Ryan Winterhalter of 1UP.com published a well-thought out piece concerning why the Japanese video game industry is drifting away from the USA and Western societies.
Titled Why Japanese Games are Breaking Up With the West, it’s a fascinating read, and sheds some intellectual insight into the drastic differences between American and Japanese gaming traditions, expectations, and customs, combining them all into an exploration of why things are the way they are.
It covers the issues of otaku culture and the term “moe“, and what they have to do with interest in gaming and societal expectations, before going into a commentary on the business side of video games in Japan.
Among the reasons discussed in the piece is the concept that Japanese companies tend to cater to their hardcore fan base rather than a more mainstream audience, for purposes of sales figures.
The business model for small games in Japan can only be sustained by catering to a small yet rabid fan base that’s willing to pay a premium for content. AAA titles normally sell for between the equivalent of $40-$60, while smaller niche titles are usually priced at $80-plus. Small developers make their money by selling less at a higher profit margin, while major publishers sell more for less. If you publish small games in Japan you have to give your fans what you want, and since your fans are otaku who revel in moe, you’ll give them games filled with the characters that elicit that response — which are usually young, childlike girls. Between August and December of this year there are a total of 35 games set for release in Japan which follow this exact model. There are more games like this than there are FPSs in the west. By catering to their fan base, smaller publishers have alienated many western fans.
In all, Ryan Winterhalter’s piece is one of the best discussions of the problems between the West and the Japanese video game industry that you’ll ever find. It’s a complex, culturally-rooted issue that doesn’t have a clear-cut, short-sentence answer. It’s a much larger issue than that, and warrants discussions as researched and well-executed as this piece.
What do you think of the piece? Can the industry be hopeful of some kind of positive change in the future, or is this disconnect too vast to overcome at this point?