Famitsu Speaks – Interview With Japanese Publication Famitsu

Few months back I was part of a research project aimed at learning more about the influence of Japanese visual-culture in India. We titled it Finding Mario.

Video games have been one of the most famous cultural export of Japan and it is a very young industry here which is growing exponentially. As a part of Finding Mario, Gamersmint interviewed editors from the Japanese video-game publication, Famitsu to gain insights about the Japanese video-game industry. They talked about the industry’s niche, their struggles, future of the industry and many more things.

GM: A lot of western games have been given positive reviews, LA Noire being a recent one. Yet, the trends suggest that the sales chart are usually dominated by Japanese games. Not just games but the same trend is observed when it comes to technology, Japanese people are very much apprehensive to anything western. What are the reasons for this? Has there been any change in this trend over the past few years?

A: The existence of scope to inherit not only the technology but also the Western culture can be attributed to reasons like the seclusion policy of Japan from 17th to mid 19th century and being far off from both Europe and US. Restricting ourselves only to the domain of video games, it is difficult to say that Japan has borrowed more from the Western world than what West has borrowed from Japan. However, regarding RPG or Adventure games, or for that matter even in case of Anime (animation) and Manga (comics) also, although the tradition originated overseas but lots of it developed independently in Japan. One may call it the knack of assembling or the variegated arrangements which can be said to position Japan as way ahead of the various foreign countries.

Moreover, the gaming trend in Japan has been changing constantly.

As for 7-8 years ago, games for home use with non portable devices plugged to TV were prominent however the trend has now shifted to the portable devices. And, the expansion excluding home use game devices is also remarkable with increasing platforms on devices such as PC, mobile phone (Galapagos mobile), and especially the smart phones and the Tablet terminals. Apart from the platform trends, numerous applications like educational applications or health related applications which are not meant for entertainment only are coming up rapidly and extend far beyond the realm of games.

GM: How does your relationship with game companies work? For example, if you give a negative review, does it have detrimental effects between the relationship of the company and Famitsu in any way? I hear about this a lot in US/UK print magazines but never from Japan.

A: Basically there are no such issues if we talk about the “New Game Cross Review” section of “Weekly Famitsu”. This section is being continued for 25 years now and each game maker provides the trial version with the premise that it will be reviewed, and hence there are no major troubles. We do not foresee any issues like that in West as so far the history of “Cross Review” happens to be the history of game makers too.

GMOn a broad level, what the key design differences between games made in Japan and the west?

A: Manga and Anime form the basis of Japanese game culture. The story line up, characterization or the world view as depicted in Manga or Anime is further explored in the games, which can also be said as the characteristic feature of the Japanese games. On the other hand, the games which tend to be popular in the West are mainly based on movies which use the elaborate story line and use almost real photographs to bring in the element of reality.

As far as the game design is concerned in order to gain popularity in Japan, with the progress of player in the game along the decided route it’s very important to regulate the balance between the difficulty level and the selection border so as the player shall not wander off. Moreover, a recent trend which has gained popularity is where many players gather using the ad-hoc connection of PSP and play together in group mode.

Contrary to this, the games liked in the West are the one that have high level of independence with “Open Play field” type, high difficulty level and longer playing time. The online fighting games which are played via internet are preferred too.

GMWhat are the popular trends being observed in the last two decades particularly with the popularity of certain Japanese games in the west? Has there been a need for Japanese developers to “adjust” their products for the western audiences? If yes, how has it impacted the Japanese video game industry?

A: Within a span of 10 years since the release of PlayStation in 1995, the games which were developed in Japan were a big hit overseas and as a result Japan eventually came to be acknowledged as the founding nation of games. Moreover, world famous characters like “Mario” and “Sonic” also evolved from Japanese games. However, along with the introduction of game devices such as PS3 and Xbox360, the graphics improved and with enriched expressions even more “Cinematic” games and at a macro scale became a mainstream trend in the West.

On the other hand, new casual games were produced in Japan, and hits like DS “Brain Trainer” (DS Training for sharpening brain of an adult) or “Wii Fit” etc. evolved. These games have succeeded even in fetching those masses which generally don’t use games as means of entertainment.

As for the efforts employed in game development meant for the West, the Japanese makers pay attention to the personality of the characters, colors, balance of the game and the perception which would be globally accepted. The games which are globally accepted and become a hit worldwide are mainly represented by Nintendo.

GM: Over the past few years, certain developers have commented on the Japanese industry being slower to adapt to changing trends than the Western. In their opinion this has been the primary reason why certain studios have struggled and the industry has been on a decline.

With respect to this, what do you think about the future of video game development in the country? Is the Japanese industry succumbing under the pressure and gradually changing the development methodologies and bringing in more western influence?

A: Certainly, I also think that this change would be slow as you pointed, but that does not restrict itself to game industry only and is true for other Japanese industries too. Now not changing the policy too frequently also has its merit and can be seen in case of Nintendo as it succeeded because it always aimed at “expansion of the market” all this time while neglecting the shareholders voice of making short term profits. Not only Nintendo, I think it is very difficult to win over the cut throat competition and beat the makers of the West, however if you look at it the survivors in the end are none but the Japanese makers.

GMOnline gaming hasn’t been really popular with the Japanese people. Do you see that changing in the future now that Xbox Live and the Playstation Network are increasing in popularity? What is the Japanese viewpoint on downloadable content?

A: The major reason behind the online games not being popular in Japan can be attributed to the earlier penetration of home use games rather than PC games. As compared to the West, the PC game titles are also less and the play user is a small segment of market that targets a few core users who themselves make the high specification PC. Therefore, the interest in online gaming that evolved with the spread of the Internet is also low. Since the majority of the online gaming titles are of overseas origin, so the language barrier and the hassles in credit card transactions also become a factor that prevents the spread of online games. During recent years the situation has changed somewhat as regards the casual games which are being developed by the domestic SNS (Social Network Service) and has given rise to the market with common users which have already started expanding.

On the other hand, in the home use game market Sony and Microsoft are successfully expanding the non package sales policy having games released in the past as game archives. Moreover, with the shift in game platform from mere gaming equipment to a contents server that allows cloud service (a variety of services provided through a network) which is further integrated via means of digital appliances or mobile phones etc using the network has given rise to the possibility of expansion in the contents store market.

However, while having a look at the domestic gaming titles meant for home use, we realize that since they are not being linked to the overseas SNS like “Facebook” and “Twitter” the major concern from now on will be the up gradation of operating system in order to allow the development of worldwide online gaming service.

GM: Thanks for the great interview!

The interview as well as the entire journal would be available in a downloadable online format soon.