As I can't claim that the translation is perfect, any feedback is welcomed.
Thanks to Mandoric for spot-checking a couple of trouble spots with the translation.
4Gamer (4G): Thank you for your time today. Recently, you've made some rather extreme remarks and taken on many projects, so today's interview is to follow up with what you meant and how you're doing.
Keiji Inafune (KI): Thank you. But I've already decided to leave Capcom.
KI: I'm quitting. There'll be an official announcement, but that's all I can say for now.
4G: This interview has taken a sudden turn. Why did you decide to quit? Your statements have been provocative, but you've always spoken as someone from Capcom, wanting to change the company.
KI: Yeah, I want to work at Capcom. But, how should I say... Circumstances are such that I can't work there anymore.
4G: I can easily imagine that there might've been issues with your statements or projects, but were there really such big problems?
KI: What should I say... I'd probably say that Capcom's path as a company has changed. Though my leaving just comes as a result. It might get pretty long, but do you mind if I explain?
4G: Please do.
=== What the Japanese game industry's doing wrong is: making developers into salarymen, myself included. ===
KI: The reason why I'm quitting is basically because I think that the game industry itself must change the way it goes about making games. You might think I'm being hypocritical, but the really big wall that the Japanese game industry is hitting is the changing of its creators into salarymen.
4G: I think I know what you mean, but please elaborate.
KI: Well, when I was about 20, I was really passionate and entered the game industry, but now I'm in my mid-40s. It's a matter of my age. My generation is, for better or worse, holding the game industry back.
4G: Do you mean that the system of companies committing to employ for life is spoiling people?
KI: That's right. There are a lot of people who take their company's commitment for granted and don't work as hard as they should. This could be said of the entire industry, and of course Capcom is no exception.
4G: You might say that, but you were also employed in that system.
KI: That's true. And that's exactly why taking action to change things is so troubling. I was in the position of being a naysayer, and yet was assured a paycheck the next month. No matter how much one is late or skips work, or even no matter how lousy a game is made, the next month's paycheck was always guaranteed.
Basically, saying such things in that position, the reaction was, "What are you talking about, Inafune-san? What exactly are you going to do about it?"
4G: In Japan's traditional lifetime employment system, if people are underhanded, an environment is created in which working hard is just their own loss, right?
KI: In short, it's like a communist state. Working as hard as you can is your own loss. Not working hard becomes more advantageous. But doesn't that get in the way of making games? You can't make good games by just taking it easy.
4G: However, although there were many problems, it's worked out until very recently. Why do you think that things have changed so suddenly?
KI: It's because there was no competition before. For example, in the game industry 20 years ago, no matter what kind of game you made, you could sell 200 or 300 thousand copies. If you even made a decent game, it'd sell 500 thousand or a million copies. But those days are over.
4G: Why's that?
KI: For one, competition has intensified, and furthermore, players have gotten "used to" games. To use a simple analogy, any kind of erotic picture will turn on a middle school student, right? (laughs) Oh, but it's not like that so much anymore...
4G: Well, I guess I understand. (laughs)
KI: More. More. People always want more fun and prettier graphics, right? This is to be expected, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. But that's where a problem arose. The players' demands and the creators' demands wound up parting ways.
4G: Oh, maybe it looked like a graph showing the change from a company's net profit to a loss?
KI: Right. At first, it can be a good thing. Between the players' demands and the creators' demands, the creators' way took over and both sides' expectations increased at the same angle on the graph.
But, after a point, the players' demands took over. Whether it was the players' demands increasing at an unprecedented rate or the creators' slope trailing off, I'm still not sure. But the way it's going, I think that expectations have risen to a point that's impossible to catch up to.
4G: So, few games are able to break the records of the last mega-hit.
KI: That's right. Well in Japan, it's Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and Monster Hunter, right? And Pokémon and such. It's a very limited set of products. Others aren't well-established, so they don't sell.
4G: I see, so this is getting back to your previous point.
KI: It's not a system where you don't get paid your next month's paycheck if the game doesn't sell. Even if it doesn't sell, you still get your paycheck the next month. Because people are used to working in such a system, against such competition, the sense of wanting to make a better and better game has weakened. It's like, "I'm just doing what I was told to do."
4G: That must really hit home for a lot of people.
KI: Particularly, for example, "Is 500 thousand copies sold in Japan enough?" If you look at the numbers, 500 thousand copies sold is great, and that might get you 2 billion yen ($25 million). After paying for development costs, promotion, corporate expenses, and business overhead... Thinking about all of that, 2 billion yen really doesn't cover it.
4G: Of course, PS3-level blockbusters will run 2 or 3 billion yen ($25-37.5 million). But if you're a producer, what do you do when you see those kind of numbers? Obviously it'll vary from person to person.
KI: Well, if you actually see the numbers, going more global is an absolute must. So for the PS3, 500 or 600 thousand copies is considered a hit right now. With those numbers, it's not like you can cover ever-increasing development costs.
4G: One would think that people would be more aware of this. Is it just naïveté?
4G: Hmm... Lately, looking closely at each company's financial reports, even Capcom made a profit of 8 billion yen ($100 million) last year (reporting term: March 2009). To briefly mention cashflow issues, it'd be impossible for a company making a profit of 8 billion yen have several 2 or 3 billion yen projects at a time.
KI: Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.
4G: So with the rise of the next-gen machines, when the quality of graphics have greatly increased along with development costs all the while the old business model is crumbling, and one company has to completely support many products from development to publishing, it's obvious that in many cases it's unsustainable.
Even going from the DS to the 3DS, the development costs go up, and making easy-to-produce DS games -- of course that's not to say developers have it easy -- becomes an impossibility. In that kind of environment, how is it possible to become complacent?
KI: That's exactly why it's so dangerous.
