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GDC 2012: Keiji Inafune On Japanese Gaming’s Broken Brands

Posted on March 8, 2012 AT 01:12am

Keiji Inafune has long thought that the Japanese game development scene is in trouble. The once-Capcom employee best know for his work on franchises such as Mega Man, Resident Evil, and Onimusha, Inafune argues that if Japanese developers and publishers don’t get their act together soon, they’re going to lag further and further behind those making games in the West.

The title of Inafune’s talk during today’s GDC sessions was simple titled “The Future of Japanese Games”. Not a very controversial title, to be sure—but we also saw a Keiji Inafune that was less controversial than he’s been before when speaking about the topic.

Inafune started the talk with a very personal tale about his work on Mega Man Legends, and how hard it was to deal with the failure of the series. However, he then said that that experience with the game was also one of his biggest treasures. What happened with Legends took him directly to working on Resident Evil 2 with another legendary Capcom name, Shinji Mikami.

Where as press and others in the industry had little interest in talking to Inafune when it came to discussing a new Mega Man title at that point, their attitudes were completely the opposite when instead he was trying to help drum up support for this second Resident Evil project.

“I knew what this was—you could just jump onto the bandwagon,” Inafune said when talking about what he learned from the experience.

He saw how easy and appealing it was to just work on Resident Evil 2 after the first had been such a blockbuster hit, but he also realized how much of a pitfall feeling that could be—something he had deeply learned from his experience with Mega Man Legends. If success starts to come without much struggle, then it can be very easy to get over-confident and not put forth the same amount of effort that made that brand a success in the first place.

And that word ended up being key to Inafune’s presentation: Brand.

“In Japan, I believe we still have some of that brand power, but not the people who will pour in a huge amount of effort into those brands. We’ve relied too heavily on brands from the past, and in doing so, have breezed through life neglecting our efforts to create something new.”

It’s an argument we also make here in the West—how it can be so tempting for companies to just continue making sequels instead to come up with new, groundbreaking projects. Much like gamers here accuse those at the top of major game publishers of simply wanting to milk their top brands as dry as possible, Inafune wonders if that very thinking was part of what got the Japanese development scene into the trouble it is now in.

“Perhaps those kinds of people were beginning to run the Japanese game industry; maybe they were the ones who just jumped onto the bandwagon. Maybe those creations which were able to stand up to global standards were created by our predecessors. We have a lot of people like that in Japan, and thanks to them, here we are today.”

Inafune then went on to make an example based around Apple founder Steve Jobs. He pointed out that if Apple had continued to be stuck in its old ways and mindset, the company probably wouldn’t be around today.

“Steve Jobs chose to develop the brand, and not just maintain it.,” Inafune stated. “That’s why the Apple we know today still exists.”

In the same way, Inafune continued, Japan must come to understand that need to develop and maintain Japanese brands—otherwise it’ll be too late, and those brands may no longer hold any equity or power in the world market.

“Time is running out, and we should have realized this when I made that bold statement years ago.”

However, Inafune thinks that the Japanese games industry can still be saved—its members just need to go back to being willing to take the hard road instead of the easy road when coming to that fork in the road. Game developers in Japan must re-discover that desire to win, and that tenacity to succeed. And—Inafune points out—the answer to what to do when times seem tough can be found in video games themselves.

“Think about, for example, Chris Redfield in Resident Evil. Does he easily give up? No—and the reason we get sucked into games or movies is because we want to see what the character is going to do next in order to succeed. So, the next time you’re faced with a challenge, just imagine yourself as one of your favorite characters—and you’ll be able to overcome that challenge.”

Comments from Keiji Inafune are translations from original Japanese comments.

Eric L. Patterson, Executive Editor
Eric L. Patterson got started via self-publishing game-related fanzines in junior high, and now has one goal in life: making sure EGM has as much coverage of niche Japanese games as can realistically be crammed in. Eric’s also active in the gaming community on a personal level, being an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming and consumer rights. Stalk Eric on Twitter: @Eric_EGM. Meet the rest of the crew.

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