GDC 2012: Japanese Developer Openly Mocked During Panel

By: Zach Walton - March 6, 2012

The Game Developers Conference is a place where those who work in the games industry can collaborate and work towards a brighter future in the games industry. This usually infers that the event is pretty positive, but things got downright nasty Monday night.

Develop is reporting that Phil Fish, an indie developer working on the constantly delayed platformer Fez, took part in a panel after the screening of Indie Game: The Movie last night at GDC. Fez was featured heavily in the film and he was there to talk about the movie and indie games in general. The report from Develop says that it started out as “an open and positive discussion about indie games.”

It’s reported that a Japanese developer took the mic to say a few comments. He expressed happiness that Japanese games had inspired so many independent developers as evidenced by the film. He then asked the panelists what they thought about modern Japanese games. Fish immediately replied with, “Your games just suck.”

What followed was a tirade of criticism regarding the design flaws of Japanese games. While I would have fled the room crying to only drown myself in a bottle of sake, the developer took the criticism like a boss. He then thanked the panel and sat down.

Develop reports that many people in the audience were criticizing Fish for his harsh comments. Though some probably agreed with him as Japanese games are usually the first to be brought to task for stagnation in the industry.

Developers have taken Fish to task on Twitter over his comments. Andrew Dice, one of the founders of Carpe Fulgur, a localization company that has proven there’s enormous value in indie Japanese games with Recettear, Chantelise and Fortune Summoners made his opinion on the matter known:

Robert Boyd, one of the founders of Zeboyd Games, the indie studio behind throwback JRPGs Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World, also criticized Fish.

Not everybody thought Fish was in the wrong, however, as many said the man was just expressing his opinion.

Fish has spent the day on Twitter clarifying what he meant by his comment.

This is probably going to be THE big scandal at GDC and people are probably not going to let it die. Fish is entitled to his opinion though as harsh as it might be. It will be interesting to see the fallout of this and any response from Japanese developers on the matter.

What do you think? Is Fish right in that modern Japanese games just suck? Or are there shining examples of Japanese game development that you feel should be praised? Let us know in the comments.

[Lead image: jeriaska/]

Zach Walton

About the Author

Zach WaltonZach Walton is a Writer for WebProNews. He specializes in gaming and technology. Follow him on Twitter, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, and Google+ +Zach Walton

View all posts by Zach Walton
  • jiggowatt

    A narcissistic hipster game developer who specializes in pastiche uses a public platform to stroke his ego even more. I’m so shocked by this news. Shocked I say!

  • Foggen

    Implies, not infers.

  • SA

    A game is good or bad on its own merit. Lumping games together on as meaningless a basis as “Japanese games” or “Western games” or “temperate zone games” or “games with names that start with M” is dumb.

    So, yes, the guy’s response of “Japanese games suck” is stupid. Then again, the dev’s question of “What do you think of Japanese games?” was no brilliant line of inquiry, either.

    I hope human will someday grow up and lose the asinine obsession with “country”.

    • k

      japanese games come from the japanese games industry – developers who are culturally japanese, and who tend to inherit the design ideas and tastes of their predecessors. there are reasons ‘JRPGs’ differ a lot from ‘western RPGs’ – tastes and traditions. that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of crossover – but you don’t see many ‘western RPGs’ developed in japan, and vice versa.

      it goes beyond genre – everything from interface design to character design to the modes of consumption and advertising methods vary in japan.

      so it’s a valid question, and as the article mentions, there is an existing perception (true or not) that the japanese industry is suffering from stagnation.

  • JC

    What a shame. He was a good man. There was no need to be a dick to him.

  • Bob Page

    A bunch of pretentious old hipsters playing at running the industry. But the industry left them behind long ago. MGQ 3 is the future.

    • JC

      I’m not big into books.

  • Anonymous

    Thank god we have games like Mass Effect 3 saving gaming.

  • apollo440

    Hello, everyone.

    #I’m Japanese

    Did Phill’s words come straight from his heart?
    Or, it’s a “Western” joke?

    //Can I see any movies that time? I could not find.

  • superman

    Yeah, Japanese games really suck, because the following games don’t exist or come from an alternate universe: Goku Makaimura, Red Seeds Profile, Demon Souls and Dark Souls, BlazBlue, Arcana Heart, Senjou no Valkyria, Senko no Ronde, Operation Darkness, Dead Rising, Ico, Ketsui: Kizuna Jigoku Tachi, GunValkyrie, Do-Don-Pachi Dai-Fukkatsu, or countless others.

