Wholly Writ

What, exactly, is Famitsu? You may have heard of it referred to by Western magazines and websites, often with gushing, reverend tones and its reviews etched on stone tablets and spread to the masses.

Famitsu is Japan’s most read gaming magazine. It purportedly has a circulation of 800,000 but that is an unconfirmed figure on the hardly reliable Wikipedia website. But a Hell of a lot of people read it.

Its breakdown roughly goes like this: a handful of pages in the front deal with actual industry news; game shows, interviews about new consoles, etc. Then there are but a few pages with reviews. These you have probably heard of. Four separate reviewers each give a 1 to 10 score to a game, which is then totaled to give a final score, with extra “awards” for the higher scoring titles. Then there is a tiny column where there are opposing views on recently reviewed games. A few pages on upcoming games, with a half-page to two page spread for each, depending on its importance. Next follows a whole lot of pages with adverts and the occasional comic strip. A few more pages on upcoming games. Maybe some play guides for the first parts of recently released games. On occasion a little booklet stapled in the center, with a more detailed play guide for a very popular game. More adverts. Some pages dedicated to more niche games (though never overtly adult stuff). Some fan-art. More adverts. And that’s about it.
So it’s a fairly big pill to be released each week, but the actual reviews only take up a tiny fraction of that.

So why is it so popular? Well, in Japan it has somehow established itself as the main source for gaming news. It may be due to the fact Japan hasn’t got an on-line community as vibrant and loud as the west has. There are plenty of magazines out that that copy Famitsu’s style, and even layout, but none of them seem to make quite the same impact.
Indeed, at work everybody reads Famitsu. The company usually gets a few copies in before it’s released and they are read by most. Getting a “gold” or better review can even result in the producer (not the development team of course) receiving a small cash bonus from his employer.

Why it is so popular a reference in the west is a bit more of a mystery. It may be the number one source for Japanese gaming news for some, though some websites and forums would do that job better. It must be said, though, that many publishers still use Famitsu as the first place to announce new titles and show screenshots and concept art.
But why their reviews are considered so authoritative is a little silly. It’s like the Japanese considering the EGM scores as Holy Writ; it’s just some people offering their opinions, is all.
It has even been alleged there is a strange correlation between review scores and the amount of advertising space a publisher buys in the magazine, though I wouldn’t make such a suggestion as that could be libelous. It would certainly explain some of the scores my games have received in the past.
It could simply be the old stereotype of the Japanese being better at anything to do with games, and therefore their reviewers must be a cut above the rest too. It’s ludicrous, of course. And even then, gaming tastes in Japan are so mind-bogglingly different that the actual scores are pretty much worthless to your average Western gamer.

Still, I’ve had some of my work appear in the magazine a few times and it is always a bit of a thrill; partly because you know so many people will be seeing it, but to be honest, it’s the same kind of thrill I always get once the game moves from the secretive to the public domain; it somehow solidifies it and makes all the hard work just a little more worthwhile.

I’ve got nothing against the magazine at all; it’s a pretty good read. I am just baffled by the fact so many people in the west hold it in such disproportionately high regard.


  1. "It could simply be the old stereotype of the Japanese being better at anything to do with games, and therefore their reviewers must be a cut above the rest too. It’s ludicrous, of course."

    Yes! Similarly in the UK, readers of Edge magazine tout the significane of a game recieving 10/10. Of course such reviews mean little to the casual market, with movie tie-ins still dominating the top of the charts on a regular basis over here.

    Though do I think references to Famitsu amongst western gamers were very uncommon until the boom in internet gaming communities (around 4/6 years back). The common perception seems to be "If Famitsu says it's good, it must be good". To us non-literate in Japanese, a bit of personal research into the publication is hard work, so there is some reliance on the (mis)information of others. From a consumer perspective I do approve of the idea of mutliple reviewers on a single game.

    Out of interest does Famitsu produce retrospective feature articles? They're one of the more entertaining aspects of videogame journalism in my opinion.

  2. Out of interest, is there a source you would cite as being a better place for the west to reference?

  3. I don't think Famisu does the same kind of retrospectives as you see in Edge. Nothing truly retro, anyway.

    As for other news sources, well, no. Famitsu is pretty good for he latest news regarding upcoming games. If you don't read Japanese 2ch won't be much use to you.

  4. Among the hardcore fanboy gamertypes (aka Wapanese types), Famitsu is canon because it's Japanese and has a name that they recognize.

    Exotic = better!

  5. Haha, "Wapanese", class! Obsolutely true though. The geeks should realise that if they are sad, geeky individuals shunned by society they are not magically going to find acceptance in Japan; here too they will be shunned. Nothing funnier than a Wapanese proudly proclaiming himself to be an "otaku", not realising that it is a derogatory term.