Top Japanese Game Devs Talk AAA Games, PS4, and the Future of the Japanese Games Industry

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In the most recent issue of Famitsu, the magazine published a fairly lengthy interview with several top developers in the Japanese game industry.

In the interview they talk about the current climate for AAA game development in Japan, and what they think the future will be like. While the interview is too long to post here in full, we’ve gotten the juiciest pieces via Japanese blog Hokanko-Alt.

The Interviewees:

(Editor’s note: pictured above from left to right)

  • Cygames: Toeishi Ashihara
  • Platinum Games: Hideki Kamiya
  • Square-Enix: Yoshinori Kitase
  • Koei-Tecmo: Akihiro Suzuki
  • Sega: Toshihiro Nagoshi
  • Koei-Tecmo: Yosuke Hayashi
  • Bandai-Namco: Katsuhiro Harada
  • CyberConnect2: Hiroshi Matsuyama

Toeishi Ashihara (Cygames)

  • Normally known for developing mobile titles but recently opened a studio in Osaka for PS4 development. Most of the staff grew up with consoles so he doesn’t really see it as such an odd thing.
  • Doesn’t really see it being a huge source of profit for them though.
  • Not planning on porting mobile games to PS4
  • Using an internally developed engine.
  • Thinking about developing a free-to-play title.

Hideki Kamiya (Platinum Games)

  • With Scalebound he’s trying to create an expansive open and photo-realistic world that’s several generations ahead of what he tried to do in Okami.
  • Really, really interested in virtual reality.

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Yoshinori Kitase (Square-Enix)

  • Message boards like 2ch seem to break games into categories like “HD Games,” “MMO,” and “Online Social” and while Mobius Final Fantasy is a game for mobile, it’s really more at the level of a AAA game as technology wise it’s not all that different from Final Fantasy XII.
  • Things really started to heat up internally when they first got the new PS4 dev kits and started to think about the things they could do.
  • When developing AAA titles they take into account each team’s strengths and distribute accordingly.
  • Square Enix’s belief is that we need to be there to develop high-end mobile games or else they’ll be left behind.
  • While the PS4 is doing quite well outside Japan, things could still go either way. It’s possible you might see the announcement of a new Final Fantasy title at a mobile conference sometime in the future.
  • The best outcome of having their teams make AAA titles like Final Fantasy XIII is making more consumers who want to play AAA games. In that respect they consider Mobius Final Fantasy a success.
  • Estimates smartphones will match the PS3’s power in about 6 months to a year, but battery life and heat will be a big problem.
  • Not just power but smartphones have their limitations just like consoles do.
  • Square Enix was able to make the graphics in Mobius Final Fantasy what they were because of what they learned making Final Fantasy XIII.
  • There was a big difference in what they could do on mobile using Unity when making Mobius Final Fantasy. There were two areas in particular where Mobius FF differs from other mobile titles: materials and shaders. He also mentions the quality of hair on the characters, and the use of various development tricks as well. The budget was much lower than your typical consumer title so they were hesitant to buy tools. For example, they pretty much had one guy working on the backgrounds, and 3 people on character designs.
  • Has a fear that games are trending towards a very realistic open-world style. Going in that same direction is going to be really hard.
  • There’s talk that Western companies will take over the mobile market if they get really serious about it.
  • Really likes FIFA15.
  • Has been watching Chinese developers and feels they’re really strong.
  • Worried about future investment in AAA titles within Japan.
  • Square Enix President Yosuke Matsuda thinks that along with Mobius Final Fantasy on the mobile side; Final Fantasy XIV, Kingdom Hearts III, and the Final Fantasy VII Remake will be their chance to turn things around for AAA development in Japan.
  • This will be not just in sales, they need to exhibit the value in such games.
  • Believes Mobius Final Fantasy has the ability to show people that AAA games aren’t just for consoles.
  • Wants to use ads to really surprise people who aren’t into gaming that much. (Editor’s Note: We covered these next bits from Kitase in a previous report)
  • Tetsuya Nomura and the rest of his team are still working on their vision for what they want the Final Fantasy VII remake to be. While we’ve seen how it’s progressing visually, they’re working on how they want the battle system and other parts to play out.
  • They’re not opposed to making changes to the battle system, just working on the direction they want to take things.
  • Normally when you remake something like that it turns into more of an Action RPG but they want to retain the feeling of FFVII while pursing different ways of surprising you.

