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Setting Sun?

This year's TGS suggests that the Japanese industry is far from "finished", but still has a lot to learn.

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Image credit: Eurogamer

Published as part of our sister-site's widely-read weekly newsletter, the Editorial, is a weekly dissection of an issue weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to newsletter subscribers.

When Capcom's Keiji Inafune told journalists at the Tokyo Game Show last year that the Japanese games industry was "finished", his comments were widely, and in some quarters gleefully, reported. Perhaps a little miffed at how little context or nuance was present in that reporting, Inafune felt the need to clarify his comments this year - now, he claims, the Japanese industry isn't dead as long as Capcom is still around.

Spinning a bit of a PR gaffe into a nice bit of corporate self-promotion is a good day's work for Inafune, and as gaffes go, this one also had the benefit of supporting his own oft-stated world view - that Japanese developers need to work more closely with Western counterparts and think about the global, rather than local market.

Despite the breathless reporting of his comments from a year ago - which still pop up on a fairly regular basis in news stories about the Japanese industry - his sentiments have never entirely stood up to scrutiny. Certainly, Japan's developers have needed to adapt and change, to learn new tricks from the West in order to tackle the challenges of an increasingly diverse global market - and many of them still haven't quite made that transition.

However, would any developer in the West argue that their own skill-sets and processes have stood still in recent years? New platforms, new distribution methods, new audiences, new territories... All of these things come with growing pains, regardless of which country you're in, and even the biggest developers have fallen foul on occasion - witness Blizzard's rather public bout of growing pains in the Chinese market, for example.

Meanwhile, Japan's home market remains quite a unique one, supporting a host of products which may not have the slightest bit of international appeal, but whose existence is more than justified by large local audiences. Even today, when vastly more Japanese games are rapidly translated and released abroad than was ever the case during the SNES or PlayStation generations, shelves at Japanese game retailers and the pages of magazines like Famitsu remain full of games which no western publisher would ever dream of releasing, and few western gamers have ever even heard of.

Although they may have overstated the case, in one regard at least Inafune's comments have been helpful. They have widely been interpreted as throwing down the gauntlet - an open challenge to Capcom itself, and to the Japanese industry as a whole, to prove him wrong.

What's fascinating to watch at this year's TGS is the variety of different ways in which companies are attempting to prove him wrong. Inafune's own firm is going down the path which he himself ordained, for the most part. It has handed off the Devil May Cry franchise to British developer Ninja Theory for a reboot - a move which has enraged fans (despite the fact that most of them agree that the franchise was dead in the water) but is almost certainly the right thing to do with it. Simultaneously, it announced that it has acquired Canadian developer Blue Castle and that the team is working on another instalment of Dead Rising 2.

This mixing of Japanese and Western talent, IP and production is, based on his various statements over the past couple of years, exactly what Inafune has in mind for "saving" the Japanese industry from itself. That said, it's worth noting that Capcom is hardly about to abandon Japanese-only development. The company also announced a fresh collaboration with Japanese developer CyberConnect2 - and for all that the Japanese industry may be "finished", it somehow seems pretty unlikely that the reins of cash-cow stalwart franchise Monster Hunter will be being handed over to a Western team any day soon.

Capcom's approach isn't the only game in town, however. An even more fascinating approach to the future of the Japanese industry could be seen at EA's press conference a few hours earlier in Shinjuku, where the company announced a new game in a manner which the film industry would find routine, but still feels startling for a videogame.