Tokyo Game Show Soldiers On Despite A Looming Identity Crisis

Illustration for article titled Tokyo Game Show Soldiers On Despite A Looming Identity Crisis

Japan may not be the birthplace of video games, but it is the heart of video game culture.

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Later this week, gamers from around the world will make their annual pilgrimage to the Tokyo Game Show to take in not just the news and games, but also the culture that surrounds gaming.

This year, though, they may find a show that manages to attract bigger crowds with less video games. Microsoft, for instance, has a much smaller showing this year. Sega and Electronic Arts are combining their booths into one.

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That physical downsizing of Tokyo Game Show's big booths, and a shift from traditional console games to more mobile games at the show, could be a sign that the Tokyo Game Show, and Japanese game development as a whole, is at a turning point.

That turning point seems to be fueled by the rising interest Japanese gamers have in games made outside the country, Brian Ashcraft, Kotaku's Osaka, Japan-based writer, says.

That sudden new interest within Japan seems to be creating a Japanese gaming identity crisis of sorts. Even some well known developers are worried about it.

Earlier this year, Fumito Ueda, creator of The Last Guardian, expressed concern that big-budget Western games were going to overrun the Japanese game industry. That's what happened in the Japanese film industry, he pointed out.

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The film industry in Japan went in decline in the late 1970s as it became overpowered by the blockbusters made abroad. There is a fear that the same could happen with gaming.

Ashcraft thinks it won't. After all, he points out, two of the three video game consoles are still made in Japan.

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Publishers say they still rely on the show as a way to reach the third largest video game audience in the world.

"We're excited about TGS this year as part of our commitment to supporting local events, activities and ways to reach new and existing audiences," a Microsoft spokesman told Kotaku. "Japan is home to some of the most legendary creators in our industry, and TGS is a great opportunity to highlight the creative talent of Japan's leading third party developers and reinforce our commitment to this unique market."

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This year, Electronic Arts will be sharing a booth with Sega at the show. A first. But the developer and publisher says it's not a sign of flagging interest in Japan or its video game show.

"Japan is still in the world's top three game markets and TGS is an important promotional beat for publishers in that market," said Jeff Brown, EA's vice president of corporate communication. "For the worldwide market, the value of TGS is determined by the number of retailers, industry analysts and journalists who attend. The September timing of the show provides a good platform for promoting games that will launch in the Western holiday."

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Shows like TGS, Brown said, are great places to coalesce critics and retailer suppot for a game. Ten years ago the Los Angeles' E3 game show was the most important show because gamers tended to buy their titles during a narrower time frame, but now gaming is a much more year-long hobby.

The seeming retraction of Tokyo Game Show's booths could also be tied to the lack of any major console launch. TGS has often been a show that ebbs and flows based on the release of new hardware.

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This year's biggest news, for instance, will likely be about the approaching release of Sony's new Playstation Vita. But barring a new console to push news, TGS seems to draw into itself.

Kotaku will be at the show all week, covering it live to find out how well it weathers this particular dip.

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Well Played is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Feel free to join in the discussion.


You can contact Brian Crecente, the author of this post, at brian@kotaku.com. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.

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DISCUSSION

Measuring the health of TGS by looking at the EA and Microsoft booths is like measuring the health of E3 by looking at how long the line is to play the newest Monster Hunter. Microsoft and EA are totally irrelevant at TGS.

What really bothers me about recent analysis towards Microsoft is that no one will report what is clear for everyone to see. Microsoft doesn't have much of anything to show off this year, or next year. Why is a small Microsoft booth a sign of a weakening TGS? Why isn't this a measure of how much Microsoft has to offer with first party development? SquareEnix had a much smaller presence at E3 this year. Why wasn't this a sign of E3's decline and irrelevance? It makes no sense.

"That turning point seems to be fueled by the rising interest Japanese gamers have in games made outside the country"

Western games are not taking over the sales charts in Japan. Most don't sell more than 10k a week, for the biggest western games. I'm still unsure how someone could really come to this conclusion. And if Japanese gamers like some western games, why do we have to turn that into a sign of their decline? The west plays a lot of Japanese games too.

Why does TGS always have to be framed this way? The most vocal critic was Inafune, year after year, every TGS. For years I read his rants about how the secret to "fixing" Japan was emulating western development. He's now making a dating sim for PSP.