Monday, January 5, 2009

Hideo Kojima joins the vague discourse on western games

Today, it's Metal Gear Solid director Hideo Kojima commenting upon the state of Japanese game design as compares to the West. Who will it be tomorrow, George Lucas? Or will I finally be able to write about something else?

This time, it's Edge's news section I'm sourcing, and they're, again, via Develop, and so we find out what Kojima thinks about the whole situation. Like yesterday's Jun Takeuchi, Kojima intends for Japanese games to "westernize," particularly his games. He says that making games is expensive business (something I eluded to yesterday), and therefore in order to be profitable, one market isn't enough; Japanese games must sell in foreign territories, and therefore they must appeal to a broader audience.

He says, “I've come to understand that the way we've made games up until now won't translate globally, and I've come to think that I need to make Kojima Productions a team that can compete alongside the rest of the world.” Funny, that, since the Metal Gear Solid games seem to have always sold a little better in the west than in Japan.

In his comments, we see two seperate trends I've been commentating about. First, this (probably erroneous--see previous posts) notion that Japanese games need to westernize to compete, and second, due to the first, games on the current-generation systems are just too damn expensive for even some larger developers to remain solvent with. After spending so much money on Metal Gear Solid 4 and seeing decent but not blockbuster sales worldwide, Konami obviously thinks it needs a bigger piece of the pie. How will Kojima do it? Well, rumor has it he's working on a first-person shooter, and we westerners (myself excluded) love our FPSes, ever since Wolfenstein (which is getting another reboot in 2009).

So everyone wants a bite of the global pizza. Takeuchi is worried western publishers are going to take over Japan while Kojima himself is obviously heavily targeting western territories with his next design. Again, we see that it's okay, maybe a "must," for Japan to sell in the West, but we uncover resentment when it comes to the West selling in Japan.

And are western developers really trying to sell in Japan? How? Does this mean they're attempting to make games the Japanese public at large will enjoy (Dragon Quest West? Final Fantasy from Florence?) rather than just a small segment? Wouldn't that alienate the home territory, the West that Japan seemingly wants so desperately to recapture?

I think there's a lot of paranoia and misconception in the industry right now fueling this sort of conundrum.

Oh, it's an odd, odd console generation, and I still wonder if this kind of thing is not doomed to failure. I don't know if Kojima can really make an FPS to compete with the likes of Gears of War 3 in holiday season 2010. Why would he want to? People are going to buy Gears and Halo here, not Hideo Kojima's Shoot for the Skull. Even something like Resistance 2 seemed to have difficulty competing. Development costs have spiraled out of control, and the genres and games I've always loved the most are what suffer, as brilliant titles like Folklore and Valkyria Chronicles get overlooked, selling poorly in the United States and Europe, and, shockingly, even more poorly in their home territory of Japan, and developers from the homeland of such games decide they need to "westernize" to be profitable.

Whatever "westernizing" actually means. Kojima never really says. "I've thought a lot about how Western games have been winning, looking [at] it from a global perspective, and there are things that I've noticed." What, that people like to blow stuff up? That gory headshots are popular with kids? That cutscenes lasting longer than 10 seconds make us reach for the "skip" button so fast we create a small tsunami off the coast of Thailand? I wonder what would happen if Japanese developers started to look at what made Japanese games great all these years instead of attempting to distill what about western games is supposedly so fabulous. I have a fear they're going to import the bathwater with the baby.

Jesse Dylan Watson is behind the curve. Here the fad is westernization, and he's been trying, all these years, to easternize! Maybe he'll start sitting in chairs again.


  1. I have played Wolfenstein!!! Love shotting Germans.

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