“It’s not that there’s a lack of ideas from Japanese developers, it’s just that the system has changed,” says Tekken guruJoe Donnelly September 23, 2013 - 5:04 pm
As the Tokyo Game Show 2013 comes and goes, questions of the show’s relevance have again begun to surface across the web and Japanese developers no longer seem to enjoy the same wide-reaching recognition they did in years gone by. Katsuhiro Harada, project director at Namco Bandai, has spoken of the challenges the Japanese market faces, as well as the free-to-play model and its implementation in fighting games.
The 90s were good to the beat ‘em up genre. Street Fighter 2 released in 1991, becoming one of the most recognised fighting games of all time. Three years later – yes, you’re right, it did seem like a lot longer at the time – Tekken debuted on the PSOne in all its 3D (ish) glory.
For many, 1997s Tekken 3 marked the pinnacle of console brawlers. But unfortunately for the genre, the years which followed – from the turn of the millennium, essentially right up until 2009′s Street Fighter IV – quality beat ‘em ups were few and far between.
The Japanese games market has suffered a similar dip in recent years. Katsuhiro Harada, the brains behind the Tekken series notes the “system has changed” as one of the main reasons why.
“There are so, so many challenges facing us,” says Harada in an interview with Edge. “It’s not that there’s a lack of ideas from Japanese developers, it’s just that the system has changed. Japanese games companies are entirely focused on short-term profits. In videogames, it’s very hard to take your idea and have it ready in a format that people can see and buy into; that takes money and months of work.
“It used to be that one company would come up with an idea, create it, take it to market and then, if it was a success, improve it in a sequel based on feedback. Now it’s all divided up to spread the risks. One company will have the idea; another company will make the game; still another will sell it and liaise directly with the consumer. I think this lack of a unified creative process has had a profound effect on the industry.”
The most recent Tekken entry adopted the free-to-play business model. Quite interestingly, Harada quickly dismissed the idea that every subsequent game will follow this model, especially as it was a considered risk opting for it at all.
“It’s certainly not been decided internally at Namco Bandai that all of our fighting game titles will be free-to-play in the future,” he continues. “In a sense this is an experiment – try it out and see how consumers respond to this way of working. There are lots of different things we wanted to see as a result of this.
“Just like in the arcades when I started off, I’m going to be listening to fan feedback and adapting where appropriate. Depending on how well it goes it might influence future decisions, but we’re not going to make the next mainline title in the series free-to-play just because this one is.”