The Japanese game industry is dead. This week has been a flashback of last year's Tokyo Game Show — complete with gloom and doom from Capcom's Keiji Inafune.
"I think Japanese gaming is dead," Inafune told the New York Times. "When I say these things, I'm called a traitor. But I love Japan. I want to save it."
But what is Japanese gaming and does it even need Keiji Inafune to save it?
Nintendo is very much a Japanese company. It still puts great importance on the needs of Japanese market. The company typically releases the same games it makes in Japan in the West. It focuses on the needs of local players, but those needs, it seems, are universal.
Nintendo rolled the dice and took a big chance. The company decided to focus on providing a unique experience when its rivals were talking HD. It has paid off for the company, which is now not only one of the most successful in Japan, but in the world.
Yet, Japanese gaming is dead. Apparently, Nintendo doesn't count as a Japanese company, anymore! When did this happen?
This year's Tokyo Game Show was not attended by Nintendo. The company typically sits it out, leaving Sony and Microsoft to battle each other. Nintendo, instead, decides to focus its energy on international events like E3.
At this year's E3, Nintendo revealed the Nintendo 3DS, a glasses-free portable gaming device. Japanese developers like Konami and Tecmo Koei have signed on to make games for it. That's right, a new and exciting piece of hardware with third-party Japanese developers ready to make games for it.
Nintendo's decision to focus on international events does help give the company an international image. Internally, the company's Kyoto-headquarters is certainly not as international as Capcom's. (According to rumors, Nintendo Co., Ltd. employees must ask permission from their supervisor before going to the restroom!) It has been said that Nintendo isn't just a very Japanese company — it is a very Kyoto company.
Yet, Nintendo and its games are part of American pop culture. No, they are bigger than that, they are bigger than us all. Who looks at Mario and thinks it's a Japanese character? You look at Mario and you think of Mario. And you think of video games.
This is the same reason why people in Japan don't look at McDonalds and think "America". It's far beyond that.
Nintendo has created so much of basic video game grammar and has been so incredibly influential that it feels somewhat limiting to simply label it a Japanese company. It is global, sure, but it does have a strong local flavor.
Capcom's Inafune told the New York Times that he is "so shocked" when he sees global sales rankings. "I think: Wow, Capcom's ranked so low. However you approach it, we're dead," he said. "Resident Evil sold 5 million copies. That's still no good."
Five million copies for Resident Evil 5 seems about right. Halo 3 sold over 8 million copies, which was a whole bunch until Grand Theft Auto IV came along and sold over 17 million copies and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 sold over 20 million copies.
But, the biggest selling games (Wii Play, Nintendogs, Wii Fit, Mario Kart Wii and New Super Mario Bros.) are designed by Japanese people. And this month sees the release of Pokemon: Black and White in Japan — a game that will hit the West next spring. And November brings Gran Turismo 5, another big title internationally.
Japanese gaming isn't dead. It's just no longer completely dominant like it has been in the past. There's a difference.