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Trading secrets: Knowledge-sharing in Japan

Japan has long been thought of as a nation where professionals are secretive with their trades, where people in the same industry do not speak to each other. Is it true? And is it hurting their game development industry?

September 25, 2012

4 Min Read

Author: by Kris Graft, Patrick Miller

Secrecy. It's been cited as one of the primary hindrances to the growth of the Japanese video game industry, both by the games media and by Japanese game developers. In the past, Japanese game developers have been known to create their games in a vacuum, keeping their own indivudual game production and tech savvy close to the vest. Parts of the Japanese industry had motored along with dissociated knowledge, with no means, and perhaps no intention, to correlate crucial information to any significant degree. We asked Japanese game developers at Tokyo Game Show about the current state of knowledge and tech sharing in Japan -- some acknowledged that at least there was a problem in the past, while some were astonished that there was even that perception at at all.

Keiji Inafune, CEO, Comcept

"That's probably true, how Japanese developers kind of hide their knowledge, compared to the Western industry, where they knowledge-share proactively. We do have CEDEC and different conventions that mimic your GDC. It's like we 'wanna-be' GDC [laughs]. [Those kind of conferences] exist in Japan, but in Japan, it's more about the company than the individual. It looks like a cooperation between big studios, but really the companies' profit comes first. In the U.S., it's more about the individual. In Japan, it's more about the company. "It's really hard for creators to do real knowledge sharing. It's just difficult. And if there was any knowledge sharing at all, they'd do it behind the companies' backs. "...I believe that [secrecy] did corrupt the Japanese game industry over the years. There hasn't been that individualism for the creators. It's been all about the company and the business. And when you're strong and stand as an individual, as a creator, in the Japanese game industry, [your company] rips you apart."

Kenji Kobayashi, director, DeNA

"We learn quite a lot through our partnerships. I don't understand why Japanese developers are considered secretive, or perceived as secretive. I mean, Blizzard and EA might talk to each other about MMOs, or EA and Activision and Epic might get together to talk about FPSes... but I don't think they disclose all the information. There are certain things you're going to want to keep internally. "Whether it's the game industry, or other industries, you have to share to a certain extent. But when it comes to platform, sure, it would be good to increase our platform recognition as much as possible, with strong partners and strong developers, and we do  share knowledge, to a great extent. "The landscape of the [Japanese] industry has changed. It's a different time. It's a new industry, we have new designs in the market. And their evolution can be seen at CEDEC, where developers get together, and they talk about how games are developed. So I don't believe that the game industry in Japan is closed. I don't see it that way."

Sanku Shino, SVP marketing and developer relations, Gree

"In my role, I deal with third-party developers a lot. Although we might not reveal how KPIs all work, if we have a really excellent title, we might explain how it worked. So if we have really excellent developers [we're working with], we would give them an idea. Although we wouldn't reveal specific numbers, we'd be open to sharing general ideas."

Akihiro Suzuki, executive officer, Koei Tecmo

"It might be a cultural thing; in Japan, people don't change jobs as much, so when someone joins a team they stay there for the long run. That means you have people who can continuously improve upon an in-house engine. In the U.S., you seem to have people who are more likely to jump to different teams or projects, so you have less continuity and internal resources to build your technology. I think that from the Japanese standpoint, in the long run it's much cheaper for us to develop in-house tech instead of licensing."

Masaya Matsuura, founder, NanaOn-Sha

"It's changing. Around me, at least, many developers have been using Unity, especially independent small developers. With Unity, it's easier to share the experience with each other, so individual small developers can collaborate with each other more easily. My feeling is, the small developers have more chances to collaborate with each other."

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