Inafune: “I believe secrecy corrupted the Japanese game industry”
Outspoken developer discusses West vs East in video game development
Keiji Inafune is a Japanese game development heavyweight, with franchises such as Mega Man and Resident Evil under his belt.
In the past he’s been known to be quite critical of the Japanese video game industry, which left some surprised that he was working with Tecmo Koei on Ninja Gaiden Z (as well as with US developer Spark Unlimited).
In an interview with Gamasutra, Inafune shelved his distaste for corporate strategy and spoke candidly about the process of making games.
According to Inafune, his experience collaborating with Western devs in the past has been positive. “Western [developers] still really love and respect Japanese games. They want to work with Japanese creators. Every time I work with a Western developer, they’re so willing to take in my ideas on game creation. Then on top of that, they do what they do best — they know how to appeal to a Western audience. Every time I’ve worked with Western developers, I’ve had a really good collaboration.”
When it comes to initial game concepts, Inafune prefers what he calls “free thinking”, opting not to get hung up on East vs West considerations. “The most important part of making a [game] concept is having a vast, wide vision. Because when people try to come up with a concept for a game, they’re preoccupied with common tropes in gaming, in genres. Then you get all of these thoughts that hinder the free thinking. You have to have the core, then the details come afterwards, after you have this strong concept. When I’m coming up with a concept, I try to have a wide vision, I try to take in whatever is around. I try not to be preoccupied by game concept stereotypes.
“When you’re thinking of the initial concept, you can’t think, ‘is this good for the West’ and ‘is this good for the East.’ That hinders the free thinking.”
Inafune also had a lot to say on differences between the West and East when it comes to knowledge sharing in game development – according to him, the Japanese are a lot more secretive about their ideas.
“That’s probably true, how Japanese developers kind of hide their knowledge, compared to the Western industry, where they knowledge-share proactively. ‘Super-officially,’ we do have CEDEC and different conventions that mimic your GDC. It’s like we ‘wanna-be’ GDC [laughs]. [Those kind of conferences] exist in Japan, but in Japan, it’s more about the company than the individual. ‘Super-officially’ it looks like a cooperation between big studios, but really the companies’ profit comes first. In the U.S., it’s more about the individual. In Japan, it’s more about the company.
“It’s really hard for creators to do real knowledge sharing. It’s just difficult. And if there was any knowledge sharing at all, they’d do it behind the companies’ backs.
“…I believe that [secrecy] did corrupt the Japanese game industry over the years. There hasn’t been that individualism for the creators. It’s been all about the company and the business. And when you’re strong and stand as an individual, as a creator, in the Japanese game industry, [your company] rips you apart.”