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Tokyo Game Show - just another game event
Independent game developer and Gamasutra senior contributing editor Brandon Sheffield examines what the shrinking size of the Tokyo Game Show actually means.
September 23, 2013
5 Min Read
Independent game developer and Gamasutra senior contributing editor Brandon Sheffield examines what the shrinking size of the Tokyo Game Show actually means. This is my ninth Tokyo Game Show, after skipping last year. As any trade show veteran will tell you, the show gets smaller every year. Not in terms of attendee numbers, as TGS organizer CESA is quick to point out. In fact, the attendance on days where the public is allowed keeps increasing. The number of exhibitors keeps increasing, as well. But that only tells a very small part of the story. To sum it up, there are fewer exhibitors from Japan every year, fewer games, and less buzz. The last time I attended, I felt that TGS was rapidly losing relevance. Now, I feel like it's just another game show.
Walk around the show floor, and you see a giant booth for Grand Theft Auto V. An enormous booth for World of Tanks. Alienware. Wolfenstein. A Monster Energy Drink booth showcasing Call of Duty Ghosts. Meanwhile Tecmo Koei's booth has no games, just posters of a game they made 30 years ago. The Bayonetta 2 booth is a cardboard stand (non-playable (note: that is a joke, but it really is just a cardboard stand)). Shinji Mikami's The Evil Within (known in Japan as Psycho Break) is video only, as is Drag-On-Dragoon 3, one of my more anticipated games. And good luck even hearing a whisper of Tomonobu Itagaki's Devil's Third. Sony, meanwhile, announced most of its big news before TGS, giving only minor updates at the show itself. (See Wired's TGS slideshow for more visual evidence of this trend.) There are Japanese games on the show floor, but not so many of them are the industry-leading big titles we used to expect out of Japan. Smartphone games abound, as mobile game company Gree has taken the largest booth at the show, and Capcom showcases a free-to-play version of Monster Hunter instead of its recently-released 3DS blockbuster version. Most of the show floor is taken up either by Western games, colleges, or art outsourcing studios looking for work. And there's nothing particularly wrong with that - but that's what makes this "just another" game show. On the show floor, developers and journalists alike have expressed dismay at the paltry showing from Japanese companies, but this is only because our expectations were set so high, back in the 90s and early 2000s. Japan was leading the industry in retail games, but as soon as the next generation came along, and teams got larger, Japanese companies largely couldn't adapt quickly enough to compete. Now, we are facing another console generation, with digital distribution crowned the new king, and even new, big budget games like The Evil Within still look like they were made about five years ago.
Graphical fidelity and new consoles aren't the only battle Japan is fighting. Companies here are often not nimble enough to follow industry shifts, as indies now lead the game industry creatively to an extent, but indies are tough to find in the region. TGS does have an indie corner now, which is great! But this is also something other shows have had for years, and the indie culture in Japan is still in its early stages. Most independent game creators release their games on disc at the fan-oriented Comic Market, avoiding digital distribution, and often even hiding their names and credit so that they can base their games on properties other than their own. TGS' Sense of Wonder Night event, meanwhile, which showcases independent games from around the world that invoke a sense of wonder, is becoming increasingly Independent Games Festival-like, with a stage show live-streamed to Japanese video service NicoNico. This element of the show has been given a boost, and may indicate some forward motion for TGS in general, but it is still a few steps behind the competition when it comes to engaging indies. And frankly, at any game event, indies are never going to be a big moneymaker, buying large booths and the like. PAX has its megabooth, GDC has GDC Play, and E3 has an indie space as well. But these are all at discounted rates, and once indies get big enough to afford a proper large booth, they wind up starting their own events (see Minecraft's Minecon, for example).
Not so Japanese
What bothers me most about this year's Tokyo game show is that, language and location aside, it could just as well have taken place in America or Europe. The only thing that really felt Tokyo about TGS was the event's physical location, and some of the creators with whom I met. I do think the show retains relevance as a meeting place for the Japanese game industry. It's still the best place to discuss ideas and make deals with Japanese game creators, as many don't attend E3 or GDC. But the sheer volume of creative talent in attendance almost makes the event feel sadder - with so many great creators in one place, why do we see so few new games? Even the creators I met with asked this question. After playing a number of titles around the show floor (including a new licensed Treasure title called Geist Crusher, which is not so bad!), my game of show is unquestionably Titanfall, which I played alongside Deadly Premonition creator Swery. Titanfall is shaping up to be an excellent experience, so it makes sense that it would be near the top. But as someone who has been a fan of Japanese games for quite some time, it feels strange for a Western game to be tops at Tokyo Game Show, especially since I had already played it at PAX. I still have hope that there is a bright future ahead for the Japanese game industry. There is simply too much talent here to ignore. I just don't see enough evidence of this talent on the floor of the Tokyo Game Show, and it gives me major pause when I consider this industry's next few years. (Photo credit: LonelyBob)
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