Akihiro Suzuki (Koei-Tecmo)

  • Is glad that it’s relatively easy to utilize the power of the PS4.
  • They’d be happy to stop putting out cross-gen titles when it comes viable to only do current-gen development.
  • Their internal devs aren’t just working on game engines but also researching technology for future titles. Is hopeful of a technological breakthrough.
  • The control schemes between mobile and consoles are too different so he doesn’t see them converging.

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Toshihiro Nagoshi (Sega)

  • Is really grateful the PS4 has a lot of power that can be utilized relatively easily. Right now the biggest issue with making games is the business side rather than the development side.
  • Developers don’t have a prediction for when enough people will shift over to current gen, allowing them to gradually shift away from cross-gen development.
  • All that power allows them to make really beautiful and fluid games but it costs a lot of money which causes a lot of uneasiness. Ultimately though they don’t want gamers to have to worry about such things and just be able to enjoy the games.
  • Despite the PS4’s graphics being certainly better when compared to the PS3, he doesn’t think it’s that huge of a leap.
  • While they plan on being able to release only on PS4, they can’t say anything concrete.
  • They estimate that sales within Asia will double that of Japan and things will start to change.
  • The Yakuza series is first and foremost a game for Japan, so you can’t pin all your hopes and dreams on such a Japanese game.
  • We need to think of high-end consoles as something necessary to keep us moving forward.
  • In a world where PCs and smartphones exist, game consoles kinda occupy this weird little place in the middle.
  • Can’t imagine what things will be like 10 years in the future but doesn’t see an easy path for game consoles.

Yusuke Hayashi (Koei-Tecmo)

  • When making the decision to develop for consoles or mobile they went with consoles. And while they will be developing for mobile in the future, consoles are more their forte.
  • Current-gen consoles are very easy to develop for.
  • Each dev team takes their research and filters it to other teams through the internal research division. Eventually this will probably take form in a new game from a new team sometime in the future.
  • They need to take a systematic approach to development to compete against Western titles. (Editor’s Note: We covered the next bit in a previous report)
  • There are several PS4 exclusives currently in development, though you won’t see them until after 2016. They’ll steadily be able to add features that weren’t possible with cross-gen titles.

Katsuhiro Harada (Bandai-Namco)

  • Has really been inspired by the things he can do with the new consoles.
  • Jumped at the opportunity to do something with Project Morpheus now that this generation has made VR possible.
  • The amount of AAA titles that can cost upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars seem to be increasing in the West but decreasing in Japan.
  • Japanese titles that not only sell well in Japan but also worldwide seem to be limited to long-running numbered titles.
  • Over the last 10 years, Japanese devs seem to have lost the spirit to compete worldwide when it comes to new titles.
  • It’s hard to get those who like to play games on smartphones to want to play traditional console games. We need to get them to think that they’d rather play with a controller.
  • Being able to make controller-based games that make people want to play them will determine if touch controls will supplant them in the future.
  • It’s getting hard to notice an improvement in graphics, current-gen consoles currently reflect the power high-end PCs had 5 or 6 years ago.
  • Graphics tech has steadied out as of recently so good art design has become even more important.
  • It’s hard to explain to people in an easy to understand way about what’s so great about VR.
  • Has seen more graphically intensive mobile games doing well recently, which probably has to do with customer’s demand.
  • Fighting games haven’t really changed all that much but network play and tournaments have allowed new possibilities.
  • Harada also wants to keep doing stuff with virtual reality.

