The first day of the Yokohama-based 2009 CESA Developers Conference (CEDEC) kicked off with a keynote from Hiroshi Harashima. Harashima, a professor emeritus at Tokyo University, talked about the future of information technology and video games. Says Harashima, "Games have evolved through dependence on technology, but at the same time, games should be freed from the constraints of technology."
Harashima contextualized his talk with a look back at the history of computer technology. Despite Japan's efforts in the 1970s and 1980s to lead the market in computers, success was limited. The market was first lead by IBM; the development of PCs let Microsoft became the leader with Windows and Internet Explorer. More recently, says Harashima, industry leadership has shifted to Google, which has rapidly expanded its reach beyond searching.
The same situation maps to the game industry, says Harashima. From the Atari 2600 to the PlayStation family, hardware has continued to evolve. Technology will continue to develop and, in doing so, evolve video games. Despite that, he says that "games should be freed from the constraints of technology."
In his view, the future of video games should not be technology-dependent. During the growing years of a market, the value of the product is its technology. For example, digital cameras initially waged a war to increase megapixels; now they need to have added features, such as facial recognition and shake reduction to be competitive.
In Harashima's view, video games likewise must not just be about the tech, but added-value and solid content. "The [Japanese] video game industry needs to mature more, become independent and be respected by society. It should also have not just rely on a 'megahit' type of business model," he says.
However, when it comes to overall capabilities -- including design, technology, productivity, sales, finance (including the ability to acquire third-party developers as a whole) and social influences, Harashima feels Japanese companies may have a hard time competing against Western companies. The professor notes that just as when it went after IBM's computer products, Japan should not try to play "catch-up", and instead distinguish itself by appealing directly to audiences.
According to Harashima, the industry's attitude should be "This is what makes Japanese video games look cool!" He suggested games based on the work of authors such as internationally popular Haruki Murakami
or 10-minute games for working-age gamers that are too busy to play traditional games.
In closing, Harashima believes that video games will become more and more exciting, and that game creators should not limit themselves to what's presently popular or possible. They should hold onto their ideas; the right time will come for them to become reality.