Anyhow, in this kind of situation, there are lots of people who are taking advantage of their publisher employers. Of course, as everyone knows, there are also independent developers who are working hard, but here in the Japanese game industry where publishers have the advantage, no matter how able the developers, there's no one who is able to properly utilize them.
4G: What do you mean by publishers having the advantage?
KI: Saying this will make publishers angry with me, but publishers themselves are forcing developers into becoming subcontractors. "For this amount of money, finishing by this deadline," and so on, and even more than quality, "Aim for this number of sales," is what's being pushed.
Of course, that's not to say that publishers aren't having developers make all sorts of things that they like, but I can't deny that even creators with strong brands and skills have to submit to subcontracts.
4G: It seems like that situation is a bit better overseas.
KI: Yeah, it seems so. There are of course publishers who keep developers "like pets," but overseas there are more independent developers. For them, the goal is to make a hit, grow the company, sell it or do an IPO, and make lots of money. It's the American Dream.
4G: And in Japan?
KI: If you succeed, you don't get credit, and if you fail, it's your fault. Nothing can be done about it. The game industry isn't at a level where it can value creators and raise them up. It's the same at Capcom.
So I think this is a really bad situation. Effecting change quickly is a problem.
=== Leaving the umbrella of Capcom, wanting to win or lose as Keiji Inafune ===
4G: Regarding the changing of developers into salarymen, although I can feel such disappointment, it's a problem of having to restructure the game industry. Not only the lifetime employment system, but it also involves taking a scalpel to the publisher-developer relationship.
KI: Right. With the initiatives I'm taking, I hope to naturally effect change in the game industry.
For some years, I tried the same thing from within Capcom. Take this for example: I was the head of development. That means I was actually at the top of Capcom. I couldn't go any higher. So it was best for me to just be a salaryman, not doing anything new so as to avoid failing, not doing anything outstanding, quietly dealing with what I was told. Because if I did anything brashly and failed, I would no longer be in that position.
4G: You would be demoted if you failed?
KI: Demoted, or not really being in the same position. People who don't present new things or create hits don't win followers. Instead, they're strict and say things like, "Meet the deadline," or, "It's not fun enough."
4G: So your titles didn't meet their deadlines.
KI: That happened quite a few times. (laughs) Not really, but as long as the people in charge produce results, one can only follow. So because I was on the top, I had to do well.
4G: But more than that, isn't it a problem if you're on top and not really succeeding or failing outright? Generally, it's easy to retain your position in society: don't fail. It's easy to avoid failure, so it's better not to think, "Let's succeed." You don't have to do anything new, or change anything... So it becomes a predicament in which you can just get by in most cases.
KI: That's exactly right. There are many people like that in our generation. If that's "unacceptable," you'll want to take more aggressive action, not do so many sequels, and do more.
4G: A bit ago, you said, "I tried the same thing from within Capcom." Were you able to effect change within Capcom?
KI: If I had, we wouldn't be talking about this today. (laughs) It's very much a shock that I wasn't able to effect change on the business-side in the end.
But what was really shocking was my uncertainty whether or not I'd even been able to effect change development-side. I can't deny that the thought that, "There's nothing more for me to do at Capcom," was a much greater shock.
4G: But as for the problem of developers turning into salarymen, it must've been pretty difficult in such an environment. You couldn't really change things from the inside.
KI: Right. That's one reason, the problem of management ranks pushing that direction. Numbers, numbers, and more numbers. And one more big problem: the nonchalant way people lived depending on that direction being pushed.
4G: So if you yourself can show by example that it doesn't have to be that way, things will gradually begin to change.
KI: Yes. Like I said before, even I, inside a big publisher like Capcom, within a big umbrella, completely shielded from the rain, couldn't just say this or that. So if I left that umbrella and gave up being a salaryman, I could really try and show my own strengths.
4G: So you could win or lose personally, as Keiji Inafune.
KI: Up until now, for better or worse, I couldn't go beyond being "Inafune from Capcom." That was a rather large problem, and I also experienced awhile ago that when the results were good, it was thanks to Capcom, thanks to Rockman. It wasn't just in the company saying so, but all of the players as well. (laughs) Capcom, you know, Rockman, you know. But when it was bad, of course it was, "What are you doing, Inafune? Don't screw it up!" This too, was said both by people in the company and by players. (laughs)
4G: But isn't that the case with any product from a big IP made by a big company? In the case of Final Fantasy, if it sells it's thanks to the IP, and if not, it's the makers' fault.
KI: That's right. That's exactly why I want to prove that something can sell because it was made by Keiji Inafune.
4G: Proving that should be easy.
KI: Yeah. After I leave Capcom, if a Biohazard or Rockman title doesn't sell, there's the proof. Time goes by very quickly, but in maybe 3 years or so... I can't really say, maybe sooner than that, I'd like to have my proof.
=== In game development, you have to know what's necessary for business: you have to eat natto even if you don't like it ===
4G: So when you get down to it, the reason you're leaving Capcom is that you have doubts about the structure of the game industry itself, and want to try using your own strength on the outside, correct? By doing so, you hope to effect a "restructuring."
KI: That's right.
Wanting to try my own strength is absolutely driven by the desire to know if a game can sell because it's made by Keiji Inafune. If it's by Inafune and not "Inafune of Capcom", then it's all on me. This was something that was absolutely impossible from within Capcom. Of course it might be called risky, reckless, or courageous, but from a calm, objective position, it really seems reckless.
But up until now, I haven't just relied on my position. If you're the head of development, you don't have to make the game, or even think, just let your employees handle everything and make the final decisions. That would be easy. Because you're the top. I could've just said, "Bring me the final product. I'll decide if it's good or bad," but I've never done things like that. I think of the concept myself, I think of the strategy myself, I decide on the character direction myself and say, "Let's do it like this."
4G: How many titles have you overseen like that?
KI: Umm... About 10 titles or so.
