The Japanese game industry is having trouble. Small game developers are folding, while large ones are facing major reductions in profit. The Japanese public simply isn't buying as many games as they used to, especially on home consoles. Many game companies also seem to be suffering from bad managerial decisions and poor project management, turning out games whose mediocre sales don't justify the expense of development. Looking at these issues from the outside, some Western game critics are declaring that the Japanese industry is on the decline, and that Japanese influence on gaming is waning.
It's true that the days when everyone played Super Mario on their NES are gone, but has the rise of the Western console gaming industry really eclipsed Japan? Japanese influence is still alive and well in the game industry, affecting the way that games worldwide look and play. For instance, the Japanese pioneered cel shading and other methods that allow games to look good without needing to be hyper-realistic. Companies like Nintendo brought good-looking 2D games back into the limelight this generation, inspiring many Western imitators. Japanese RPG companies, especially Square Enix, push the industry towards better cinematic storytelling.
The Japanese industry also innovates with gameplay mechanics. The Metal Gear Solid series inspired Western FPS developers to create games in which players do more than simply pick up guns and shoot things. Context button entry, made popular in the West by the God of War series, was pioneered by the Japanese Devil May Cry games. Japanese karaoke and dance games inspired wildly popular Western music and dance games such as Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Just Dance.
Let's not forget that Japan is still driving the car when it comes to console development. Without the Nintendo Wii, the Microsoft Kinect would never have happened, and the verdict is still out on whether the Kinect will be able to replicate the Wii's retail success. The portable gaming market, although threatened somewhat by smart phones, is still completely dominated by Japanese devices. Japanese companies like Sony and Nintendo are the main force behind innovation in 3D gaming and portable gaming, as well.
None of this, of course, changes the difficulties faces by the Japanese industry today, but a closer look shows that Japanese companies are hardly giving up and going home. They're making the changes they will need to make to remain competitive and grow in the future. Some companies like Capcom and Namco Bandai are pruning down their bloated list of projects, concentrating on making a small number of high quality titles. Others such as Level-5 are opening up North American offices, making further inroads into the Western market. Square Enix has even bought out Eidos, and will be profiting from popular series like Deus Ex, Tomb Raider, and Thief.
Japan's gaming industry isn't dying, but is evolving in order to meet the challenges of the new, global video game market. In the meantime, innovations from the Japanese industry continue to inspire and influence game developers around the world. Fans of Japanese gaming need not despair; Japan's game industry isn't sinking into the ocean, just adjusting while it gets some needed boosts to innovation and efficiency. Gamers who claim that the death of the Japanese game industry would be a good riddance might want to take a second look at the games they love. Without Japan's legacy of gaming innovation, many of our favorite Western games wouldn't exist at all.
CCC Freelance Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*