In this series of posts I examine, from the unique perspective of having experience and knowledge of both Western and Japanese development practices, where, in my humble opinion, Japanese game development is going wrong. Beware that these are merely generalised opinions and do not necessarily apply to all or any specific Japanese companies, some of which are, admittedly, slowly changing their approaches and attitudes.
We, too, have our issues with Japanese game development, don't let's forget!
In my case, well, it turned out I am simply a bad fit for Japanese corporate culture. I do not, as they say, have what it takes. I blame my low bullshit threshold and my desire to have professional, rational work practices, the perfect passive-aggressive arrogant stance. When I see problems, of course I am not as course as to openly point them out to whomever is listening, but I will expect them to be fixed. If I am not given direction, I expect autonomy, and I simply cannot deal with having neither. Personally, I still care deeply about my work and the final product, which is why I let things get to me so easily. It's not that I always know best, which I obviously don't, but I can recognise disaster. I spend hours and hours of my spare time immersed in our output, playing, researching games, reading news, being up-to-date, knowing what's out there, learning about the business and money sides of our industry, and I stupidly expect the same dedication from all my colleagues. People should know my attitudes always come from a good place with the right intentions, and not due to some desire for power or fame; no, I want to make great games that many can enjoy.
Now the structures of Japanese businesses aren't half as inscrutable as people like to think. With a bit of effort you can move up the ranks and try to be part of the solution, as it were. In my time I did indeed see promotion and pay rises, though paltry ones, and the occasional plus alpha bonus which delivered fractionally more than the withheld salary I was expecting. However, with the way hierarchy works the director is always above you and will always dictate his decisions, so until you get to that point you are pretty much beholden to the whims of a single person, whether they are destructive or productive. And to reach such dizzying heights requires more sweat than I was prepared to give. It requires playing the politics game, but mostly, it requires longevity. Promotion to the upper echelons in Japan goes hand in hand with the number of decades of loyal service you have provided, and frankly, I was too impatient to wait.
I have no doubt though that I could have been more pro-active in trying to effect change. Yet, my Western "think of number one, at least occasionally" attitude became too much of a burden. I gave up. To be an effective developer in Japan requires a certain strength of character and refusal to give up. Either that or a whole lot of luck. It can be done. There are foreigners in Japan doing this right now. But me, no, I am going a different way, plunging into the deep end and trying to be my own boss. It's a personal decision born more from my own ambitions than my failure to be effective within the industry, and it's an attitude you find elsewhere too. Maybe veteran developers end up going indie, starting up for themselves, because they want to prove something (usually to themselves). This is me too. However frustrated I grew at work, my decision to step out relied far more on this desire to prove myself than it did with the perceived problems of Japanese game development.
As for you, my sweets, well, your problem comes down to critical failure. Japan has been getting away with too much for too long. Because Japanese games enjoy a certain adoration people have been too ready to forgive the many little issues that have been growing over the recent generations, and now things have come to a head, with even big name Japanese products being technical disasters, you people have a hard time suddenly having to come to terms with the idea that, well, Japan isn't the mecca of video games...not anymore.
I was not too surprised to get certain reactions, in comments and on other forums when people were kind enough to link to this series of posts. People think I complain too much and not focus on what is good. I thought I'd circumvent that with my long introductory post, but apparently people still get riled when something they hold dear gets some negative attention. And I can understand that, of course. But it often comes to a point when one isn't allowed to criticise at all. "How dare he," they say, "criticise the industry that brought us Final Fantasy, Biohazard, Zelda?" To those people I say, keep an open mind. Investigate what else is on offer in Japan, play the games that don't get localised, and you'll see an awful lot of shovelware too. Certainly not every game ever made in Japan is golden, as Western games too have their share of rubbish. To ignore all the fairly obvious issues the industry has simply because you are fan of a certain series of games is highly irresponsible.
And yes, people like to accuse me of racism, or my own sense of cultural myopia. "Oh, like it's so great in the West?" they ask. I'd like to think I made it lear that I acknowledge there are issues all over the world, no matter what country you work in, but that this series was focusing mostly on those problems that appear uniquely Japanese or are specifically an issue in Japan.
I get it. You don't like the negativity. You love Japanese games. You may dream of working in the Japanese industry. Good luck to you! Things are changing and getting better and you can certainly get a lot out of it if you try. No, Japan isn't uniquely fucked up, and yes, certain problems are widespread. And also, it's perfectly acceptable to strongly disagree with me, I can handle it. But what I do ask of my readers is to see some perspective, some context. However much you love Japan, Japanese things and culture and Japanese games, it doesn't mean it is beyond criticism and it behooves us all to occasionally slaughter our sacred cows in the name of potential progress.
I hope this series of critical looks at what I personally perceived to be the main issues plaguing the Japanese industry has at least given you some food for thought. Latecomers I'd advise to start from post 1, take in the disclaimer and work your way through to the end. Things are changing, things are getting better. Japanese developers see a lot of their own problems and there is a will to change, no matter how slow the process. More foreigners are breaking into the industry here and they too can help the process. And if you have the dream to work in Japan, then by all means, don't let me dissuade you! It is entirely possible and you could have a good time here, if you come at it with an open mind. All I ask is: no more sacred cows, please.