4G: How many titles does Capcom produce?
KI: If you count all of the minor ones, there are about 40.
4G: So supposing a scope of about 30 titles, you were in charge of about a third?
KI: Yeah, more or less.
4G: How many people were working on those projects?
KI: Just under 900 people, now.
4G: As expected, it takes a lot of people to make Capcom-class games. So you would put it all together?
KI: That's right. Like I said, my degree of involvement varied, but I was the person responsible. If things took a wrong turn, it'd be a big problem. Having 200 thousand yen of earnings next to 500 thousand yen of expenses is a loss, right?
4G: But isn't that the nature of the content business? It's impossible to perfectly read what will be a hit and what won't.
KI: Yeah. You can't always read it. That's why my theory is "zero."
4G: The theory of strength in numbers?
KI: Yes. In short, if each project doesn't incur a loss, it'll add up. In the end, whether it's 100 thousand, 200 thousand, or even a million yen, it'll all add up. It's like having a diverse portfolio. Plus-minus zero. If it's zero, it's certainly not a loss.
4G: I see. Aside from administrative and corporate expenses, as long as your projects continue to average above zero, you theoretically won't go into the red.
KI: That's right. But, if you lose even 500 thousand yen, this theory suddenly breaks down. So a worst-case zero is fine. So if you don't get back to at least zero, it's no good. If everyone worked to at least cover the costs, there's nowhere to go but up from there.
So for example, if a so-so game plan was made, you can generally tell by the game concept if it'll get back to zero or incur a loss. In the worst case, you have to get back to zero, so a game concept has to at least have that, so it must be continued until at least that point.
4G: I see. But for creative people, that kind of pressure can be really severe.
KI: Certainly. For me, if just anything is okay, I don't want to do it. It's not that I can't, it's that I don't want to. But I had to. Being required to do something will kill you eventually.
So if you're starving and starving to the point of death, and before your very eyes you see natto [note: fermented soybean paste], which you absolutely hate. "Ugh, I don't eat natto, so I won't have it." Well, then you die. If I eat natto, I can survive. At that point, it's egotistic to say you won't eat natto because you hate it, because you're making the mistake of putting likes and dislikes over life and death. Won't you just wind up starving to death?
4G: Even if you don't eat it, won't someone come and help you? It's the same salaryman problem as before.
KI: Yes, that's right. Salarymen think that if you complain long enough, someone will bring you a hamburger. If it's a hamburger, you'd eat it, right? Things like that. That's how things have been done for a long time, so that's how it got this way.
At this rate, Capcom will not eat its natto and die. They shouldn't let it be, because they'll die otherwise. We let it be, so it got to be like this. I love Capcom. I want to save it. So I'm not going to just let it be.
4G: So why do you want to go to all the trouble of saving Capcom?
KI: Because I love Capcom. Of the 25 years I've been in the industry, for 23 years I was just working at Capcom. Not going to another job, not knowing other companies, just wanting to improve Capcom.
4G: It's not like you're running away, but how to say, perhaps it was a matter of you having to put up with a lot of things.
KI: This situation is, to make a poor analogy, like in a long marriage, where splitting up isn't a matter of hating the other person. Capcom is a great company and I really love it. That won't change with me quitting. I'll always be a Capcom fan.
I'm also an Osaka fan, so if I were a pro baseball player, I'd want to play for the Hanshin Tigers. Even though the Kyojin Giants pay more, I'd want to play for Hanshin. I'd play to win.
4G: I see.
KI: It's the same as wanting to save Capcom. However, my having become dependent upon Capcom is a different problem, but because it became clear that I'm on a different path, I decided to leave Capcom.
4G: So if you want to save Capcom, you can continue working on that even after leaving. It seems like there are a lot of people like that.
KI: That's absolutely right. So told Capcom that I'm leaving to start my own company, while still contracting with them, continuing with titles already underway and follow through with their plans. If that was acceptable, I wouldn't be able to work with any other publishers, but I'd have been able to finish what I'd started. However, that wasn't possible. I was told, "That won't be necessary."
4G: I see... Although I don't know the details of that refusal, it might result in some of the titles already underway not ever seeing the light of day.
KI: That's possible.
4G: I wonder if Rockman Dash 3 will be okay...
KI: Looking at the timing, the team members, and the planning done, Rockman Dash 3 is finally on its way. I really didn't want to quit right now... But I can't do it anymore. My will to continue has run out. That's why I had to leave Capcom and strengthen my resolve, as I wanted to help finish working on it from the outside but was unable to.
4G: As you mentioned before, if Rockman sells because Inafune made it, it won't make it out. But if Rockman sells because it's Rockman, the project will survive.
KI: That's exactly right.
For Capcom, it doesn't matter whether a game has the Inafune brand or is made by some anonymous producer. That's ultimately why I made the decision to leave. It's sad to leave, proving that point. It was really sad.
4G: Was the Inafune brand really treated that way?
KI: I got the impression that the Inafune brand was the worst-handled within Capcom. Say you had a beautiful younger sister, and of course other people would say, "Your younger sister is pretty. It must be nice to live with her." But then maybe you look at her and think she's rather average? It's kind of like that. (laughs)
4G: I'm not exactly sure what you mean, but I think I get the point. (laughs)
As common as the problem of not being as important as you might think is, there's also the problem of not being treated as well as you should. Which would you say was more the case?
KI: Even when I submitted my letter of resignation, nobody contacted me about it. (laughs) There should've been a, "Hey Inafune, do you have some time?" or, "What do you mean by this? I want to hear it straight from you." Nothing. Zero.
4G: ...You've got to be kidding.
KI: Well of course, my actual staff asked me not to quit, but you would think that someone from management would want to at least try and stop someone with such skills from leaving, or even ask about it.
