Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Keiji Inafune

It's news stories like this that remind me why I think Keiji Inafune, despite some ambitious missteps, is good for video games, and for those who play them. I won't get into the stories about how he and a few of his co-workers practically rolled up their sleeves and made the first Mega Man games in their spare time, while committed to other projects. Try that today.

Instead though, I'll focus on more recent developments.

In a time when developers are trying to keep a sinking ship afloat, he's the one experimenting with new and different sources for profit, like digital retail. When other developers pander to their country's sensibilities to play it safe, he's working with far-off studios to capitalize on international profits. And now I find out that to get Lost Planet and Dead Rising made, he had to cheat.

It's no secret that sequels are all that can be made by AAA developers anymore. New IP's are risky, and sequels are nice and safe and warm. No company is guilty of this worse than Capcom. According to a Famitsu.com report, at the time of Lost Planet's prototype stages, Capcom had a policy that "70-80% of all games had to be sequels". 80 percent. I don't think even Nintendo has that kind of track record. And Inafune's prototype presentations that didn't feature a single Street Fighter character probably never stood a chance even then. This is not just exclusive to Japan. No one can pitch new IP anymore. It's too big an investment and too scary for investors.

So how did he end up bringing two more hugely successful game properties to store shelves if he wasn't actually allowed to?

He made them anyway.

He took those prototypes, and told the teams under his watch to keep working on them even though they had orders not to. Until, as he put it, the budget was "400%" more than they had, almost half-completed. He made a gamble that, after costing that much the company would be FORCED to sell them. They could have fired him on the spot. Just to spite him. People in authority tend to feel they are unquestioned masters of the universe, and will gladly damage their company profits for the most childish of reasons. This could have turned out so badly for him.

Well, okay, the results were Dead Rising, so maybe it's not a happy ending, but still. Here is a man who, when life gave him lemons, he made his team of engineers invent a combustible lemon that BURNS YOUR HOUSE DOWN. That takes balls I can't imagine a lot of Western OR Eastern developers have. That takes common sense that sometimes people need something without a big number 3 at the end of it. Sometimes you have to cheat the cheaters to win.

And even this guy couldn't take the bullshit of working a thankless job with a bunch of dinosaurs who refuse to do anything but sequels. That's why he left the company last year, telling anyone in earshot how it feels to know you're the only one in a company's board-room who's trying. Now he has no clout at the company he was doing his damndest to keep relevant. Obviously there are a lot of talented people working there who make Capcom what it is, but I somehow doubt the shareholders understand why that is. Now that he's gone, now that this guy who did the best he could to make his company consider an international audience and emerging trends in game development is out the door, do you think Capcom is going to be a better company? A more profitable company?

Is it any wonder when this guy visited Bungie studios he was so enthusiastic? If one western developer knows what it's like to be chained to pumping out sequels to a franchise for a clueless monolithic corporation, it's them. Although why they would immediately go to Activision to ESCAPE that is beyond me.

...Damn, I was almost sounding optimistic for a second there... In any case, good on you Inafune-san. We don't have enough people working in video games crazy enough to risk their jobs for a good idea.



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