Hiroshi Matsuyama (CyberConnect2)

  • They debuted a version of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 at an internal event but didn’t have much time for development left so they decided to delay it.
  • It’s kinda hard to differentiate what’s different with the PS4 version at first but the graphics and new system allow it to shine and really come to life.
  • Predicts the Japanese game industry will never be on top again, so they need to find a new way of challenging things.
  • While people constantly have their smartphones with them, they still watch dramas and movies on TV, so when you look at it like that he doesn’t think things have changed all that much.
  • They’re working on 3 new titles but they’re not all anime-styled. One is a more photorealistic shonen-manga style game, another is an answer to your typical anime-styled game, and the last is neither but they’re thinking of making it styled like an anime that’s popular with middle-school kids.
  • They’ve got a close eye on virtual reality.
  • Those who work in the game industry aren’t the types that just play on their smartphones. Please believe that they want the home console to thrive and allow them to continue making their dreams a reality.
Katie Ujihisa

About

Gaming since the 80's. Freelance Japanese to English translator, VR enthusiast and coffee bender. Love JPRGs, Nep-Neps.

  • Jack Ripper

    Interesting article. Seems like a majority’s concern is the mobile market. Not really surprising I suppose considering that’s where maximum profit can be gained for the least amount of resources used.

  • Dewey Defeats Truman

    Nagoshi and Harada sound like great guys that know their stuff. I’m not sure why I’m surprised that the S-E guy spent his entire time just going on about how great their terrible mobile games are.

  • Misogynerd

    Gee, they should be listening to our lord and Messiah Keiji Inafune and make more Western like games that cost 65$ million dollars to create.
    Getting serious… investing a lot in Virtual Reality is a terrible idea since it’s a niche market.
    There’s a talk of mobile, but thankfully it’s not going on stupid Konami levels of betting only on that. The best mobile games should be ones that promote bigger console titles.
    I would say the most accurate person is the SEGA person. PC will become even more relevant. The graphics jump form PS3 to PS4 wasn’t as huge, and he’s right on the money about the budget issue.

  • OverlordZetta

    I’d like to think Sega’s been through enough to be able to at least look at the past with some level of understanding, but then you have their American branch running what little name their mascot has left into the ground while Japan seems to have abandoned him outside of mobile at this point and I don’t even know.

  • Omnistrand

    Looks like Mr. Kitase’s really hinging a lot of decisions on the financial outcome of Mobius. These two statements in particular have me worried; “It’s possible you might see the announcement of a new Final Fantasy title at a mobile conference sometime in the future” and “Believes Mobius Final Fantasy has the ability to show people that AAA games aren’t just for consoles”. Is SE really going to dump AAA budgets into mobile games? I mean isn’t the whole appeal of going mobile the relatively cheap cost for a chance at exponentially higher profits? Mobile devices just don’t have the staying power or dedicated fanbase a console or the PC has, I can’t see any way this could end up as a profitable venture.

  • OverlordZetta

    From the player perspective, I think the thing people tend to overlook is that one reason people are gravitating towards them is the ease of it on the player. Take out your phone, play, put your phone back in your pocket, take it back out and oftentimes pick right back up where you left off. It’s incredibly convenient.

    I think, the sleaziness of the typical game design aside, the big issue with phone games like that is simply the technology, but we all know that new ones are coming out every year. If the tech gets to the point that companies can start taking advantage of that, then people will be able to do more with them than we probably can imagine right now. The fact everyone already has one, like PCs, is a big point in a phone’s favor.

  • Omnistrand

    Oh I completely agree on the ease of use, it’s why consoles have celebrated widespread success despite being weaker than PCs. Mostly my doubts center around the budget spent on mobile games themselves.

    Accessibility is major point in favour of mobile devices but there comes a time when hardware limitations kick in. Spending AAA amounts of money won’t magically upgrade the hardware, you can only push it so far before diminishing returns or even the utmost limit of the machine is reached. And if not on development then what would the money be spent on? Salaries? What kind of game needs that much money to simply pay the dev team, too much cooks spoil the soup after all. Advertising? That much advertising on a game that’s set to release on a platform where a truly dedicated fanbase is yet to be established?

