The cast – 6. The lead

Like the previously covered senior position the lead role doesn’t differ significantly from its western counterpart. Duties include scheduling, decision-making, team management, task allocation, all that funky jazz. The Japanese lead may find himself in meeting after meeting, probably moreso than the western lead, but that is more due to the Japanese developers’ love for and dependency on meetings than the actual role itself. Whereas regular team members only attend the meetings that specifically cover something relating to their discipline, the lead will have to contribute to any meeting that could possibly affect the area of his work; which usually means everything. Planning, graphics, programming all have an effect on each other so the lead will probably have to attend all of them.

On top of that he will have to deal with, and probably work on, the previously mentioned XL files that comprise the design of the game; from asset lists to scheduling, a lot of dry digital paperwork will have to be written and read. The lead will have little chance of doing actual work, an art lead will have little time for art creation, in stead organizing the art team and the assets they have created, as does the lead programmer for his team.

Leads are usually promoted from the seniors available, although they are also sometimes hired in from the outside. Again the decision is usually based on the applicant’s longevity rather than skill. It is often painful to watch a good senior be promoted to lead where his talents are underused. In my current company for example after one lead quit, the next senior in line was pushed into this position; though he is good at it, he doesn’t seem to be enjoying it so much, as he really wants to be creating rather than managing. These kinds of promotions don’t automatically come with a pay rise; after a while the wages may be adjusted, after the candidate has proven himself. Or rather, that is the usual standpoint, but it sounds more like a cheeky way of keeping expenses down in the short term.

As a result Japanese ability is an absolute must. You simply won’t get by on beginner’s level. The many meetings, as well as the many documents and the communication with the rest of the team are the main bulk of your job, and if your Japanese is rubbish, well, you are going to be rubbish at your job. But does that mean foreigners are excluded from this position? Not at all. Yours truly was promoted to lead in a previous company and I have also met a few other foreign leads. It is good to have the title but the work is very tiring as you must lead by example. If the lead pisses off without working overtime it will reflect badly on the whole team, especially if they do work late into the night. Hours are usually mandated by unwritten and unspoken pressure from management so a lead isn’t in a position to make the team go home at a humane hour.

So being a lead is good for the resume but it doesn’t put you in a position to make creative decisions much. It will help you move into a higher wage scale, but again it is pittance compared to the same position back home. And if you are to have a chance of landing this job, you had better be hitting those books and study until you are a competent Japanese speaker.


  1. You often mention how low the wages are compared to "back home", but could you show some general figures on this, from what you know, as it probably varies depending on what one is used to? For example, what could a reasonably experienced artist expect to earn monthly, provided he negotiates to his advantage?

    Oterwise, keep up the great work. Good that somebody finally mentioned Super Potato, too :)

  2. Reasonably experienced? Not much. Wages for Japanese graduates can be as low as 3 million yen a year, if not lower. I was told by someone else that a 4 to 5 million yen a year salary is pretty good. I'll keep my own salary to myself, if you don't mind/ :)

    If your Japanese is shit hot you're in a much better position to negotiate a better wage but you'll have to be something special if your employer doesn't faint at the idea of a 6 million a year salary (not that it can't be done but, well, good luck!)

    On the other hand, I know of a PR guy who was rubbish but spoke pretty good Japanese who was on 12 mil a year.
    Developers really are the bottom of the food chain.

  3. Thanks for the info! Negotiating on friday... Fingers crossed!