KI: That's fine, though. I expected that. But for a company whose whole business is making and selling games, you've got to think that development would be the key point. If you ignore development, the company can't stand, so that's the way things currently are.
I can't say that I haven't been able to make lots of different things, but I would've liked for the development-side to be more trusted in making games.
4G: It isn't?
KI: No. Not a single member of the board of directors understands games. I didn't ask to be a board member, but if you don't have someone who understands games in the position of making those final decisions, there winds up being a business-side that doesn't understand games and development-side that wants to make games. I feel that's the biggest problem Capcom will be facing.
4G: It may be that way, but ultimately the ones who make the final decisions are the president and the chairman.
KI: That's right, but them getting the wrong information during the decision-making process certainly doesn't help at all.
4G: Well, of course not.
KI: So even if the president and the chairman don't want to hear something, I would have to tell them. That's something that I did, even if sometimes it only earned me their scorn. I can say that I just wanted them to understand my points. I don't mean in terms of money or standing, either. If I had simply been told, "We were angry with you then, but you were right," I don't think things would've have turned out this way.
I was certainly pushing for both the western strategy and the multi-platform strategy, and I still think they wound up being correct. If I'd simply been told, "You were right," I might've been able to remain motivated.
=== A Capcom-style game can be made by assigning 10 people: the myth of internal production is crumbling ===
4G: As this talk has gotten a bit pessimistic, I'd like to ask you more about foreign development. You mentioned it a bit earlier, but judging by your blog posts and the like, it seems like it's a topic that is easier to understand.
KI: Where should I start... At Capcom, there are currently 700 developers who handle 3 or 4 titles.
KI: It's exactly as I said.
4G: What is everyone else doing?
KI: There is nobody else. All 700 of them are handling 3 or 4 titles.
4G: Well, hold on a minute. If there are 4 titles, that'd be about 180 people per title. So accounting for error, there are maybe about 150 people on each title? The cost of labor for the duration of a project would have to be something like 2 billion yen ($25 million).
KI: Right, it's not enough. That's why the myth of internal production is crumbling.
Having 700 developers working on 4 titles leaves everyone saying they're always busy. Since 150 people work on each title, a month's cost of labor generally costs between 150 million ($1.9 million) and 200 million yen ($2.5 million).
4G: So 3 months' labor would cost 600 million yen ($7.5 million). Ten months would come to 2 billion yen ($25 million). If a project took 3 years... It'd be at least 6 billion yen ($75 million).
KI: Right. Well, it's not like 150 people are all suddenly put on a project, but it's common for a project to cost 3 or 4 billion yen ($37.5-50 million).
4G: So as one would expect, if that one shot fails, it's really bad.
KI: Yeah. There could be a loss of 1 billion yen ($12.5 million). There's nothing you can do to make up for that. It's internal supremacy.
4G: What was the most recent internally-produced hit?
KI: That'd be Biohazard 5, two years ago. That also took 150 people. This year, it's mostly external. Street Fighter IV was external. Monster Hunter Diary: Poka-Poka Island Village, which sold half a million, was external. Dead Rising is also external.
Lost Planet 2 was made internally, but readers of 4Gamer know how that turned out. At the end of the year, Monster Hunter Portable 3rd will be released, having been developed internally. It'll definitely be a hit. After that, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is also external.
Basically, there are no internally-developed titles outside of Monster Hunter that can be qualified as hits. There are no internally-developed hits besides Monster Hunter and Biohazard. If you were to ask if those two titles can support the several thousand people at Capcom, the answer would be no. That's why we had to make them.
4G: As you said before -- and it's not limited to Capcom -- there's risk in developing several 2 or 3 billion yen projects.
KI: Right. It can be futile. It can be really futile.
So that's why I -- speaking very broadly -- say that it's not good for a publisher to employ such a number of people in order to maintain this structure. Not speaking in terms of the aforementioned numbers, it would be practical to reduce the staff by half, in turn relying on external developers.
When I made Dead Rising, there were only 5 people from Capcom assigned to it. Adding in a producer and an assistant, that got to be about maybe 7 people? Even then, we didn't have to assign as many as 10 people to it. By just assigning less than 10 internal staff, we could make a title for the global market.
4G: So what you're saying is that you can create a Capcom-style game by assigning 10 people to it.
KI: That's exactly right. For example, I was just working on 6 different titles, and among those, there were only 15 people from Capcom assigned to them. Several of those people are taking part in several projects, so each title has about 5 Capcom staffers involved. This is entirely possible.
4G: So by that reasoning, 50 people can make 10 titles.
KI: They can, even if only in theory. I can't leave one big thing out, though. If this isn't done more, getting back to our earlier discussion, Capcom as a company won't survive.
Internal development is important. I'm not saying that it's not needed. In terms of quality control and the staff's motivation, there should be internal development. Capcom itself as of late consists of Monster Hunter and Biohazard. These two series are very important brands. These two series should only be developed internally.
Taking that into account, if each series takes 150 people each, it'd require 300 people to develop one of each at the same time. Other than that... Right, it'd be external development, so of course there'd need to be some supervision in place. So there would need to be about 100 supervisors. With a hundred supervisors, you could produce 20 titles, all with 400 people.
4G: Right now there are 700 developers.
KI: Yes. Even though I was in the upper level, I'm not one who relishes restructuring. It's necessary for the company's survival. It's a difference of 300 peoples' salaries.
I've said it many times, but unlike Konami, Capcom is a company that only makes games. All it does is make games. That's why it needs to do well by any means necessary. That much should be obvious.
4G: So basically, one way of doing that is to work with western developers, as you've indicated.
KI: Right. What I did in order to succeed was show that Capcom games can be made externally. I disproved the long-held belief that externally-developed games can't be Capcom games. First with Dead Rising, then with Street Fighter IV. More titles need to be developed that way. This will result in good things for both the company and the players.
