Turning Games Un-Japanese
"Why can’t we make games that people from other countries will enjoy?," asked Jun Takeuchi, creative director and producer at Capcom at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas on Thursday.
It’s a question that numerous Japanese game makers are asking themselves, as their domestic games industry struggles to maintain relevance on a global stage.
Takeuchi, who is currently working on Resident Evil 5, claims that Japan’s games industry has hit a wall because it suffers from "isolated island country complex." Japan doesn’t understand the West, he claims.
But Osaka-based Capcom in particular has been able to find commercial success outside of Japan’s borders. New properties like Dead Rising and Lost Planet became million-sellers, recently-released Street Fighter IV is garnering critical acclaim and is sure to bring in old and new school fighting game fans, and Capcom expects the upcoming M-rated Resident Evil 5 to sell a few million copies.
Overall, however, Japan currently accounts for only 6 percent of games industry sales. North American and European markets are where the real battle lies, he says. That’s why Capcom wants 70 percent of its total software revenues to come from North America and Europe. But that, says Takeuchi, is easier said than done.
Early attempts at understanding the way foreigners think and feel were met with failure. The first strategy was to simply "dye the games blonde." Onimusha was a well-respected and received series, but its sales "left something to be desired" in North America and Europe. So what they did was to insert Jean Reno into Onimusha 3 to make it appeal to the West.
"It didn’t really work," says Takeuchi. "We thought it was enough to make characters and game worlds that appealed to the West–turn them into a grizzly macho man," he explained. "If we want to sell these games, we have to make small changes that will lead to extra sales in the West."
Takeuchi shared 10 commandments, which in general provided guidelines that Capcom intends to follow if it is to find global success on a consistent basis. Low staff turnover, measured annual personnel recruitment, a flexible, agile corporate structure and an open mind to reform are a few of the keys, the director says.
Capcom is fortunate to have a stable of properties that includes Street Fighter, Resident Evil and Devil May Cry, for instance, but another guideline that Takeuchi illustrated was the intent to keep new IP investment within 20 percent of the total development budget. The publisher doesn’t intend to rely solely on proven franchises.
Above all, Takeuchi says, the main spirit of game development is simply to concentrate on making fun games that people will enjoy.