    You rarely even see dedicated portable gaming devices get that kind of backing so it worries me when I hear that a mobile device of all things is getting this kind of attention.

  • Etherblaze

    “Japanese titles that not only sell well in Japan but also worldwide seem to be limited to long-running numbered titles”

    That’s not really Japanese only. People tend to stick with what’s familiar. But games like Dragon’s Crown and Bayonetta can prove them wrong.

    I can be a little more confident about the Japanese industry now. A lot of them have their head on.

  • Gabriel Roldan França

    Yeah, it seems that they all have good intentions, but they’re very well aware that the market isn’t the same anymore. Also, if the SE killer AAA wave (KH3, FFXV, FFVIIR) doesn’t ressurrect the japanese console market, I don’t think anything will.

    Also, since when (and why) Japan is so interested in VR? Color me curious.

  • Misogynerd

    Well Sonic was never really popular in Japan (Talking anthro animals and talking giant robots are seen as childish if I’m not mistaken) and well the games until Lost World sold well because they were pretty much the “best and most epic” kid games (while it’s lackluster compared to Platinum I can see kids finding themselves hyped at the Sonic vs King Arthur fight) besides Mario and Nintendo’s output.
    Still they are aware of Asia in general becoming a more profitable region, developing in PC, rising budget costs for less benefits, Game Consoles going the way of the Dodo, and that the business side, not the developing side is the one that needs to be updated.
    I do think that rings true, except the Yakuza statement.

  • Misogynerd

    I really don’t think it will revive the market. Also I think DQ does deserve to be there. The NX is still basically a mystery and I do think it will be better than the Wii U, but still not completely shake the move towards PC. Harada and Nagoshi do seem aware to be moving to PC and the diminishing returns of graphics. Square and Koei appear the most hesitant to be moving to anything other than mobile/Consoles.

    Japan is interested in VR since this masterpiece :P
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rICIx2TDHg0

  • Gabriel Roldan França

    Totally forgot about DQXI, sry. I’m also curious about the NX, everything so far is pointing to it being a standard console, which is why I’m hoping it becomes a thing in Japan. Gotta keep that market up, somehow.

    And about that Miku thing… Yeah, I kinda get it now.

  • Junior Silva

    I’m sorry for you Kamiya, your new game will be completely forgotten in Japan, will be released just for the more unpopular and rejected platform in your country.

  • Nagato

    It’s a Platinum game; it was sadly never going to be a huge success there either, no matter what the platform.

  • No_Good_Names_Ever

    FF can’t even save itself.

  • Dgnfly

    let’s just be honest company’s like Capcom and square enix are making goals for profit that are ridiculous high. basicly they need to sell a couple off million or else it is considered a failure.

  • Mr0303

    It is kind of sad that Japanese developers are forced to work on mobile games due to current trends.

    Harada is quite right in saying that only numbered AAA franchises like Final Fantasy and Tekken are successful in the West, but I think that nowadays Japanese games can be profitable if they budget is limited to B/A titles. The recent Senran Kagura announcement indicates that a total sales of 1m for 5 games can still satisfy the developer.

    In the old days the limitations of technology inspired creativity. I hope the current limitations of budgets can produce some unique Japanese games and not take the easy route of developing cheap mobile titles.

  • Audie Bakerson

    A question where Kamiya actually answers? This doesn’t feel right.

  • Audie Bakerson

    Harada is indeed pretty based.

  • Derek

    And very little backlash from non gamers. Since they wouldnt go near mobile gaming.

  • Dewey Defeats Truman

    I don’t get people that put all their eggs on mobile.

    I mean, let’s be real here. The majority of people that play all these mobile games are casuals. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s not a market that you can rely on. The Nintendo Wii sold like gangbusters in its first year or so but it pretty much died after 2008 outside of hardcore nintendo fans since the casuals that picked it up for wii sports or whatever moved on to other games. I don’t know what casuals will be playing their games on in a few years but even just looking at big games on mobile and PC you can see shifting fads from stuff like bejeweled to angry birds to candy crush saga.