=== Working with western developers, discussing things thoroughly and communicating well ===
4G: One can recognize the appeal of external developers, but why western? There must be a reason besides cost.
KI: Because of their superiority.
KI: Yes. They're also far and away more passionate. That's one big reason. As stated before in regards to IPOs, western developers are far more fragmented than in Japan; the lower tiers of western developers, I hate to say, are slaves. In an environment where it's not unusual to get laid off, you have to do you work well, and make an effort to get noticed, they've made advances.
4G: So unlike in the deep-rooted lifetime employment system in Japan, you are directly responsible for your own success or failure. So the motivation is different.
KI: Exactly. Their level of drive is completely different. On the other hand, Japanese developers from top to bottom have the same feeling. Of course they're not really slaves, but on the other hand, just because you made a hit, it doesn't mean you'll see anything for it.
4G: I've heard that there are incentives worth millions of yen, but that's at the company's discretion and you can't get more above and beyond that. Whether that's good or bad is another matter, but it's one of the trade-offs in a courteous employment system.
KI: Yeah. Incentives run in the hundreds of thousands of yen. Even directors don't get incentives more than 2 million yen or so. Of course it's better than nothing, but in such a system in which you're working to bring in just 100 million yen at once, that difference seems pretty silly.
4G: So it's not just a problem of money, but it's that sense of making advances that's totally different.
KI: Right. People even on the bottom level are working as hard as they can to advance. For western developers, everyone at the director level gets their own office, an object of envy. Everyone says, "I want my own office, too." That kind of hungry attitude leads to going in good directions, so that's why I love western developers.
4G: So what are the cons of using western developers?
KI: First, you can't just leave them alone. Even with technical skills, they often lack adequate ideas and concepts for utilizing those skills. That's exactly why I'm such a good match for them. (laughs) They don't have to be a top-notch development studio. I just want to work with a team that has good potential and a positive work attitude.
4G: To inquire further, what about schedule management and quality control? From what I've heard from everyone so far, those two points are usually the main cause when projects with western developers fail.
So it's like if you order a studio, "It needs to be this kind of game. We're counting on you!" and look at the prototype and it's not quite what you wanted, but it's already pushing the deadline and the budget, and you don't want it to come to nothing so you press on?
KI: You really know what it's like. But that's not just limited to overseas, but also extends to domestic and even publishers' internal developers. (laughs)
There's only one way to avoid that: to always discuss what's fun in the game. You might think one part is fun, but the other side might think some other part is fun. This happens frequently, so the final product could wind up being a disaster. You have to talk it over until there's agreement, whatever it takes. After that, good communication is needed to manage it.
4G: To put it simply, that's the most difficult part in succeeding.
KI: It's very difficult, but that's exactly why communication is a good thing. Even if someone can do a job, you still need to follow up with them.
If you give a hundred Japanese-speaking internal developers all the budget and time they want to make a game, any type of developers could do a reasonable job. That much is obvious. The point is that we don't work like that.
4G: Why is that kind of environment necessary in order to aim for a global market?
KI: Because that's what the market demands. Japan's game share is only 10 percent. The numbers tell the story. As long as you're making high-budget games, which you can't finish overnight, the only way to make any income is by selling overseas.
However, no Japanese games other than Nintendo's get into the top 50 on the sales charts. So I absolutely want to make Japanese games accepted on a global scale; that's my mission.
4G: People have tended to interpret that as you abandoning Japan in favor of making titles for the global market.
KI: That's not true. (laughs) As long as I'm Japanese, the games I make will all be Japanese games. So when they sell globally, that's helping to save the Japanese game industry. It's not a matter of selling games in Japan for Japan or selling games in America for America. Dead Rising is a Japanese game made in Canada. It's not a western game.
4G: Now that you mention it, the iPhone that everybody loves is actually made in China.
KI: I wonder why people can't appreciate that about games.
=== After going independent, wanting to do all kinds of creative projects not limited to games, and right away ===
4G: However, working with western development studios is something that only you had advanced at Capcom.
4G: So you'll be free to apply that Inafune method of doing things after going independent as your contribution to the game industry?
KI: Yes. We've talked about lots of things that happened before I decided to quit, but if I can add one thing to that, it's that I had for a moment wondered in vain why exactly Capcom of late is making games.
4G: Because it's not really something they want to do?
KI: Well... I get a different impression when it's put so simply, but it may be the same thing. Managers would always check to make sure that this term's numbers were in line with next term's numbers. It wasn't a matter of personally wanting to make such-and-such a game, but not being able to meet this term's numbers if you don't make the game; because you wouldn't be able to get back up to zero.
4G: But that's a problem that will follow you even after going independent.
KI: That's absolutely right, but the things I can do will increase several-fold. Even that is a plus for me.
To put it plainly, not having to shoulder the burden of 1000 peoples' salaries is a tremendous benefit. Again, if Capcom commits over 90% of its business to making and selling games, you can't deny that the head of development is under incredible pressure. I was always being driven by numbers, having to take whatever measures if they weren't enough, made to wonder how to make the numbers... I was held back from being able to do what I wanted.
That will no longer be the case. Thinking about that point, my dreams can really expand. As long as I was with Capcom, I couldn't make anything but games, but I won't be bound by that anymore.
4G: So please tell me exactly what you plan to do.
KI: There are so many things that I want to do. I won't be attached to just one title, as I don't believe that you need to rely on some IP to survive. I want to do games, of course, but also movies and novels.
4G: So you want to take on all sorts of creative endeavors?
KI: Yes. I want to be creative. I think it'd be good to not just be limited to games.
4G: Do you plan to do this after taking some time to recharge?
KI: No, I want to start right away. I'll die if I stop.
4G: Like a tuna, right?
KI: Yeah. (laughs) I want to start as soon as possible. Of course I want to make games.
4G: It'd be great if you could try your hand in the social area.
