It is not necessarily specific to Japan, but after nearly 20 years in the industry, you expect things to evolve for the better. I thought the Japanese industry would gain a better understanding of the west, but it seems things are not that simple. Of course there have been exceptional companies curious enough to look around, learn and adapt, even create trends on a worldwide scale. But for the great majority it has always been the same. The days when I was invited to comment on the redesigned version of Lara Croft for the Japanese PlayStation weren’t that long ago. It was assumed that retouching the face of the character would breach the wall of the Japanese market. I still encounter that kind of thinking today. A lot. Sometimes the naIvety reaches new heights: “Here is our new game that we think is quite appropriate for the western markets. You see, it is about an elite unit of the American army fighting vampires by night” (because they’d heard that Twilight was a success overseas). D’oh! Or another time: “We want to appeal to the west so here it is. It’s a game featuring zombies.” What am I supposed to say to that?
It is like watching a show on Animal Planet all about ‘western gamers’. They love zombies, especially when they are Nazis. They are blood and violence obsessed. They love guns and military stuff. The bloodier a game is, the cooler it is. You can’t underestimate the attraction of customised muscle cars and strong, sexy women either. Finally, don’t try to do anything other than first- or thirdperson — and co-op is mandatory.
Sandboxes and QTEs are strongly recommended. Transforming a popular franchise into a totally different genre, like the thirdperson shooter, just because ‘westerners like thirdperson shooters’ is not the right approach. Getting as much blood as possible onscreen is also not the right approach. Equally, wanting to break the west by making an FPS, only to realise that it’s too full of death and destruction, forcing you to add some comedy to lighten it up, is not the right approach. At all.
Giving a blank cheque to some average western developer (because the studio has experience with first- and thirdperson shooters) with little quality control is another recipe for disaster. These are really depressing scenarios to be presented with, so you learn to stop making constructive comments, and I don’t bother now. No one is going to ask me for anything, especially when they want to start talking money and profit. Suddenly, I’m not qualified enough, and definitely not cool enough. You are supposed to be ‘friendly’ — read that as contributing expertise for free.
In the current case at hand, I don’t think they will give me any authority in the field of game design, and so there’s no need to suggest anything. I could recommend a few great people in the field of racing games in Japan, but I know the person asking the questions isn’t interested in anything other than a quick fix, a magic trick. So I close the issue right there with a curve ball: “Have you heard about this phenomenal group of female idols called AKB48? They have a massive impact on millions of otaku here in Japan — and especially abroad!”