Japanese Gaming Industry at E3


Amid the carnival atmosphere of E3 2011, which was held June 7 through June 9 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, an undercurrent of concern was palpable – especially on the part of Japanese developers. Coming hard on the heels of news announcing the weakest video games sales in five years, the damaging cyber-attacks on Sony’s Play Station Network (PSN), which dealt a humiliating blow to Sony’s public image and the ascendance of Apple’s iPhone and iPad as viable gaming mediums, E3 2011 was a demonstration of an industry on the defensive.

Nowhere was this more evident than in Nintendo’s press conference on June 7 when the successor to Nintendo’s Wii and a conservative line-up of popular franchises for their portable 3DS system were announced. Nintendo’s famous gaming franchises, among which include the Mario and Zelda series, have helped keep the company at the forefront of the video game industry. But they have shackled it to the demands of a gaming audience that are increasingly fickle.

President of Nintendo of America (NOA) Reggie Fils-Amie opened his speech by candidly disclosing the paradox his company faces: “You want [games] to look like they always have, but you want the buzz of the new. You want comfortable and you want surprise. Contradictions? No problem. They come with the territory.”

Leading the way for Nintendo was the Wii U, their new home console slated for release in 2012. The impression gathered from the Wii U demos at E3 was one of a rushed product that, while interesting, intimated very little about what the system’s ultimate worth. The fact that Nintendo made a point of not announcing any notable games for the system (though Pikmin 3 was announced after the fact) added to the general confusion.

Meanwhile, Sony, eager to recoup the loss their public image has suffered, unveiled their portable PS Vita (PSV) at the unexpected retail price of $249, effectively matching their more powerful system to the price of the rival Nintendo 3DS. A PSV model with 3G capability was also unveiled. Whether Sony’s gamble will pay off to sell their hardware at an assured loss, but making up for it through software sales, remains to be seen.

Elsewhere the showings of Japanese developers proved to be disappointingly modest. Square-Enix (S-E), once considered one of Japan’s most innovative games developers, stood out for the paucity of games from its Japanese headquarters. Only “Final Fantasy XIII-2” (PS3, 360) reared its head amidst offerings that were otherwise exclusively from S-E’s Western branches.

Others had stronger showings. Konami’s “Doctor Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights” (3DS) – an adventure game set in 19th century Paris – and “Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D” (3DS) were outstanding. Capcom also had a stellar line-up with “Resident Evil Revelations” (3DS), “Dead Rising 2” (PS3, 360) and “Street Fighter X Tekken” (PS3, 360) being the most notable. “Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns” (3DS) and “Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny” (PS3, Wii) from Natsume were whimsically entertaining. And after several sequels of dubious quality, Sega revealed the strongest entry in years to their Sonic the Hedgehog franchise: “Sonic Generations” (PS3, 360, 3DS).

Still a feeling of an industry on the wane seemed apparent.

“It’s too bad,” said Jose Gallardo, an E3 visitor from Spain in respect to the shrinking appeal of Japanese games. “In the 80s and 90s everybody wanted to play [Japanese] games. Now everyone wants to be a bazooka toting Marine.”