Inafune: Japan dev culture "changes creators into salarymen"

"Even if the game doesn't sell, you still get your paycheck the next month"

Former Capcom creative director Keiji Inafune has discussed his reasons for leaving the company, claiming that Japanese development culture stifles creativity.

"My generation is, for better or worse, holding the game industry back," he told 4Gamer. " There are a lot of people who take their company's commitment for granted and don't work as hard as they should."

Of Japan's lifetime employment system he said, "It's like a communist state. Working as hard as you can is your own loss. Not working hard becomes more advantageous. But doesn't that get in the way of making games? You can't make good games by just taking it easy."

Guaranteed salaries meant no striving for excellence, he felt. "Even if [the game] doesn't sell, you still get your paycheck the next month. Because people are used to working in such a system, against such competition, the sense of wanting to make a better and better game has weakened. It's like, 'I'm just doing what I was told to do.'"

The Megaman creator also felt that development costs were currently too high to turn high profits. " If you look at the numbers, 500 thousand copies sold is great, and that might get you 2 billion yen ($25 million).

"After paying for development costs, promotion, corporate expenses, and business overhead... Thinking about all of that, 2 billion yen really doesn't cover it."

As a result, "publishers themselves are forcing developers into becoming subcontractors. 'For this amount of money, finishing by this deadline,' and so on, and even more than quality, "Aim for this number of sales," is what's being pushed."

Inafune felt the West's approach to development was more alluring, perceiving more opportunity for creative freedom. "There are of course publishers who keep developers "like pets,' but overseas there are more independent developers.

"For them, the goal is to make a hit, grow the company, sell it or do an IPO, and make lots of money. It's the American Dream."

This was the core reason for his departure from Capcom, it appeared. "Wanting to try my own strength is absolutely driven by the desire to know if a game can sell because it's made by Keiji Inafune. and not 'Inafune of Capcom.' This was something that was absolutely impossible from within Capcom."

He hoped this would set a precedent amongst Japanese developers. "With the initiatives I'm taking, I hope to naturally effect change in the game industry."

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Latest comments (10)

Private Industry 7 years ago
Not all games that sell bad are bad game. Enslaved, Castlevania, Vanquish don`t sell well at the moment, but they are far from bad games and he would like to have people fired if people don`t pick it up. There is something about his attitude that I don`t like.
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At the same time, it sounds like the strongest swordsmen approach. taking a leaf from Musashi, to try his creative talents against the western horde :)
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David Bachowski VP Business Development, Babaroga7 years ago
@Werner: I actually don't find that attitude anywhere in his statements. To me he is saying that the emphasis in Japan is to push more sales without emphasis on creativity or quality. Bad games are not judged by sales at all, but have become the norm due to lack of effort by developers with a steady paycheck and no incentive.
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Adam Campbell Studying Games Technology, City University London7 years ago
There's nothing wrong with guaranteed salaries, however something has to change in terms of the ways they look at personal development and achievements, perhaps bonuses too.
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Eddy Mendoza ceo, pres, Cluster Studio7 years ago
>>"Enslaved, Castlevania, Vanquish don`t sell well at the moment, but they are far from bad games and he would like to have people fired if people don`t pick it up."
I honestly don't see where he even implies that quote.

The truth in my experience is that the flat salary system is indeed mind numbing , not only in gaming but in other creative mediums as well. I discoverd this on my own by working for different animation studios with a fixed wage, with others on a bonus system, at other times doing freelancing and finally by having my own 50 person content creation studio for the last six years, along with a new game develpment startup.

I do see a need for and success by the few who implement the practices of efficiency bonuses and / or honest sweat investment models for people to take real ownership and a more responsable attitude towards their work. I think that at the end of the day, if the title's success is the sole motivation for the team, then all you're feeding is their ego wallet, then that's the team you'll end up with. A bunch of egomaniacs.

As a former artist I understand that you can get tired and even burned out by putting all your effort and even your spare time onto a company's project to only see the same paycheck come by with no regard for resluts. Of course this is a misconception as this type of management fosters a selfish attitude that can spread company wide and the results come as mediocre products and or huge staff cuts, so it starts snowballing into a big bad viscous cirlce that at least is being addressed by some established studios who have these models in place and have a healthy and loving company and by others going independent and working passionately on their own creations.

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Private Industry 7 years ago
"Even if [the game] doesn't sell, you still get your paycheck the next month."

That sounds like the game has to sell or you should get fired/not paid according to him.
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Christopher Bowen Owner, Gaming Bus 7 years ago
How is this a new phenomenon? This is as old as the business itself. In fact, the first major publisher, through their horrific practices, created both the first third party (when new employees left Atari for then-startup Activision) and the easter egg (Adventure).

I don't see it changing, though. As games have become bigger business, bigger money has gotten involved, either through bringing non-game companies into the fold (Microsoft, Sony) or through once-private business that got big enough to go public (Activision, Electronic Arts). Due to the high stakes - and high punishment if someone makes a mistake - things are going to continue to be run more by businessmen than by the creative forces behind the games, especially with numbers saying that what is "safe" works the best. With that line of thinking, of course creative people are being turned into salarymen; anyone can make a game about a Space Marine, and as long as it's competent and marketed correctly, it will sell.
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 7 years ago
No one who is a strong creator wants to work as an employee.

They want to work for themselves.
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Haven Tso Web-based Game Reviewer 7 years ago
I'm just interested in knowing what will come out of his studio. The best way to test his theory is to see what came out from him. To me, I see a lot of innovation and creativity in Japanese games but if he just wants everything like the west, then we will just have a monotonous, single level boring gaming industry. I just look at Square Enix, they tried to imitate the west and please them with their games, and the most enjoyable game I had in the last two years is Dragon Quest IX by Level 5 - a Japanese developer - while FF XIII and FF XIV were utterly boring. I think we need different creative viewpoints in the industry not just one way ticket to the west
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Tony Johns7 years ago
Funny, western culture sees itself as boring and sees that eastern culture as fun and innovative...

and eastern culture sees itself as boring and sees that western culture as fun and innovative...

Perhaps developers who want to change to the other side of the world can do so only to find that nothing much has changed and that videogames is still a big business where the main importance is about making a proffit and sometimes the best games are not the ones who sell well.

It has been like that since the ATARI days...

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