The Japanese Game Industry: Floundering Headfirst

About to graduate. Uh oh!

So let’s continue the story: I was about to graduate from a university in Tokyo, and I thought I had everything nailed down for the future. I had been doing some part-time freelance translation / voice casting for a small company, and it looked like I’d be able to get a work visa through them. Long story short: they flaked out on me with 2 weeks until my student visa expired.

At this point, I was in a panic. I had no leads for future employment, my tiny dorm room was packed full of stuff that I had to get rid of, and I had to exit the country in 14 days.

After a brief freakout I pulled myself together and surveyed my dorm room. First thing to get rid of: The TV. It costs money to dispose of pretty much anything in Japan, so it’s best to hand off stuff to your friends as opposed to pay $40 for the government to take it. I called up my friend Hiroshi, who worked at a small game company for whom I’d done some English checking and playtesting.

He picked up on the first ring. I told him that I had to get out of Japan and asked him if he wanted my TV.

Hiroshi: “Wait, why are you leaving Japan?”

Me: “The guy I was working for wouldn’t sponsor my work visa. I’ve gotta get out of here in 2 weeks.”

(Pause)

Hiroshi: “You need to come to our office right now. We can hire you.”

(Another pause as my head exploded)

Me: “Hire me to do WHAT?”

(Thoughtful pause)

Hiroshi: “I dunno, teach us English or something. Just come here, okay?”

I threw on my backpack and hauled ass out the door, breaking several land-speed records sprinting to the train station. My stomach twisted in non-euclidean ways as I tried figuring out whether or not Hiroshi was serious or not, and how this had the potential to let me remain in Japan and get my first Japanese game industry job, despite a clear lack of experience. I started brainstorming whatever useful abilities I had, along with how I could pitch myself in the most important job interview in my life, which was about to happen in 45 minutes.

My first studio! My fate waited for me on the second floor.

It turned out that I shouldn’t have worried. The company had been looking for an English speaker, as there weren’t any native speakers on staff for quick communication with the American publisher. I had a quick chat with the company president, we figured out the legal steps we’d need to take in order to procure a working visa, and I was hired on the spot as a planner. (The “planner” position is a weird one, and a predominantly Japanese concept. Planners do pretty much anything regarding to game design — writing documents, designing levels, and anything that doesn’t involve programming the game or working in Maya.)

I showed up the next day, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I’d be working with about 15 other guys — no outsourcing here! — on an Xbox launch game that was based on a . I had my very own desk (made out of plastic) and a folding chair, and was seated next to the director, Hiroshi. I had my own PC running Windows NT, a copy of Visio for creating visual design documents, and a copy of Softimage. (No, not XSI — the clunky one with the super-obtuse interface.) This was my first full-time game industry job, and I was ready to prove myself. Would I succeed or go face-first into the dirt? More on that later! And don’t look at my resume…that’s cheating.

2 thoughts on “The Japanese Game Industry: Floundering Headfirst”

  1. Ah I didn’t know you were required to use Softimage – or this story!

    In my final days of Furifuri in 2002 I was forced to use this software, learn it in a weekend. When It turned out I wasn’t capable of such a task I was fired.

    I’ll always remember those days, you were insanely busy! ‘grats on Skulls!

  2. This is the reason why Namco Bandai and Nippon Ichi are doing pretty well right now, they remember what the industry has forgotten. They make budget games designed towards very specific market niches and assign deadlines and budgets accordingly while mantaining a pretty decent quality standard.

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