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Press Start

These are my notes on the Press Start conference hosted on Japanese games, culture, innovation and industry. The twitter hashtag is #PressStartUBC

Note: this is being written live so it will be full of typos and errors.

Geoffrey Rockwell: Press Start: Back Through Some Beginnings

I gave an opening talk which means that I didn't take any notes. In the spirit of "Press Start" I talked about two beginnings - the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System 30 years ago and the beginnings of pachinko in the 1920s.

Jérémie Pelletier-Gagnon: Japanese Game Centres

Jérémie presented on the beginnings of Japanese game centres (arcades.) Sportsland in the 1930s was one of the first arcades. It was on a floor in a department store and resembled a penny arcade.

To understand the space of arcades one needs to understand the 3 types of games in arcades:

  • Crane games
  • Video games
  • Coin or medal games

He talked about how the early arcade video games were imported and then Japanese companies began to adapt.

Space invaders (1978) transformed the business. There was an explosion of Invaders. Coffee houses brought in the machines creating Invader Houses - the predecessor to the video game arcades.

Once the boom ended the centres suffered. It has been a boom bust industry. 1980s saw a discourse about the bad influence that led to changes in the laws that limited access to youth.

Like pachinko parlours the game centres are suffering. Game centres aren't changing architecturally, but attendance is changing. Families are going as much. It is now singles more.

He ended by talking about

Atsuo Nakayama (Bandai Namco Studios Vancouver)

Nakayama talked about the current state of the industry. The arcade and console markets are shrinking. Mobile gaming and PC gaming are taking off. The shift is towards casual and mobile playing. People play for just minutes.

Tatsuyuki Negoro: Gaming from a Platform Perspective

We then had a panel on industry. Tatsuyuki Negoro (Waseda Business School) was the primary speaker and he focused on the idea of platforms. He gave as an example the Kamen Rider Belt. The belts take different cards - they are a toy platform.

He then made a point about transmedia or cross media using Pokemon as an example. Pokemon crosses different platforms. By collaborating across media the sales are kept up. He gave the example of Fashionable Witches and the ways that crossmedia strategies extend the life of a franchise.

He then showed a platform toy watch for Yo-Kai Watch (see http://kotaku.com/yokai-watch-could-be-the-next-pokemon-1579999772). You get different medals and they fit in the watch. He showed a graph of how the TV anime led to returned sales of the games.

He then made a point about how the big games are now on general purpose devices (smart phones) as opposed to dedicated systems. What does this say about Nintendo's business model. He asked what sort of platforms will people develop for in the future. He talked about disruptive innovation. Is casual game on a smart phone or tablet disruptive.

Atsuo Nakayama (Bandai Namco Studios Vancouver) was the first respondent. He talked about Bandai Namco. BN has over 70 companies and 7000 employees around the world. BN has strong franchises (Yo-Kai and Gundam and Naruto). The aim of the Vancouver studio is to create new multicultural content not to localize Japanese content. They chose Canada because there is a very high ratio of developers to population. Canada has a growing development business and it may surpass Japan and equal the USA.

The US tastes are penetrable around the world. Alas, Japanese tastes are not necessarily. They therefore aim at North American and then translate which is the opposite of the old model of adapting Japanese content.

He talked about how Japanese companies are not good at going international as they don't have HR systems that work well abroad. Leadership is very different in Japanese companies. Japan is a dense market without a lot of diversity - to work internationally you need leadership that can work in a distributed fashion and handle diversity.

Naoki Kameda (Sega Networks) was the next respondent.

He started working in the arcade and pachinko business. He showed an interesting slide showing the high tech games (Halo or Wo W?) and the casual games. Where should Sega head? Online games take shorter development times for great revenue compared to console games. The business models have changed dramatically from package to free to play. He showed the traditional value-chain for package titles and compared it to online-games where the ongoing work is significant. To move into the casual game market you need to change. Sega changed by creating a new company called Sega Networks which is optimized for speedy development with daily analysis and adaptive.

In effect, Japanese game companies are having to reinvent themselves and, like Bandai Namco, they have created studios in North America. One game, Chain Chronicle, is a collaboration between an old arcade developer and the new mobile folk.

Jon Festinger: Modding

Festinger (UBC Centre for Digital Media) teaches on video game law. See http://videogame.law.ubc.ca/ He talked about how modding may be illegal but can benefit.

He talked about how gaming is, in the Western idiom, more and more about players. Minecraft is an example.

The legal question is "Is there a freedom to mod?" The answer is no, even though people tend to think it is a good thing. In Canadian law, fair dealing is about rights of the user. One can find some support for it in the Copyright Modernization Act. In the Western notion we emphasize property - if there is a right to mod it can't be a property right. It has to be in freedom of expression or somewhere else.

He talked about the DOA 5 controversy. See http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2015/02/dead-or-alive-maker-asks-modders-to-be-good-and-moral-with-content/ . Japanese developers have asked modders to act in a good and moral way. There is a lot of discomfort among Japanese developers around modding. Is this about "property"?

Festinger feels that in the West this is about property and we find a balancing right to deal with harshness. Japanese perspective is different - it is more about respect. He talked about Universal v. Nintendo, 1985 case where Universal sued Nintendo for the way Donkey Kong borrowed from King Kong.

He then shifted to talking about moral rights in Canada - which seems to be about respect of creativity. Moral rights may be a way for us to understand the Japanese perspective.

