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4Gamer interview with Keiji Inafune is ginormous

6:50 PM on 11.03.2010 // Tony Ponce

On October 18, Japanese game site 4Gamer conducted an interview with the then-still-employed Keiji Inafune. He shocked the interviewer right at the start with the announcement of his departure from Capcom by month's end, steering the conversation into a wildly different direction than planned. The transcript was posted on October 29, and three days later, it received an English translation from NeoGAF user Cheesemeister.

The result is a whopping 10,000-word epic that delivers one of the most candid, most insightful snapshots of the Japanese gaming industry that I've ever read. In addition to detailing his reasons for quitting, Inafune discusses the Japanese corporate structure, the inability for individuals to be recognized for their talents, and the necessity for external game development.

There are so many choice nuggets that it's hard to pick one that really stands out. Hit the jump to read a sampling of the more shocking bits.

On Japan's lifetime-employment model:

KI: [W]hen I was about 20, I was really passionate and entered the game industry, but now I'm in my mid-40s. It's a matter of my age. My generation is, for better or worse, holding the game industry back.

4G: Do you mean that the system of companies committing to employ for life is spoiling people?

KI: That's right. There are a lot of people who take their company's commitment for granted and don't work as hard as they should. This could be said of the entire industry, and of course Capcom is no exception.

4G: You might say that, but you were also employed in that system.

KI: That's true. And that's exactly why taking action to change things is so troubling. I was in the position of being a naysayer, and yet was assured a paycheck the next month. No matter how much one is late or skips work, or even no matter how lousy a game is made, the next month's paycheck was always guaranteed.

Basically, saying such things in that position, the reaction was, "What are you talking about, Inafune-san? What exactly are you going to do about it?"

4G: In Japan's traditional lifetime employment system, if people are underhanded, an environment is created in which working hard is just their own loss, right?

KI: In short, it's like a communist state. Working as hard as you can is your own loss. Not working hard becomes more advantageous. But doesn't that get in the way of making games? You can't make good games by just taking it easy.

On internal development:

KI: At Capcom, there are currently 700 developers who handle 3 or 4 titles.

4G: ...What?

KI: It's exactly as I said.

4G: What is everyone else doing?

KI: There is nobody else. All 700 of them are handling 3 or 4 titles.

4G: Well, hold on a minute. If there are 4 titles, that'd be about 180 people per title. So accounting for error, there are maybe about 150 people on each title? The cost of labor for the duration of a project would have to be something like 2 billion yen ($25 million).

KI: Right, it's not enough. That's why the myth of internal production is crumbling.

Having 700 developers working on 4 titles leaves everyone saying they're always busy. Since 150 people work on each title, a month's cost of labor generally costs between 150 million ($1.9 million) and 200 million yen ($2.5 million).

4G: So 3 months' labor would cost 600 million yen ($7.5 million). Ten months would come to 2 billion yen ($25 million). If a project took 3 years... It'd be at least 6 billion yen ($75 million).

KI: Right. Well, it's not like 150 people are all suddenly put on a project, but it's common for a project to cost 3 or 4 billion yen ($37.5-50 million).

4G: So as one would expect, if that one shot fails, it's really bad.

KI: Yeah. There could be a loss of 1 billion yen ($12.5 million). There's nothing you can do to make up for that. It's internal supremacy.

On the inability for most game companies to understand current trends:

4G: It'd be great if you could try your hand in the social area.

KI: Yeah, that's just one thing that's really catching on quickly.

4G: Is Capcom involved in that at all?

KI: Capcom of course understands social games and mobile games, but I don't think they really understand them.

4G: Understanding, but not really understanding.

KI: To clarify, let's use smoking as an analogy.

There isn't anybody who doesn't know that smoking is bad for you. Absolutely everybody who smokes knows it. But that doesn't mean that they understand that fact. Smokers' continuing to smoke while knowing that it's bad for them means that they don't really get it. People who understand don't act so hypocritically.

In regards to social games, it's the same deal. They just say things like, "Social games are becoming necessary," "Networked games are important," and, "Western advances are important." They may have the knowledge, but they don't really understand what it means.

4G: That's certainly not limited to Capcom.

KI: That's more than likely. If they understood, why don't they focus on western development, why don't they take social games seriously, and so on. Whenever I asked, I got answers like, "Because we're busy with other things," and, "That's on our to-do list."

It's the same with smoking. Smokers say they don't want to quit when really it's by their own weakness that they aren't able to quit. The weakness of not being able to, or not understanding, has a big effect on the body.

Whether you agree or disagree with Inafune on certain positions, you can't deny that he has become frustrated by the system. It's funny... we take so much for granted when it comes to our hobby, but we rarely have the slightest inkling on what's really going on behind the scenes. I respect Inafune for shedding some light on this mystery and wish him nothing but the best in the future.

If you have half an hour, I really urge you to read the whole interview. You won't regret it!

Translation of Keiji Inafune's Capcom departure interview [NeoGAF]

Tony Ponce, Contributor
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