Although there is a definite difference between the corporate cultures in the likes of Japan when compared with working life in North American or European studios, what might surprise you is that the struggles faced by studios in those usually contrasting areas are very much uniform.Then again, given that Japan birthed a huge part of the global games industry’s legacy, perhaps the shared problems aren’t so surprising.
Ahead of last week's 'Japanese GDC' CEDEC we spoke to Square Enix’s chief technologist Naoto Yoshioka to find out more…
How has the Japanese game development landscape changed in the past ten years?
I think that games have gotten to a scale where they can’t be covered by engineers alone, and that the diversification and difficulty of the techniques involved are progressing to a point where they can’t be covered by ‘creators’ alone.
In England, a lot of game developers are having significant problems in finding enough talented staff. Is Japan facing a similar problem? Are graduates of the so-called ‘game schools’ graduating with the right skills?
In terms of those skilled in implementation, there are just about enough. The number of people skilled in planning and design-related areas, however, isn’t sufficient, and because of the deficiencies in knowledge of those coming from the ‘game schools’ that probably won’t change.
However, if we elect ‘change’ as a survival strategy, I think that a great effort will be required in the future to call back to the industry those people who received what wasn’t regarded as ‘game-specific’ training.
What do you think makes Japan a good place to develop games in comparison to the rest of Asia?
I’ve personally not studied the Asian climate outside of Japan, so I don’t really know, but I am surprised at the prosperity of game studios based in Shanghai.
Recently, many Western developers have put in measures to reduce crunch and the associated stress as much as possible. How is the ‘work-life’ balance for Japanese development staff?
I’m not sure that ‘stress’ and ‘frustration’ are part of it. In the end, stress is something that you can escape from at your discretion, but I don’t think there’s any way to get away from frustration. It’s thought that the only way to resolve this is to attack it, but when the development schedule looks bad it can appear to significantly lengthen this.
In other words, if you try to address it in an attempt to eliminate frustration, it becomes something that stays around. This could be the cause of long working hours.
If you try to optimise the development process to get rid of this frustration, stress will come about because of the change.
Because CEDEC is a skills conference, I want there to be more discussions about how people have solved this in practice.
This is the tenth time that CEDEC has been held – what’s changed this year?
In order to increase the quality of the sessions provided, we’ve enlisted the help of experts of each of the different fields to strictly judge the quality of submissions. This year in particular we’ve put a lot of focus on the foreign track, which has the backing of top international developers, and on fully embracing roundtables. Also, we’re putting value on not just the game products themselves but the technical side too, and there’s the establishment of the CEDEC Awards too.
The role taken on by this year’s CEDEC is to increase the ‘skills’ of all of the developers that participate. We believe that the combination of ‘skills’ and ‘imagination’ brings forth creative power.