KI: Yeah, that's just one thing that's really catching on quickly.
4G: Is Capcom involved in that at all?
KI: Capcom of course understands social games and mobile games, but I don't think they really understand them.
4G: Understanding, but not really understanding.
KI: To clarify, let's use smoking as an analogy.
There isn't anybody who doesn't know that smoking is bad for you. Absolutely everybody who smokes knows it. But that doesn't mean that they understand that fact. Smokers' continuing to smoke while knowing that it's bad for them means that they don't really get it. People who understand don't act so hypocritically.
In regards to social games, it's the same deal. They just say things like, "Social games are becoming necessary," "Networked games are important," and, "Western advances are important." They may have the knowledge, but they don't really understand what it means.
4G: That's certainly not limited to Capcom.
KI: That's more than likely. If they understood, why don't they focus on western development, why don't they take social games seriously, and so on. Whenever I asked, I got answers like, "Because we're busy with other things," and, "That's on our to-do list."
It's the same with smoking. Smokers say they don't want to quit when really it's by their own weakness that they aren't able to quit. The weakness of not being able to, or not understanding, has a big effect on the body.
4G: Are you going to apply that line of thinking to everything that you practice?
4G: Movies and such.
KI: Oh, right. I've always wanted to do movies, asking everyone I talk to, "How about a movie?" but getting told, "I'd also like to, but I'm busy."
I was busy too, but I did it. What's different is maybe that I'm more worried about criticism. You need to be able to accept a certain amount of criticism, but you can't worry about it too much. The reason why everyone keeps making the same titles is that if they're the same titles, they won't be criticized. If I had only made Rockman, I probably wouldn't have been so criticized.
If it's a brand-new game, isn't there always the worry that it may fail or not be well received? Not just games, but also new genres of movies face the same thing.
4G: They're too intimidating to make?
KI: Right. They're too intimidating. Of course you can't be reckless or overdo something, but you can't also be too afraid. Even with the Japanese game industry, everyone knows what's wrong but won't admit it: it's afraid. When I talk with people in the industry, they all say things like, "Yeah, you're right, Inafune-san," and, "It's really a shame that the Tokyo Game Show is dying." ...I'm just the only one who's saying it in public.
4G: But if everyone understands this, they don't need to have someone go out and say so.
KI: If it's not said, won't people be unaware?
Say a friend of yours was always saying disagreeable things. You'd have to tell them, "Hey, aren't you a bit over the line?" or, "Your way of speaking really sticks out," or, "You should be careful what you say when meeting people for the first time."
"What? Really? Am I really like that?" "Yes, you really are." So it's a matter of whether it's better to tell them or avoid it because they won't like it and it's just a bother.
4G: So you feel that you should tell them.
KI: I'm not someone who can stay quiet about it. If it's bad, it's bad. Many people haven't realized it, but I'm also included in the statements, "The Japanese game industry is no good," and, "Japanese games are no good." So I want to improve things and gain victory over it. I'm not trying to say anything presumptuous like I'm good but everyone else is bad.
I for one am trying my hardest, but I'm not there yet. That's exactly why I need to study.
4G: The theme you've been speaking on has been something you've talked about a lot for quite awhile.
KI: Yeah it is. Anyhow, as everyone knows, we can't help but learn from western developers and try to ape them. It's important to combine the good points of Japanese games and things learned from overseas to make Japanese-style games that can be supported in western markets. However, right now the only one able to win with Japanese-style games is Nintendo.
4G: It takes time to satisfy those markets. Is it like that with everything?
KI: Yes. So if you said that natto rolls taste great and opened a sushi bar in California that served only natto rolls, there would be no customers. You'd have to make natto rolls tailored to American tastes.
It's not that natto rolls can't succeed, but if you learned from a foreign chef that it's easier for the customers to eat natto rolls if you add squid, you'd have to make a change from what Japanese people consider natto rolls to be. It's not that natto is bad, so to speak.
So for one of my games like Dead Rising, it's a very Japanese game. That part is intentionally left in. The Canadians who developed it also said it would be better that way. It's not like they said, "Let's make a game not made by Japanese people!"
4G: So in order to aim for that, it seems like you need to become a completely independent developer.
KI: Yes. Being completely independent, I want to expand my creativity. If I take on work for a some publisher, it would come with restrictions, and lots of things would no longer be possible. I want to avoid that if possible. Publishers have things that they're good and bad at, as well as good points and bad points. I want to use my best discretion and carry on in such a position.
4G: Being completely independent, realistically, is difficult in the current Japanese game industry.
KI: Yes it is. That's why I want to create a can-do environment and put forth my efforts there. As I've said several times already, I also want to make things other than games.
That people in the game industry should just make games is nothing more than one type of "common sense." That "common sense" may simply be an implicit acknowledgment, but I don't want to be held to it. There's a lot of "common sense" like that.
4G: So for development studios, they're probably told things like, "Here's 3 billion yen ($37.5 million), so make 2 titles. Don't do anything else."
KI: Yeah. Saying it that way may be selfish, but saying no in response may also be selfish. (laughs) I just think it's important to have an environment in which you can speak as equals.
4G: I wonder what kind of grounds is that rule based upon. Is it because the one paying is high and mighty?
KI: Then there's also the desire to take total control.
4G: Taking total control is kind of like turning the screw. It's probably not too far from, "I'm the one paying to have this made, so don't do anything on your own."
KI: Ah, right. That's not too far off.
Also, although I know publishers won't like me saying this, but publishers often play the money card. However, there are lots of ways to secure funds.
4G: It may or may not be quick or easy, but there are banks, venture capitalists, funds, and all sorts of other possibilities... I see what you're getting at.
KI: On the other hand, you can't borrow game ideas or concepts. No matter if it's a bank, venture capitalist, or fund, there's nowhere you can go to borrow them. What the game industry has money in is copyrights.
