The Japanese Game Industry Today


Art by Takeshi Oga, from Polygon’s Life in Japan


From the early 1980s to the early 2000s Japan was at the forefront of the gaming industry. Sony, Nintendo and Sega made the premier consoles. Nintendo dominated (and continues to dominate) the hand-held market. Japanese franchises like Final Fantasy, Super Mario, Zelda, Resident Evil, Metal Gear, and Metroid were innovative and immensely successful. It’s estimated that Japanese games and gaming systems had approximately 50% of the world-wide gaming market in 2002.  By 2010 the Japanese share of the global market had shrunk to an estimated 10%.

This drastic loss of market share is certainly newsworthy. However the gaming media has generally done what news media in all areas tend to do in an internet environment that demands constant, so-called “content” updates in order to drive clicks to a website – defined the story narrowly and pursued it with blinders on. Typically the result is a steady stream of rehashes and minor variants on the same limited set of topics and ideas. Well-known Japanese industry veterans take turns complaining that the current gaming industry in Japan is terrible. Analysts and pundits hash and rehash which factors are responsible for the decline.


Art by Vin Hill, from Polygon’s Life in Japan

The gaming website Polygon took a different approach. Rather than another rehash of what went wrong in the past, Polygon took a look at what’s going on now.  And they did it with style by combining art, music and a collection of eighteen articles about various aspects of Japanese gaming under the title Life in Japan.

The art is provided by five artists that Polygon invited to submit a piece that captured the artist’s ideas about the current gaming industry in Japan.  Two of these pieces are shown above.  The picture at the top of this post is the work of Takeshi Oga who has worked on Final Fantasy 11 and the Siren series, and who was the lead concept artist on Gravity Rush. The second picture is by Vin Hill who has done a set of pieces designed to show what an Assassin’s Creed title might look like if it was set in Japan.  The five pieces rotate in full-screen mode on the splash page for Life in Japan.


Keiji Yamagishi

The music comes in the form of a jukebox with four varied tracks composed by different Japanese composers who are known for their game music . The first track in the set, appropriately titled “First Contact”, debuts a track by Keiji Yamagishi who wrote the music for the NES version of Ninja Gaiden. Think of chiptune influenced dubstep and you’ll be in the right ballpark.  Outstanding  panning and spatial positioning of instruments if you have a sound setup that allows that aspect of the music to come through. It rocks.


Virtua_Fighter.0The articles in Life in Japan cover a lot of ground. As you would expect, there are pieces on upcoming games. However, there are also articles on the Japanese gaming media, a view of the development of Japanese games from someone who works for a game agency, an interview with Yoichi Wada who is working on a cloud-based gaming system, a piece on what it’s like for Japanese game developers to work with Western publishing companies, and more.  Much more.

If you have an interest in Japanese gaming, spending time with Life in Japan is a no-brainer. In addition, it is an excellent example of what online media can do when the people making decisions about goes up on the website are interested in contributing substantive content as opposed to following the “hash + rehash + click-bait headline = new content” model of internet publishing.

About Kevin Murnane

I am a cognitive scientist, a freelance writer and author (Nutrition for Cyclists: Eating and Drinking Before, During and After the Ride), a musician (Parametric Monkey - stream on Spotify, Soundcloud and YouTube), a bookstore owner (Monkey Books - first edition mystery, science fiction, fantasy and more, listed on ABE books, Amazon and Biblio), and a retired house painter, children's theater actor & owner, and university professor. I'm also a regular contributor to the technology section at Forbes and I write a cycling blog called Tuned In To Cycling. You can follow me on twitter @TheInfoMonkey and contact me at
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