What Happens when you Hire Non-Japanese Programmers at a Japanese game company

Game development sites are creative environments where experts that can be called “artists” work side by side.

Illustrators, animators, modelers, writers, game quality assessment professionals….

Even for creative environments, game development in particular is steeped with innovation and originality.

In a time where IT companies have started freely throwing around the word “globalization,” Japanese game companies seem to be at constant war with their overseas counterparts.

Japanese games vs. Western games, RPGs vs. JRPGs, the art that’s popular in Japan vs. 2D animation…

The island nation of Japan has a unique, singular culture even in the game world.

The reality of a severe lack of skilled workers in Japan is affecting game companies as well, and companies have different strategies for how to deal with it depending on their capacity and scale.

For example, there are companies outsourcing within Japan, companies using studios from overseas, or subcontracting just one part of development (for example, illustration).

The method changes based on the companies’ financial capabilities and philosophy, but the point is, the game industry is a pretty flexible one.

In all this, there are companies who are fighting against the skilled worker shortage in ways none have before.

These are the companies who are embracing this era of globalization and employing skilled professionals from other countries. It sounds like good, progressive thinking.

“If we employ foreigners, we’ll be able to develop games the whole world will love.”

“Let’s bring in someone who can communicate in English and bring a new feel to the company.”

I’m sure there are company managers who really feel this way.

The intention is wonderful, but there are various problems that arise when bringing foreigners into Japanese game development companies.

I’d like to introduce nine points about this topic picked carefully from personal experiences.

  1. Inability to read Japanese GDD
  2. Disinterest in casual games
  3. Easily poached by competitors, or quick to change jobs
  4. Taking long leave for familial issues
  5. Unfamiliar with programs and applications used in Japan
  6. Many artists have styles not found in Japan
  7. Unconventional thinking
  8. Low competition
  9. Hidden gems in plain sight

1. Inability to read Japanese GDD

Some might ask: “Then why not just translate the GDD into English?”

A GDD is constantly being updated, it would be impossible for the translations to keep up. And, language isn’t the only problem.

The structure of a GDD is different in Japan, so the development schedule, code comments, etc, are also different. Putting in one person who doesn’t know how to read that adds unnecessary work for the development team, or at the very least for the director and lead programmer.

It might sound like an exaggeration, but because everything is different, down to each individual meeting, I’ve burned a needless amount of calories.

2. Disinterest in Casual Games

The average salary in the game industry is low compared to most developed countries. (Especially compared to the US and Europe.)

So, most developers have a special reason to throw away a more promising opportunity for a job here:

They have a simple desire to work in Japan.

Yes. There are many people who fell in love with Japanese RPGs and fighting games when they were teens, or people who’ve idolized all things Japan since they were around five years old.

This is one advantage the Japanese game industry—no, Japan itself—has over others.

There are some people whose hands tremble with excitement when they finally get their foot in the door of the Japanese game industry. I know mine did.

However, most foreigners want to work with the titles they’ve come to love, not phone apps or FTP (free to play) games. So when a job like that comes in, complaints are common.

I won’t say it’s happened hundreds of times, but when working on those types of games I often hear things like “this isn’t the reason I came to Japan” from foreign programmers.

The excitement about working in the Japanese game development world fades after a few weeks.

3. Easily poached, or quick to change jobs

This is something that can’t be helped.

This is a much bigger problem than the two stated above.

Unless your company is a well established game publisher, or a big name brand, skilled workers will slip through your fingers, even if they aren’t lead away by a competitor.

(If you ask “what is a big name game development company,” we foreigners tend to think of PlatinumGames and Ark System WorksIf they’ve got a prestigious job like that they probably won’t be poached unless they get an offer from someplace like Nintendo, Square Enix, or Capcom.)

4. Taking Long Leave for Familial Issues

This can’t be helped either.

But the reality is, if, say, the lead programmer suddenly takes 10 days off, that could be fatal for a project in development.

5 Unfamiliar with Programs and Applications used in Japan

This problem has been largely improved by the establishment of middleware, and there are many programs in use that started overseas, like Unity and Unreal Engine.

But, when it comes to other tools, there are still some that are different than what’s used in Japan.

(For example, project management software, etc.)

The truth is many foreigners have a very weak grasp of management in general.

So, you might ask, why do we have foreigner developers from 11 different countries here at Active Gaming Media? The answer is simple.

Naturally, foreigners have strengths as well.

6 Many Artists Have Styles not Found in Japan

Japanese people carry the heavy burden that is “manga” and “anime” on their shoulders.

Foreigners don’t have such strict rules about character design, and exhibit a more free way of thinking. 

Taking that example, the difference between Japanese indie games and indie games from overseas is blatantly obvious.

If you think “independent ideas,” you think overseas.

7. Unconventional Thinking

Though the style and process is unconventional, foreigners have a result-oriented mindset that can be truly exceptional.

And, compared to Japan’s creators, who tend to focus on what will sell, foreigners focus on creating something that will truly express an artist’s character.

8. Low Competition

Because foreigners looking for jobs in Japan are off the radar for most other Japanese companies, there’s not as much competition.

Take for example, a Japanese 3D modeler. Let’s call him Polygon Taro.

Most likely, he’s interviewing for three or four other companies at the same time as yours. You might have to sweeten the deal to get Taro to choose your company.

In comparison, foreigners don’t have as many options.

So if you meet someone with the skills you’re looking for, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to add their talent to your company.

9. Hidden Gems in Plain Sight

Here’s one example from many.

The other day (January 2019), an incredibly skilled 3D animator from America interviewed in Osaka.
Their portfolio alone was spectacular, but upon asking for an example, they went through the trouble of improving the 3D model and had two additional patterns of animation apart from what was requested.

Not only was he an animator, he could do modeling too. When asked why apply to a company like them with less than 200 employees, the animator said he’d applied to about 10 other companies, but—probably because he applied in English—he didn’t even receive a response.

Apparently, this person unfortunately ended up returning to their home country after some indecision about whether their lack of Japanese ability would work out, but there are a lot of foreigners who, despite being unable to write Japanese, are extremely skilled professionals.

The website IZANAU was created in order to find people like this and connect them with great Japanese game companies.

If you’re someone in the game industry having trouble obtaining skilled professionals, feel free to email us anytime at: [email protected]

Active Gaming Media’s Game Development Service https://activegamingmedia.com/en/service/development

This is a reposting of an IZANAU article published by our CEO on February 6, 2019.

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