On top of planning Soul Sacrifice and developing Kaio: King of Pirates, Keiji Inafune also teaches young game designers. He hosts a class called "Inafune Academy" where other game developers, typically graduates from other video game colleges, attend to learn about game design from Inafune. Speaking with Siliconera, Inafune talked about what the key to success is for a console developer, a mobile game developer, and shared advice for young game designers.
The video game industry is going through a big change this year with smartphone games becoming more popular, especially in Japan where GREE dominates the market, and a new wave of consoles like PS4 and the next Xbox. How do you think the industry will change?
It’s very difficult to say how things are going to change. The idea I have in mind is smartphones and the next generation of consoles should be in different spaces. Also, consoles should be more creative when it comes to business models. You should be able to have free to play and other models that we didn’t have before. Console games used to only focus on a $50 value, but there can be other kinds of games moving forward since there are many different options for players.
Where is Comcept and Intercept going to focus on? Handhelds, consoles, or smartphones? All three?
I want to stay aggressive and do everything. There is a lot to learn from each platform and you can translate that knowledge into other platforms. If you keep creating on one side you might get better at that, but you may miss out by not learning about what else is out there. I hope we will be successful on all of the platforms we work on.
What do you think is the number one thing to be successful as a console developer?
The most important thing for success is being able to show a brand new gaming experience. It has to be something players haven’t seen before. Because the investment is so big players expect a new experience.
And what is the most important thing for a mobile developer?
The key to success for a smartphone game isn’t something that’s necessarily brand new. People that play smartphone games tend to want to play something they’ve seen before. "Oh, this is something like Mario or this is something like another game I remember!" Players are happy with something they are familiar with and doesn’t scare them off. If it’s something they know and easier to play or lite, that motivates them to continue to play, so that’s probably the key to success for a smartphone title.
I was watching the Inafune Academy videos and in the first one in the 3rd semester you told all of the designers you want to see a brand new idea. What new ideas that you’ve seen have inspired you as a creator?
Yes I’m teaching that and of course I am always looking for brand new ideas. I tend to want to be the creator who comes out with new ideas. From what I’ve seen from everyday life and various meetings I haven’t seen something that shocking. Most of the ideas I’ve seen within or outside the academy is something I could have imagined first.
Let’s say a young designer has just graduated from Inafune Academy and you’re handing them their diploma. What advice would you give them about the industry?
From teaching in the academy, I see that the students are smarter than before. They have a lot of techniques they learned from school and all of them tend to be knowledgeable. I would tell these young creators don’t end up small. You’re young and starting your career. Be daring. Be adventurous. You’re allowed to make mistakes.
Don’t try to be smart and end up wrapping yourself up into a small package. Break out of your shell and try to do things.
I see that’s what you’re doing since you started Comcept and that’s exciting. However, with respect to the way studios are set up in Japan there are layers of structure for big budget games. Do you think that’s more difficult since teams are larger than when you started developing games?
A lot of the participants in the Inafune Academy come from a video game development school. As you said, publishers and the game industry is so systematic most of the game schools they raise students to fit these systems. That’s why I gave the advice I did. Knowing about the structure, I would like young people to break out of their shells. I will keep saying that because raising average students to fill seats will make the industry boring. Nothing new will come out of it. In my days, there were no systems you’re were either stupid or you’re a genius. There weren’t any systems and we were able to create a lot of great IP back then. There needs to be that daring spirit for people to create something brand new.
That reminds of words I heard from another developer who said, fail and fix.
I was very fortunate because in my days I was able to learn from trial and error so many times because it didn’t take as long to create one game. I was able to fail as well as succeed by the sheer number of projects I tried were so many more than what young creators can do these days when it takes three to five years to create one game and sometimes it doesn’t get published. It’s impossible to fail with so many titles. I feel rather unfortunate for young people these days.