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Kojima: Japanese Games a "Hard Sell" Due to Cultural Sensibilities

The newly independent Hideo Kojima talks about thinking global and going big.

News by Mike Williams, .

In his first interview since departing Konami, designer and director Hideo Kojima has outlined his future plans to the New Yorker. That future seems to break down to three things: Think globally, think big, and get away from corporate minutiae. Kojima explained that Japanese designers have struggled as graphical power has allowed games to become more realistic.

Damn, it'll be a few years before we see his next game.

"Games matured beyond simple interactive toys and into a rich medium that could deliver drama and other deeper elements," he said. "At that point, Japanese games became a hard sell: their sensibilities and cultural identity were distinct and unrelatable. The only way to create high-end games is to target the global market."

This comes only a few days after Monolith Soft founder Tatsuya Takahashi said something similar to Time. It seems Japanese creators are going through some sort of shift; there are those who are willing to target smaller Japanese audiences directly or those who want to create games that work in Japan and larger markets at the same time. Trying to aim West only, as many Japanese developers did for a while, doesn't work either because you lose what's unique about your culture and vision.

Kojima credited his early exposure and long love of Western entertainment as the reason he's avoided the problem. He also admitted that his relishes the thought of being independent, as he believes corporate management holds back Japanese games.

"In order to target the global market, the management behind the project needs to have a keen sense for what will work, and be willing to take risks," he explained. "If you're only focussed on the profits immediately in front of you, the times will leave you behind. It becomes impossible to catch up again."

"When working in big companies, especially Japanese companies, every little thing has to be approved beforehand, and you need paperwork to do anything," he said. "Now that I'm independent, I can do what I want with much more speed. I don't need to invest time in unnecessary presentations. I shoulder the risk."

And if you thought an independent Kojima meant a Kojima that was thinking small, don't worry. The original Big Boss is still taking no prisoners.

"My role in this world is to keep on making big games for as long as I can," said Kojima. "That is the mission I've been given in life."

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Comments 10

  • Avatar for Spectreman #1 Spectreman 2 years ago
    A good append to this article is Shuhei Yoshida opinion on how cultural differences (and not just sell numbers) affect the release of games like Dead Or Alive Xtreme 3. Each japanese game have to fight a platoon of american game journalists waiting to write any controversy.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #2 MHWilliams 2 years ago
    @Spectreman Dragon's Crown, the game he mentioned, was Vanillaware's best-selling game and his recent response for why SOCOM was coming back was equally avoiding saying "sales".

    “In an online game…you know moved on. So much of quality and production values, everything is way, way higher. People have great memories of playing these games many years ago but people’s experiences have moved on as well. So even if they say that they had a great time and they want to experience it again they may not know how much higher their own expectations have become.”

    Yoshida further states that it’s a matter of gauging interest and balancing things out. “We have to gauge the interest and what they are saying and what they really want to see or play. We have to balance that with what we can do with the number of people who will enjoy that and we don’t have a good answer to that. So it’s a hard one. We made the game. It’s not like we did not liked the game. We are extremely proud of what our teams have accomplished during that days, but we have to balance everything.”

    Larger publishers just have to be fine with the sales of niche games, or pass those titles onto publishers like XSEED and Atlus, who would be fine with the smaller audience.
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  • Avatar for thewonps #3 thewonps 2 years ago
    You know, I personally think it's the gameplay hallmarks of Japanese game design that turns people off, not necessarily the overtly "cultural" aspects of Japanese games. For gamers who grew up on games by Bethesda and BioWare, firing up a JRPG that requires grinding, doesn't allow you to go where you want, when you want at the outset, has opaque battle systems with trial and error mechanics that are not explained well or at all, and does not give you any choices to affect the outcome of the story, those are the functional elements that are going to turn them off. It's a stereotype, but Japanese games do often tend to force you to master a mechanic in order to progress, even going so far as to force you to backtrack or play the game more than once, rather than giving you freedom to just fuck around. The sheer gameplay joy of games like Just Cause and Far Cry are not often replicated in Japanese games nowadays and that economy of design is a problem for modern Western taste. Instead of a deep pond, I think gamers today want a shallow ocean, if you catch my drift. The Japanese games that are still immensely popular today, like Street Fighter, Bayonetta, Dark Souls, and indeed Kojima's own Metal Gear Solid 5, have a fluid, gameplay-first mentality that is, at once, thoroughly Japanese but still fun and engrossing. Like it or not, this is why Resident Evil and Final Fantasy have struggled, because the gameplay systems they pioneered are too antiquated by today's standards and no one knows what those games are supposed to be anymore.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #4 SatelliteOfLove 2 years ago
    It's wierd he glanced over 1995-2005 where his legacy was sealed, when that Japan was strong but also the growth of cinematic video game storytelling as we know it was born.

    There's a couple of other places to point fingers, actually.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #5 brionfoulke91 2 years ago
    Well for me, the Japanese are still the ones making most of the games I like. The current popular western trends in gaming are huge turn offs for me: the influence of AAA Hollywood story-telling, the big empty open worlds with copy and paste level design, the drab brown palettes and boring character designs. Just not my thing.

    Then again, the Japanese seem to be able to take some of these design trends and turn them into positives. I was really surprised when I played Metal Gear Solid V how much appealing an open world game could be. I think the big difference for me between MGSV and something like Witcher or Fallout is the gameplay: I've just never played an open world game with fun gameplay before. It's almost sad to say that, but it's true. In most of these open world games, it seems like gameplay is just something you suffer through to get to the exploring part, which is what most people seem to enjoy.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #6 VotesForCows 2 years ago
    @brionfoulke91 You've nailed it here. It's the only open world game with good gameplay. Was a big relief after Witcher, and made Fallout 4 seem really primitive afterwards.

    Very excited to see what Kojima Productions comes up with.
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  • Avatar for pennybags #7 pennybags 2 years ago
    I'd love to see him dip back into the adventure game genre. Policenauts is insanely good.
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  • Avatar for alexb #8 alexb 2 years ago
    @SatelliteOfLove The changes after the PS2 era in regards to what Japanese corporations are willing to create are exactly what he's talking about, though. With the advent of HD budgets the large Japanese publishers lost all stomach for anything without a guaranteed return. At first the strategy for many was to make terrible, inauthentic nonsense in genres they had little experience or interest in, trying to target what, in their limited cultural understanding, they thought Westerners wanted. When that inevitably failed, it directly led to the current situation where most Japanese game makers target otaku and domestic mobile audiences exclusively.
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  • Avatar for mobichan #9 mobichan 2 years ago
    @pennybags The problem is there is no 80's buddy cop movie franchise for him to be "inspired by" now. ;)
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #10 SatelliteOfLove 2 years ago
    @alexb

    Eh, it's a bit of a simplification in his read, perhaps out of humility and how J-gaming is at least still synonimous with excellent "moment to moment gameplay".

    Oh, and that timeframe is off in yours, but don't feel down; I got that wrong before reading this, too.
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