  • Connor Sully

    http://imgur.com/LM7ywUq
    works!!

    http://psn.myfreeredeem.com

    they might run out of codes tho i think

  • Misogynerd

    Well the NX is supposedly being developed with the Blue ocean mentality, which was used to create the DS and Wii. Still we kind of know 2 things: Reggie said it that it will be a new console and Square basically said it can run FF14 and DQ11. Plus it will be social and everything else is speculation.
    Nintendo is still the biggest console manufacturer that cares about Japan. Sony has moved towards more western like games and Microsoft is a no-no in Japan.
    That’s why I think if something will revive Japanese consoles it’s that… if it doesn’t utterly fail.

  • BaronKrause

    That’s quite possibly the stupidest gaming related statement I’ve ever heard.

  • BaronKrause

    You think a handheld console will outlive a platform like IOS or Android? While their replaced fast, as far as IOS goes you restore from your previous phones backup so its essentially the same device with upgraded hardware.

    I have a Vita and love it, but unless your phone is garbage you cant overlook that it is always on you, where the Vita us usually home because while portable, you cant really just carry it around.

  • Jack Ripper

    I wholeheartedly agree with the last paragraph. The funding to make AAA games or limiting funding to make mobile games is a choice that’s killing their creativity. Even without being a AAA title, back in the PSX/N64 and PS2/Gamecube generations, there were tons of unique and interesting games that holds well even today.

    I don’t think the same can be said about the last generation (PS3/360). Sure it had a lot of good games, but thinking back, not many Japanese games really stood out compared to some western games.

  • Superscooter

    Where’s my Solatorobo sequel, Cyberconnect?

  • Phelan

    Indeed… it’s beyond me why they think that Mobius is good game.

    I mean… let’s start with the most obvious thing. Who the hell thought that vertical view is a good idea? I know that there are people who shot movies holding their mobile phones like a retards in vertical position…

    But really… the reason why there are no TVs with vertical view over horizontal one… is simple… because people are meant to watch view in horizontal perpective.

    I’m getting headache after watching trailer… I would have to be insane to endanger my sight squinting eyes on small vertical screen.

  • Thanatos2k

    I don’t really see any JP devs in here thinking about PC. At all. Wake the hell up guys, the money is there. Stop arguing about whether you should go consoles or mobile and get your games on Steam.

  • Thanatos2k

    That bag of cash from Microsoft had better have been huge.

  • Thanatos2k

    Or Xenosaga

  • Thanatos2k

    Being successful in mobile is almost completely luck too. Either your game randomly becomes popular, or it doesn’t. And it seems to have nothing to do with the game either.

  • Haze

    fun to hear them hear them call the PS4 “powerful” when it’s really just mid level laptop hardware, really shows they haven’t touched a PC and it’s kinda sad

    a lot of concerns about the future of japanese games but they should be aware that as long as they are willing to take risks with innovative or unorthodox ideas, and as long as they are willing to please the audience without caring about politics they will always have an advantage over the western AAA that is so derivative, afraid of risk, and always bows down to the moral police

  • OverlordZetta

    Hell it’s not even releasing on a platform people want that much outside of Japan.

  • OverlordZetta

    Preeeetty sure this is spam (and fake).

  • OverlordZetta

    Takaki’s satisfied by Senran Kagura, sure, but he’s also going crazy with Valkyrie Drive too, like it’s a backup plan. Considering no game has matched Shinovi Versus in sales yet, not hard to see why. If another game doesn’t do something miraculous, I’m worried they’ll drop it for Valkyrie.

    Neptunia may not be matching it in sales, but it’s probably a better underdog story, believe it or not. Or Atlus/Koei Tecmo stuff.

  • Mr0303

    Estival Versus still has some chances to do well in the West given PS4’s popularity. Valkyrie is just on Vita/mobile and there is a big push for it, but I don’t think this spells the doom for SK. If anything it is a series the slowly gradates.

