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The Rise Of Western Gaming, And The Fall Of The East

Felix Kemp
Features, Metal Gear Solid, Role playing game

The Rise Of Western Gaming, And The Fall Of The East

Regardless of their true origins, videogames began in Japan. It is the progenitor country, the birthplace of Mario, Sonic and Snake, iconic characters in the virtual pantheon. It’s responsible for revolutionising not only the technology but the genre, influencing an entire generation of developers from across the globe.

But in recent years, a chasm in quality has spread between East and West. Whereas in the 90s, Japan produced consistently excellent and pioneering titles, the 21st Century has seen the West assume their mantle, driving the medium forward. It’s obvious Japan is behind when Kojima Productions, developers of the revolutionary Metal Gear series, hired a Western to help shape Metal Gear Solid 4 into a more modern form.

The Divide

The Rise Of Western Gaming, And The Fall Of The East

To be perfectly honest, an article debating the difference in quality between Eastern and Western games is entirely subjective. I myself consider games from my native hemisphere to be of superior quality.

However, I began my videogame love-affair on a Sega Mega Drive, playing Sonic until the console suffered an untimely death, and my favourite game since is Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Both the console and the games are from Japan, so my opinion on this subject is hardly biased.

What I believe to be the problem is Japan’s reluctance to stray away from established conventions, regardless of how outdated they may be. Western gaming is by no means perfect, and often lacks the personal touch of Japanese development, but there’s an emphasis on modern quality. For instance, Gears of War’s pioneering cover-system is now prevalent in the shooter genre, such is fans’ demand.

The Capcom Factor

The Rise Of Western Gaming, And The Fall Of The East

It would be unfair to label all Japanese developers as stubborn or myopic. Capcom, for example, have invested millions of dollars into their cross-platform engine, and their games, whilst inherently Japanese, show the glint of Western influence. Resident Evil was once the premiere Survival-Horror game; whereas now it is more or less a shooter, and Lost Planet owes a fair amount of respect to Halo.

Capcom’s efforts extend to their outsourcing model. Instead of hiring a plethora of Westerners with intimate knowledge of the industry and its trends, Capcom opted to partner with American and European developers to produce contemporary titles under the Capcom label. Bionic Commando and Dark Void are the result of this collaboration.


The Rise Of Western Gaming, And The Fall Of The East

As I mentioned before, whether you consider either East or Western gaming to be better is entirely your decision. Final Fantasy, for example, defies much of my article, as it hasn’t significantly evolved since jumping generations, and yet its popularity remains unquestioned.

It’s improved the mechanics, the visuals, and the stories have at least approached coherence, but the basic set-up, of wandering barren, static environments, stumbling upon enemies and engaging in turn-based combat, is relatively unchanged.

But this doesn’t seem to bother the masses. Final Fantasy is a juggernaut title. It steamrolls the competition, especially in Japan, and remains a popular title in America and Europe. It’s an iterative series, building upon each title, and this seems to appease at least a million or so customers who arrive on release-date. And more importantly, it’s nostalgic. There’s a reason these games became popular, as once upon a time, they offered an experience unlike any other.

The Future

The Rise Of Western Gaming, And The Fall Of The East

At GDC 2009, Hideo Kojima, an industry auteur, revealed a new game, Metal Gear Rising, a title he claimed would focus on Western ideals and attempt to reinvigorate the series. If one of Japan’s most famed developers is admitting Japanese games require a Western focus, a change is bound to occur.

Already, signs are obvious. Tecmo, developers of the Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden series, is hard at work on a dark, gritty shooter, Quantum Theory, overflowing with steroid-infused characters and rocket-spewing weaponry. Tri-Ace, responsible for the Star Ocean games, is developing a new RPG set in a post-industrial universe, End of Eternity, replete with grey and brown metallic colour-palette. If the East is truly to understand Western design, it must see further than aesthetic trends.

I confess to some slight hypocrisy, as I am a huge fan of a number of uniquely Japanese games. I loved what Nintendo did with Mario Galaxy, and I can barely suppress my excitement for the next Zelda game. The Japanese videogame market is in danger, but it remains a hotbed for creativity and inspiration.

Add a comment7 comments
Sam Bell  Sep. 4, 2009 at 13:21

It is true Japan isn't what is used to be when it comes to developing new games. I think the East peaked a few years ago, so they're pretty much going slightly downhill. The West is heading there too though. In a few years we'll have the same problem, with developers churning out unoriginal titles based on standards that are being defined today.

I hope to Jesus this doesn't happen though!

RSG  Sep. 4, 2009 at 14:22


there is so much in the world to do then sit down and watch or play games!

Gunn  Sep. 4, 2009 at 14:39

There is also the fact that gaming as a social activity is viewed very differently in the West and East. Japan have it engrained in their culture, while here it's still (but less so now) viewed as something for kids to enjoy.

In regards to the article I think that Killzone Liberation had a cover system before Gears of War, so maybe theirs was more polished than pioneering. As I don't think even Killzone Liberation was the first game to implement a cover system.

Felix Kemp  Sep. 4, 2009 at 16:16

@ Gunn - Yeah, you're right, Gears wasn't the first. I think that may have been Kill.Switch. What I meant by that reference is Gears really popularised the mechanic, and popular mechanics in Western videogame development become standards very quickly, whereas in Japan they seem somewhat blind to evolving trends.

Johnny Fyfe  Sep. 4, 2009 at 17:06



there is so much in the world to do than write idiotic comments on blogs i'm not even interested in!

Kirrana  Sep. 5, 2009 at 05:09

I dont believe the Japanese games developers have fallen by the degree to which you suggest. Looking at the past of games development the western market has always been the domain of the western developers. So this is true in japan the western games dont have the same degree of market impact.

The reason for this is the culture of the local markets have a strong impact on the types of games produced in that country. For example Japan well in fact asia has a strong focus as you suggest on the social side of the gaming. They often have long story driven games which brings out this social aspect of the persons character. This does have a down side of making them costly to translate into english. Co-op games often feature quite highly in japan with the dance crazy a prime example in the last few years.

A lot of games for the Japanese market never see the light of day in the western world it is an aspect of the gaming that does not translate well into the western world.

Games development is also different in the western market. Split between the USA with a focus on fast action games most popular driving games and of courses sports. In europe the focus is more into war games. This is both from the FPS but far more unique is the RTS style game.

Sports and driving are global activies they translate well because they are common in culture but also by their nature cost less to translate.

Having said this if you have the right product at the right price crossing the culture divide is possible. The recent surpize of the WII into western markets proves this but also may suggest the cultures are changes into more of a global one.

This is to say that the western world is becoming in recent years more socially aware mainly through the internet. This is to say the western games have beome more aligned to the japanese culture increasing their success in asia. It does remain to be seen if the internet will have the same impact socially in japan to alter their preference in games.

I suspect it will the future of the gaming industry will be on a global scale china due to its size will at some point enter the market as a key player.

evil_gn0me  Sep. 6, 2009 at 21:59

oh god please don't leave us with a western colour palate I'm sick and tired of browns blacks and grays, i want colour in my life


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