So if I had a great idea and after quitting, I went to Capcom and pitched a game idea like, "Why don't you have me make this product?" Then in negotiations, they say, "That's fine. How much will it be?" and I say, "2 billion yen," and they say, "Fine." But then when the game comes out, it's copyright Capcom. Isn't that odd?
4G: Yeah, that does seem rather strange, though it's always been that way.
KI: Manga, however, is different. Like Akira Toriyama. His Bird Studio and the publisher Shueisha share the copyrights. Why are manga and games different? This is another problem that the game industry currently has.
It's obviously not a matter of just demanding the copyright, but perhaps the time has come to consider the sharing of copyrights by publishers and developers. That's another thing I'd like to change. I don't know how many years it might take, of course.
=== The real motivation behind working with western developers: we have to change more ===
4G: What's the first step you need to take to get there?
KI: What I'm good at isn't employing a hundred developers and having to work in fear of the numbers, but properly taking a concept to maturity and continually communicating that concept to the developers. I can do this no matter where the developers are or where they work. They could be a publisher's internal developers, external, or even western developers. I can do collaborative development.
4G: Many Japanese developers are just craftsmen, so that may be rather difficult.
KI: I was at Capcom for over 20 years, so what I have is something Capcom-esque. So if I put what I've got together with what the partner development studio brings, something new will be created. If that product produces good results, it's a great thing.
4G: As you said before, if a product has demand overseas, it has a great value.
KI: Yeah. That's exactly my specialty. For example, Street Fighter IV sold 200 thousand copies in Japan and 2.3 million overseas. Biohazard 5 sold 600 thousand copies in Japan and 5 million overseas.
4G: The more you look at the numbers, you would think that everybody would want to go after the western markets.
On the other hand, if you take that to the extreme, wouldn't that also lead you to a point where the Japanese market is irrelevant?
KI: That couldn't be the case. At least, I don't think so. Soccer isn't played in countries where there is no soccer, right?
4G: Ah, another hard-to-understand analogy...
KI: Right now, Japan's soccer team isn't so strong, and it can't win the World Cup. So Japan doesn't have soccer. It isn't a matter of everybody going to Brazil. Though if people can go to Brazil or Europe, that's fine. But as long as a country doesn't have soccer, a movement to do soccer won't be established.
So if possible, you need to get better at soccer. That requires effort. You can't just give up because you don't win in international tournaments.
4G: It might be a bad thing to say, but wouldn't that mean it'd be better to make games overseas?
KI: Not at all. It's the same as good soccer players going to Europe. They don't go to live there, but to learn the world's soccer.
It's the same as Ito Hirobumi, who went to see the world, came back to Japan, became prime minister, and changed both the government and Japan. Good soccer players come back, become good leaders and coaches, and change soccer in Japan.
4G: I see what you mean, but I think there's one more thing that's required: user-side knowledge.
KI: Absolutely. If you don't know how the world's soccer is, you certainly can't explain it to the audience. That's why we have media outlets like 4Gamer. (laughs)
4G: Well, I guess so...
KI: If we properly educate the users about foreign games, they'll be noticed more. That is, Japanese games will also get noticed more. Read Dead Redemption should be able to sell a million copies, not just stopping at a hundred thousand or so. Creators, users, and the businessmen all need to change more.
4G: What you're saying, though, might be interpreted as western game supremacism.
KI: At the very least, western games are more fun. Using my previous analogy, European soccer is far above Japan's. You can't beat Spain on willpower alone. So what we have to do is know Spanish soccer, French soccer, English soccer, and so on. If I say that, people will say, "Inafune-san watches nothing but European soccer." The point is, it's necessary to recognize our faults and learn from western developers.
Pride in Japanese game making won't die out so easily, however. Japanese people can make great things when they work together. Because I love Japan, I don't want it to lose to America and Europe. If I didn't care about Japan, I would just leave.
4G: I'm sure.
KI: So if I can, I want to change the Japanese game industry. I don't want to abandon it. After I leave Capcom, I don't want to, for example, just work for EA, Activision, and Rockstar. That would be abandoning Japan.
I only know Capcom as a publisher, so I want to see the good and bad parts of other publishers in Japan and overseas, and based upon everyone's feedback about the Japanese game industry, go about changing it.
4G: So you're taking on the role of triggering change in the Japanese game industry.
KI: There's already a first trigger (ed: Inafune-san has long respected Hino-san of Level 5, so this may be who he's talking about.), and I want to draw on that and be a further driving force.
So to get back to the prior discussion, in many ways I want creators to be more self-aware and quit just being a salaryman. If all of the creators feel the same way, the industry will definitely change. It just takes a change.
=== I really want to do business; the president only has two jobs ===
4G: Though if you're independent, that means you'll be a company president. Do you have any ambitions in that regard?
KI: I really want to do business.
4G: I wouldn't think you'd normally want to.
KI: I know, right? (laughs) So getting back to the first point, isn't that something that creators in their mid-40s should be? Those kind of people should handle the business.
4G: Why is that?
KI: Age 45 is still pretty young for a businessman. On the business side, looking back at my previous efforts, I can succeeded in creating a good environment for people in their 20s and 30s and make great products. That wouldn't be bad at all. If successful, it'll expand out to the industry and players will absolutely benefit.
4G: So you'll train the next generation.
KI: Reflecting on my position of President at Daletto, being a president is easy. You can leave the numbers to the pros. There are really only two important things: evaluating your employees and speaking your dreams. That's all. If you can't speak your dreams, nobody will know what to do.
4G: So in that line of work, focusing too much on the numbers runs counter to the nature of the business.
KI: Yeah. Worrying about cost percentages and changes in profit from last year by whatever percent isn't the dream.
Also, it's necessary to let employees do things that they come up with. There are both good and bad methods, of course. People in our line of work especially don't follow orders. Even if you tell them what kind of game it should be, they won't do it. They don't want to.
