Japanese and Western Game Development: Yelling Across the Great Divide

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Unsurprisingly, most Japanese game developers are, well, Japanese. While there is an ever-increasing number of foreigners working for Japanese developers, there are very few near the top of the corporate ladder. In fact, there’s only one. Capcom’s Ben Judd is the only American producer in a Japanese game company, and he’s producing the new Bionic Commando in coordination with Sweden’s GRIN studio. GameSetWatch has a very informative piece up, with Gamasutra’s Christian Nutt interviewing Judd about the differences between Japanese and Western developers.

Judd is in the largely unique position of fostering communication between Capcom’s Osaka headquarters and GRIN, and in the interview he is able to illuminate some of the cross-cultural differences that inevitably arise. For example, Judd explains how while Western developers tend to build games with a layered approach, so that the game rarely looks polished until the end of the development cycle, the Japanese approach is to create a couple of nearly complete, fully functional levels at the very beginning of the process.

What I think is more interesting, though, is why this difference might exist in the first place. Judd says it best: “With Japanese workers, you can sort-of pile them into a project and force them to work 18 hour days right from the start, all the way to the end….You can just burn them, hard, and for a long time. And because you can do that, you don’t have to be as efficient.”

This mentality of working extremely long is not just limited to video game companies. The teachers at my Japanese high school are subject to similar circumstances, although much less severe. So whether you’re interested in game design and development, Japanese culture, or just love everything about video games, the interview is well worth a read.

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