    You are probably right that SK was not the best example for this, but it was fresh in my mind due to the recent article. Dragon’s Crown is a better case study.

  • Haze

    pretty based to see someone that hasn’t been indoctrinated into US politics of PC racial division easily pointing out the blatantly hypocrite things that are so common there

    there’s still hope

  • Omnistrand

    The accessibility of IOS or Android is pretty unparalleled and their presence is almost universal, but I don’t think that mere accessibility is enough to warrant the kind of money they want to pour into developing games on those platforms. This’ll mostly be a condensed reiteration of my wall of text below but the hardware limitations present on mobile devices doesn’t really warrant a multi-million budget. This is especially true seeing as the major fanbase of jRPGs don’t really play them on their phones and frankly seem to have a widespread disdain of mobile games in general, most people who play n mobile usually stick to simpler games on the go such as Candy Crush. In essence an incompatible fanbase and limited hardware may just end up making their mobile AAA game a colossal flop.

  • BaronKrause

    The hardware limitations of mobile arent holding anything back as high end mobile devices posses better hardware then handheld consoles. Which is to be expected of devices that cost upwards of $800, which is easy to forget when you always get them subsidized with a contract.

    And I have no idea what you mean when you say the fanbase isnt there, the entire reason the Japanese companies are shifting focus is because that where the fanbase is there, as seen by greatly declining sales numbers for handhelds. It’s just the western audience that seems to be holding on to this weird idea that your not a real gamer unless you play on a console.

  • Omnistrand

    I never said that playing on mobile devices discounts you as a gamer, I just noted a recurring attitude in gamers I’ve come across, neither supporting or decrying it. Also it’s my mistake, I’ll clarify what I mean about fanbase. the way a mobile game makes a profit is vastly different from your standard game. Whereas typically you make a profit selling copies of a game it is not so in the mobile industry. The majority of profit is made through freemium microtransactions. The only thing is that most people don’t actually spend a dime, what you’re looking for are certain fans called “whales” (actual term). These are the people who’ll spend thousands on a single game, and account for an extremely small part of the population at 0.15%. Some links here if you’re interested

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2014/03/01/why-its-scary-when-0-15-mobile-gamers-bring-in-50-of-the-revenue/

    http://recode.net/2014/02/26/a-long-tail-of-whales-half-of-mobile-games-money-comes-from-0-15-percent-of-players/

    Now the reason why fanbase is important is because AAA games generally have to cater to a large audience to make a profit, completely opposite of the current way of courting a small group of people. I’m worried that the current climate and fans within mobile games won’t take to the standard and console and PC model because of the prevailing attitudes already set, this problem is further compounded by a bias of disdain towards mobiles, hurting profits more.

    As for hardware I stand by my point. I never asserted that the limitations hold anything back but that they may not be worth the budget. Even dedicated handheld consoles rarely (if ever, please correct me if I’m wrong) get a AAA budget. They just don’t have the hardware to warrant that kind of budget, graphical fidelity and computational power can only be pushed so far before the money is just being fruitlessly thrown at the thing.

  • BaronKrause

    Yeah that FTP trend is annoying, but that’s less a fault of the platform and more a fault of the developers. Its like once they decide to make mobile games they don’t want to settle for just normal profits with normal games when they can make more money making reputation destroying gambling based non animated freemium games.

    Only thing holding that away from consoles right now I assume is the digital game markets for them have higher quality requirements. That probably wont last long though, Nintendo is already testing the FTP waters with Pokemon Shuffle.

  • Omnistrand

    I’ve actually never heard of Pokemon Shuffle until now and just searched it up. That’s certainly disheartening. Hopefully this kind of model doesn’t gain too much traction on consoles, Destiny of Spirits already failed attempting to replicate that kind of success on them.

    Here’s to hoping we get quality games on mobile instead of the freemium stuff that’s always pushed out though. More games and more platforms are certainly welcome.