Over the weekend, Hideki Kamiya—director of Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry, Okami, Viewtiful Joe, and Bayonetta—was asked over twitter about his opinion of Valve, Steam, and PC gaming in general. He responded thusly:
While Western readers may feel that Kamiya not knowing about Valve is akin to an American developer not knowing about Nintendo, the statement is not all that surprising in context. After all, Valve is best known for its work with PC games and the creation of the Steam download service—both of which are largely irrelevant in Japan. Despite PC gaming having such a stellar 2012 in the West, the second half of his tweet accurately represents the general feeling toward PC gaming in Japan—a total lack of interest.
How low exactly is the interest in PC gaming in Japan? Well, many of the most popular PC games of recent times have never been released here. That includes World of Warcraft, Starcraft II, Guild Wars 2, and Diablo III, just to name a few. Many cross platform releases don't hit the PC here either. In fact, Media Create, the go-to company for video game sales figures in Japan, doesn't even bother to track PC game sales.
In Japan, the PC is the system for Final Fantasy XI, Phantasy Star Online 2 (and other Japanese/Korean MMOs), browser games, visual novels, and erotic games.
Of course, the vast majority of PC gaming around the world these days is done through download services like Valve's Steam or EA's Origin. And while both services are available in Japan, they aren't that helpful for Japanese gamers.
Steam is a carbon copy of the US version, with all the games in English—as well as the games' descriptions. The only change is that any games set to be released in Japan (on the PC or any other system) are often blocked and unavailable for download.
CORRECTION: Japanese Steam is practically a carbon copy of the US version. Out of the 1706 games Steam has for sale at the moment, only 105 of those can be played in the Japanese language—and only around half of those have the game's description in Japanese. Moreover, to find a game on Steam, you must type the name in English. Typing the name in Japanese results in zero matching results. And to top it off, games set to be released in Japan (on the PC or any other system) are sometimes blocked and unavailable for download.
While the majority of Origin's stock is similarly the English versions of the games, they do have a few Japanese language versions of EA's first party titles on the store as well—so that's better than nothing.
Thus "hardcore PC gamers," as we would think of them, are a small niche in Japan that find themselves often forced to import many of today's most popular PC games in a language they do not speak.
Hideki Kamiya also had a few words to say about "cloud" services such as Steam:
Again, this statement, while baffling to many in the Western world, is completely in line with the standard Japanese line of thinking. Japan is a country where CD rental is still a booming business despite that we live in a day and age where MP3 downloads are readily available.
This is because, by and large, Japanese people have had a distrust of purchasing things on the internet. This distrust is so commonplace you can go to your local convince store in Japan and pay cash for your Nintendo online game downloads so you don't need to give out any information online. Of course, as time has passed, Japanese people have been getting more conformable with buying online. A recent poll reported that now about 20% of their daily purchases are made online.
And thanks to services like the PlayStation Network and the Nintendo eShop—and especially thanks to cell phone games with wealth of micro-transactions—"cloud" services are not quite as shunned as they used to be either. However, Kamiya's statements still reflect the general sentiment regarding PC gaming in Japan—for better or for worse.
UPDATE: The original headline for this story—"The Guy Who Made Bayonetta Is Clueless about Valve and PC Gaming"—has been changed. "Clueless" was a poor choice of words and we apologize for the negative connotation. That said, we appreciate Kamiya's colorful reaction to the story and hope that, now that we've changed the headline, those who couldn't get past that will be able to read the piece. - Stephen Totilo, Editor-in-Chief