    Compare that to the likes of Braid, The Binding of Isaac, Super Meat Boy, Minecraft, LIMBO (LOL), Flower (HOLY **** LOL), and other masterpieces of mediocrity.

    And lol that Phil Fish’s comment has been reduced to merely being some “racist” remark — the very allegation of which suggests that Japanese games actually do suck and that we need to hide it to not be “racist”. Listen, if Japanese games suck, then all Japanese people can go to hell. On the contrary, as far as I’m concerned, they’re in HEAVEN. It’s “indie” screensavers that suck, thankyouverymuch.

  • Diztrakted

    Okay, was it harsh? Yes. Was it arrogant, especially from someone who can’t finish a single platformer? Yes. Is there a grain of truth in his statements? Yes. Are there great examples of Japanese games with incredible creative vision? Yes, esp. the ones @superman already mentioned. (also, the indie games he choose were for the most part great imho, especially Minecraft and Super Meat Boy and he just has a stick up his butt)

    The big studios, be they western or Japanese, are suffering from stagnation nowadays. Little studios like Ico Studios, Atlus and From Software are, just like their western counterparts, producing most of the really creative games in Japan. Don’t focus on countries, focus on COMPANY stagnation.

  • EAB

    So what exactly is it about opinions that entitles somebody to have one? Is anyone is entitled to have any opinion? If I were to say something blatantly and incredibly racist, would I be entitled to that opinion? I think there are opinions we are entitled to have and opinions we aren’t. Why does this feeling of entitlement pervade the realm of subjectivity? This is nothing more than opinion mongering. This behavior extends far beyond the reaches of polite and civilized discourse. Furthermore, stating that the only games people of a certain nationality can make “suck” is discrimination for the same reason that penalizing pregnancy or oral birth control is discrimination, because only women can get pregnant or take oral birth control.

  • Darren M (@HabeQuiddam)

    There’s definitely a racist edge behind the criticism of Japanese games, at least in the sense that the onus of responsibility for a perceived decline in quality from Japanese developers is them being Japanese. Is it HIS racism? Probably not, I think he’s just parroting a common online trend in opinion, but it bears some thinking about.

    That’s not really important however, as the real issue is why do people perceive there to be a decline in quality in Japanese developed games? The reality is that there are a lot of innovative games coming out from Japan on handheld that aren’t even touched in the West. Things like Ghost Trick barely make waves when they’re really clever and entertaining to play. Add to that the decline in customers’ free time to play games and the general aging of the population and you have a diminishing market. Many Japanese developers have enough trouble on their hands as it is trying to make games to appeal to the tiny hardcore crowd that remains in Japan without also trying to reach oversees to an audience that expects entirely different things from their games.

    At the same time, developers like Bioware are extremely vocal in their disdain of trends established by customer tastes in Japan. (While drawing on other elements of Japanese gaming discretely) “You don’t want this dated, formulaic JRPG; play this dated, formulaic WRPG. Nevermind that both involve dating sim elements and a basically linear plot with only the illusion of agency.” This creates a hostile market and an uphill battle the overseas developers can’t hope to win.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that they’re not stagnant simply because they’re comfortable where they are, like Inafune argues, and most Japanese developers attempting to Westernize their franchises are confronted with an intensely hostile market that wants something new, yet hates the games when they are “Westernized.” (Front Mission Evolved, Ace Combat Assault Horizon, Castlevania LoS) So do JP games suck in general? I think personally there’s almost no real market for them in Japan except amongst a very small few, and here consumers are becoming increasingly jaded to even classic and formerly loved IP.

  • Mioling

    This is the attitude and problem with NA gamers. Superiority complex.

    Their way, way too arrogant and cocky. I remember a time before when NO-ONE gave a crap where a game came from. No one cried and whinned about Final Fantasy on the nes. No one cried and whined about Zelda on the Nes. No one cried and whined about Bomberman, Rockman, and several other games.

    No one cared if the game was japanese or american. If it was bad, it was bad. If it was good, it was good.

    Westernization stinks because it breaks down what the game is initially. Changing mechanics into something better isn’t a problem if they were good, but when story-line, art-style, and level difficulty is babified and watered-down then it kills the enjoyment of the game.

    And now American gamers are insulting Japanese developers right in their faces. Fish is a prime example of this and it’s not good. It’s very rude, and childish and prudeish. Great minds made the games we have today, and insulting one of them is insulting them all.

  • Mioling

    If you look on the TERA ONLINE NA forums it’s the same thing. People on there are very rude and racist. It’s sad.