During GDC 2012, former Capcom designer and founder of Comcept Inc., Keiji Inafune, talked to other developers in attendance about the state of the gaming industry in Japan in his seminar “The Future of Japanese Games”. In the talk, he mentions the controversial statements about the Japanese industry failing and is doomed:
"At the time, everyone in Japan gave me the stink eye for making such a bold statement. However, these days I am seeing some of those folks are beginning to run out of steam. They are in a situation where they realize that perhaps my prediction was true.At that time I was still at Capcom and I believe that they are one of the few Japanese companies that kept up with Western standards. We always strove to develop games with a global audience in mind. Because we were able to see the entire global industry we would see things as they were through an unfiltered perspective. I said those words because I wanted to light a fire under the Japanese video game industry before it was too late."
He goes on to state that his challenge was ignored, and the desire to win and be on top was gone from the industry. They have forgotten about how to achieve victory. He claims that the Japanese gaming industry is not accepting the fact that they have lost and have become very closed minded. He urges everyone in the industry to acknowledge their losses and to go back to basics:
“Before you can win again, you must first acknowledge your loss. And then be prepared to start over again. For many years Japan was the winning team. Thanks to those victories we became big-headed. As someone who spent many years at a major company I was able to see that first hand. But I am ashamed to admit it but whenever I travel overseas I feel as if Japanese games are becoming a blast from the past. They have become great memories and little more.But there is a limit to how much business you can do trading on past glories. We rarely see new creations from Japan. So we stick to our memories and we ship an HD version. I feel that’s the upper limit that we are showing to users today. It's not what they want."
And in order to do this, he claims, is for the rebuilding of the old Japanese brands with innovation. He believes that Japan still has the power to create brands. The only thing that is missing is the people willing to put in the enormous amount of effort. And without those people, all that’s left is the heavy reliance on past brands and not creating something new. In his closing words Inafune makes it a point to say that Japan must realize the need to develop and rebuild new brands. That time is running out and that the industry should have realized it years ago when he made his controversial statements. He leaves the attendees with these last words:
"Those who succeed never take the easy route. They know success comes after hard work."
A few of statements did leave me a bit confused on what he was trying to get across, particularly when he said, “leaders of the Japanese game industry must think about developing and rebuilding the brands, not simply maintaining or sustaining the brands." What does he mean by that? When I think of rebuilding a brand, I think of reboots or remakes. I think of developers taking an already established property and giving it something much more than a coat of paint. DmC might be a perfect example of this rebuilding the brand. Capcom instead of developing another game in the series using their in-house development team, decided to pass on the development process to Ninja Theory, a Western development studio located in Cambridge, England. NT took the established character of Dante and decided to give him not just a new look, but a whole new mythos. In other words, a re-boot of the series. If we follow his logic, Capcom must have acknowledge that the Devil May Cry series was becoming stale and that something needed to be done to revive life into the series. So they started over again with a re-boot and gave NT a chance to develop DmC. When the new DmC was revealed, there was uproar from the gaming community (ie the fans) that had them complaining about the new look and feel of Dante and the world he inhabits. They were angry at the fact that Capcom and NT took a beloved character that was in need of something new and actually try to take that character in a new direction.
People agree that change and innovation is needed to bring life into a game, but will condemn and get angry at a developer for trying to bring new life to an established character or series. DmC and Capcom aren’t the only example either. There are many out there and that includes games developed in the West as well. To me, it sounds like Inafune wants to have his cake and eat it too. You cannot say rebuild a brand and then go off and say don’t maintain or sustain the brand. You can’t have it both ways I think. You either take an existing brand and give it a complete makeover with new ideas and innovations, take those new innovations and apply them to an existing brand to make it fresh or make a completely new IP altogether. I do agree that Japan is in need of a wakeup call, however, the same could be said for developers in the West. If we’re not going to take risks on a brand new IP, the least we could do is innovate the current crop of IPs we do have.