry professionals and journalists. Even the recent CEDEC was a bit of a let down, as few of my colleagues made the effort.

But it is not just the local shows that fail to whip up enthusiasm: the former E3, GDC, the late ECTS, the recent new shows in Germany and China, no company really seems to care enough about them to send over any developers. The reasons for this are many.

Money; Japanese companies are tight. It costs a bit of money to fly employees out and put them up in hotels. And this I can sympathise with. I do not expect my employer to be my patron. I do work for him, he pays me a salary, and that is that. But surely good management realizes that if you invest in your team it will pay off?

English; too many Japanese have either no English speaking abilities or are too shy to use them. This is a wider problem as Japan’s economic competitors are surely getting the edge. But it doesn’t really make sense, as things stand now, to send a group of programmers over to GDC if they won’t understand a word of it.

Underestimating Gaijinland; I often get a sense that even if companies are aware there is a market and development community outside of Japan they underestimate it. The English speaking development community is many times larger than that of Japan so a free exchange of ideas as you often see there is wasted here; they are missing out. The market too is many times larger, especially in North-America. Japanese titles can sell up to 10 times as many units in the Americas than they do back home and still companies make games for the Japanese market alone, with localization as a mere afterthought. So why send people to E3 or GDC? We’re Japanese. The Japanese market is the important one!

It is all slightly baffling and more than a little frustrating. If they ever do send you abroad don’t be surprised if your main ask is to be the babysitter, to lead a pack of colleagues through a strange and foreign land where people speak funny.
I have made many efforts to be allowed to visit the Tokyo Gameshow this Friday, and it seems I have succeeded. Strangely, though, it is not yet certain if they’ll “allow” me to go. Even back home it was understood that everybody went to ECTS, even as it was plummeting in importance. You could opt out, but if you wanted to go, well, you went; it made sense to go. That doesn’t seem to be the case in Japan.

Sure, I am very busy and deadlines need to be met, but this is one event, once a year that I think as many developers as possible need to attend, just to catch a glimpse of the competition. I think I am the only one in my team to go.


  1. Some of the sessions at GDC06 were either given in Japanese or available in Japanese (using real time translations through headsets).

    Heres the list:

  2. Maybe GDC was a bad example, as the price would be the biggest hurdle for my boss. :/