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Epic’s Wilbur On Unreal Engine’s Japan Hurdles

Epic Games VP Jay Wilbur talks to Gamasutra about the cultural challenge that the studio faces with its new Tokyo office, and working with Japanese Unreal Engine developers who "are set in their ways."
Epic Games isn’t exactly known as a Japanese powerhouse. The Raleigh, North Carolina-based Gears of War studio has sold millions of software units worldwide and its popular Unreal Engine 3 is used in over 100 games, but success in Asian territories is marginal compared to Western regions. Epic is hoping to get a better foothold in the Japanese game industry with the foundation of a two-person office in Tokyo that will help with sales and support for Japanese developers who are licensing Unreal Engine 3. Epic VP Jay Wilbur said Japanese developers are open to learning new development methods, but there are cultural barriers that do present a challenge when bringing a Western engine into Japan. "[Japanese] developers are very proud of their workers," said Wilbur, who was fresh off the plane from the Tokyo office’s official opening. "They do extremely good work. They are super-creative. They're somewhat set in their ways." "Unreal Engine sort of embraces a next generation development style," he said. "When we bring this over to developers in Japan, sometimes there's a little bit of friction as far as them adopting the Western styles of development that Unreal Engine embraces." He added, "When I say 'set in their ways,' it's not like they're an immovable object. They're always learning and gathering new things. Some of the styles of development, they just sort of take time to move down the line." "It's the idea of if it ain't broke, don't fix it,'" Wilbur continued. "To them, the development style isn't broken, and we're coming in and saying, 'Hey! We can fix it.' So it takes some time for them to understand when we say 'fix it,' and how we can help support the process in order to save time and money, and bring top-quality products to the marketplace." Currently Epic Games Japan only has two staffers: territory manager Taka Kawasaki and support manager Jun Shimoda. Epic has localized all of its UE3 documentation into Japanese, with Shimoda spending face-time with Japanese UE3 developers. Japan-based developers that have licensed Unreal Engine 3 include Square Enix (for games including The Last Remnant), Namco, Capcom and Grasshopper Manufacture (for its upcoming EA Partners-published game.) Epic also has a Shanghai, China based division that Wilbur said has around 250 staff working on development of both internal and outsourcing support. Wilbur said that growing Epic Japan into a full-blown development studio is "not the focus" at the moment, although he said "anything’s possible."

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