4G: Isn't that just selfishness?
KI: Yeah, probably. (laughs) At that point, it's good to work together with them. "I'm thinking of this kind of zombie game, and thought it might be good like this. What kind of zombies do you think would be good?" and such.
4G: So you guide them into the project.
KI: Right. If they answer, "Well, maybe this kind would be good," that's great. I'd say, "Oh, that sounds fine." Naturally, I'm already holding several possible answers. Being able to draw people into the project, not only will they think, "Ah, he's considering my opinions," but I also get opinions to which I go, "Oh, I hadn't thought of that." It's a good technique for both sides. The moment I include others' opinions, it goes from being "the game Inafune-san is making" to "my game."
4G: That's when the motivation changes.
KI: Another thing I do, for example, is instruct people to, "Go north." I just don't give any directions on how to go north. I let them do it on their own. They could take a taxi, go by train, or even walk. Other than the most important part, I can leave it up to them. So in regard to character design, I hold onto the most important part, but have people do the rest as they like.
That's when it becomes their game, and it's a different way of harnessing their power. Handling is necessary to make sure things don't go off track, but if you do that and the product is a hit, they'll gain confidence. If they gain confidence, they'll be able to work hard on the next project as well.
4G: So what did you mean earlier by there being "bad methods"?
KI: Continuing on the same train of thought, someone will be thinking, "Oh, I can do this even if Inafune-san isn't around." They might think, "I know I'm supposed to go north, and was entrusted with the details," but for some reason they start walking west or south. Even so, I think this technique has great value.
=== Creators and producers are completely different: going from 0 to 1 or 1 to 10 ===
4G: Inafune-san, I'm afraid we're almost out of time.
KI: Yeah, it's almost been 3 hours.
4G: Although this hasn't been the interview I'd expected, it's been a really sensational topic. Perhaps there's something you'd like to say to the readers of 4Gamer?
KI: (After some thought) It's difficult to say so quickly...
I definitely think that there are many readers of 4Gamer who like games. That's why I want there to be more opportunities to deepen peoples' knowledge of games, how to make them, and about the game industry itself. All through 4Gamer, of course. (laughs)
4G: We'll do our best.
KI: Right now, there's only news about new releases -- and of course that's very important -- and whether it's a good thing or a bad thing, you don't hear about the things that remain hidden behind the scenes. You only get what comes from the publisher. But, I hope that creators step forward more and more so you can see both the good and the bad, and knowing both sides, you'll be able to decide whether or not you want to give your support.
I think it would be good if you could read in media outlets like 4Gamer about not just brands like Capcom's, but also about the people who make games and with what emotions they're made. If that happens, won't the industry change? Up to this point, there have been lots of interviews that only present the official company lines.
4G: Yeah, sometimes we can't ask questions that are too direct, and it winds up sounding like an imperial proclamation.
KI: Yeah it does. I don't think that's something that your readers necessarily want to read. It might be the producer doing the talking, but you could say it's about the same as the person in charge of marketing speaking.
What readers really want to hear is the producers' true thoughts, their deep, hidden messages, what they've gone through, and an overall more complete picture. Am I wrong?
4G: No, I think that's right.
KI: That's what I want to tell the players. It'd be best if I can speak well, but it's not always easy to get my point across and it might get held against me, but I want to tell the story straight.
More than just the players reading and getting that information, I hope that they'll be able to decide whether or not to support me.
Also, by the way, a creator is someone who takes a 0 and makes it into a 1. Many creators and producers throughout the world take that 1 and make it into a 10. Both are completely different from one another. I hope that the readers of 4Gamer will be able to understand this. So, I hope that creators are judged as creators.
4G: It might not be realistic for players to ascertain that.
KI: You're saying that they don't understand interviews that appear in media outlets like 4Gamer?
4G: It might not be possible to explain game concepts, the underlying intentions, and such to people who aren't creators. It's almost all talk about game systems, new game rules, characters, or sales target numbers. Well, sometimes you get to hear about the true underlying intentions. Of course, that goes off the publishers' carefully-prepared manuscript. (laughs)
KI: Oh, I see. (laughs) I think that's probably the easiest to understand. If I had lots of titles, I would just make the point about going from 0 to 1, and leave it at that.
4G: ...I see. I've been able to gain many insights from you, though I'd wondered how you could manage 30 titles.
KI: If you share ownership on developing a base concept, things like the color of the clothes or scenery or the UI design aren't such big problems. So the reason why most people can't just go from 0 to 1 is that they tend to open their mouths too much. Lots of people, if they do nothing but open their mouths, wind up saying that they want to do this and that, too. You can't do multiple titles like that.
4G: Taking a 1 and making it into 10 certainly sounds fun, and I can see how you feel.
KI: Now you see. It winds up not being made for others, but more than anyone, for the person making it. If a single big game takes 3 years to make, that's all you can do for that time. Even after 20 years in the industry, you won't have made more than 7 titles. After taking solid concepts and entrusting them to good developers, then I do what's next: make a beautiful composition.
4G: So, those "good developers" could be from anywhere, domestic or overseas.
...But there aren't many people who make that 0 into a 1 with a standing or reputation in the game industry.
KI: More than producers or directors, they're conceptualizers. The reason that there are so few well-known people is that not many puff out their chests and say, "I made this game concept."
Of course, it's not just the conceptualizers who are great. You can't make a game without both conceptualizers and people who can take a 1 and make it into a 10. This must be understood. They have completely different roles. I think that readers of 4Gamer will be able to get this, and I would like to leave you with that.
So if possible, I'd like people read the news reports thoroughly, gather all sorts of information, and above all, judge products by their merits.
4G: Thank you for your time. The next time we meet, you'll be Inafune-san from a new company. Best of luck.
This interview was conducted on October 18th.