My sense is that a related reason for Japanese concerns might be concerns by Japanese developers that fan translations of erotic games will lead to political implications as happened with Rapelay. See the Midori issue: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minori_%28company%29

I also think the doujinshi phenomenon where Japanese fans create and even sell adaptations of copyrighted content need to be considered.

Shigenori Matsui: Live Streaming of Video Game and Copyright

He started by stating that live streaming is illegal copyright infringement. He described how players often upload to Nico Nico Douga videos of their play, even live. It may be infringement, but companies don't seem to do much about that. Japanese Copyight does allow one to claim exemption for personal use, but public streaming is not personal.

He asked what is really wrong with uploading gameplay videos?

Nancy Gallini: What will be their next Move?

Gallini looked at the economic side of gaming. She does the economics of game theory. She presented a framework for understanding the market. The market is a two-sided market with consoles in the middle. You get network effects that can worry anti-trust folk. Some things that would worry people as anti-competitive include exclusive contracts.

We seem to have a movement from an oligopoly of consoles to all sorts of platforms that make it hard for anyone to dominate the way Nintendo used to. How are the console developers going to respond? Will they buy more developers to guarantee exclusive games? Will they start co-operating (making consoles compatible)? Will consoles become irrelevant?

Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch: Building Product for the Female Market in North America

Gershkovitch (Silicon Sisters Interactive) began by talking about how inviting and friendly the arcade was. She compared the game boxes of our childhood and today. The games of the 80s were far more inviting to girls than those of today. She believes it is because of who is making the games (ie. mostly men.)

The change in who is consuming games (now it is 40% - 60% women) is changing who makes them. If games are about fantasy - why are there so few games that feed women's fantasies? That's what Silicon Sisters is about. They have developed games for youth like School 26 and Secrets. They then developed a game for older women called Elverlove Rose. She argued that the Kim Kardashian game is a "game changer." She passed on the Facebook Kardashian game because she couldn't figure out how to make it work. The developers of the mobile game did figure out the fantasy and it is has changed the market.

Mimi Okabe: Tracing Discourses on Motherhood and Marriage: An Investigation of Female Game Developers in Japan

Okabe talked about her research into women working in the game industry. She talked about some of the issues raised by women designers like:

  • Expectations of women in the workplace and in the culture
  • How women negotiate issues of motherhood

She talked about myths about women and the way women are labeled as defeated dogs or Christmas cake (as in over 25). She talked about the web sites that are for women to learn to create games.

I was the discussant and commented on the importance of understanding the doujin phenomenon.


Sharalyn Orbaugh: I Take My Prison and I Make it My Playground: Japanese Popular Culture Tackles Life’s Messy Issues

Orbaugh talked about the messiness of Japanese popular culture. She talked about a talk she gave on the [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr._%28artist%29 | Japanese artist Mr]. She talked about the Comiket and how it provides a place outside of regulation where all sorts of people can express themselves.

She then talked about high art - the superflat movement and Takashi Murakami. Murakami feels that Japan is an infantile society, amateurism and flattening of wealth. These features are engendering a special creativity. Murakami feels the value system should be changed so that what the Japanese are good at (cute and flat) becomes high art.

Superflat artists feel that Westerners think of Japanese as not entirely adult and they play with that.

She talked about Aya Takano and Chiho Aoshima - women artists address messy issues of sexuality, cuteness, and pedophilia.

She talked about Ruddell's idea of the anime-ic and how it is different from the film-ic. It has flatness, subjective movement.

Japanese pop culture narratives don't try to escape strictures the way Western narrative do. They work with the prisons and make them playgrounds.

Haley Blum: Empowerment through video gaming

Blum talked about games as escapist. She talked about pokemon and how it allowed children could demonstrate expertise. There was a social element to Pokemon - you traded cards, you could connect the Game Boys.

Ben Whaley: A Now for a Response

Whaley how the Tanuki Mario can turn into a Jizo Mario. In Japanese pop culture you can get glimpses of other aspects of Japanese culture.

We need to think of games as culturally embedded. He gave examples like Seraphic Blue (2004) which deals with suicide. Catherine (Atlus, 2011) takes on the issue of herbivores and childbirth. Disaster Report 4, cancelled after 4/11, has you navigate destroyed cities.

Then he critiqued superflat. Games are still seen as subcultural. The exhibitions of artists like Mr. maintain the binary of high and sub culture.

He showed Toylets (Sega, 2012) where you compete when urinating.

He sees games branching out into everyday life. Whaley thinks we are moving to a gamic world - everyday life is gamifying. If this happens then games will cease to be something that we can isolate as a subculture.

Can Ngo: Anime Revolution

Ngo is the founder of Anime Revolution - a annual event that celebrates Japanese pop culture. He is immersed in anime culture and is trying to understand what is special about Japanese pop culture and why it is so popular here. he talked about how Nintendo seems to intentionally create a shortage to give the feeling of exclusivity. He talked about Street Fighter and e-sports.

Hyung Gu Lynn was the discussant and he talked about 3 ways we press "restart". He talked about connection between reality and video games. He talked about the restarting of the connection between high and pop culture. Third is the connection between media. The usual story is the flow from manga to anime to games. He talked about the anime Paprika that may have prefigured Catherine. The film Edge of Tomorrow is based on a Japanese light novel and plays with the idea of restarting. (Reminds me of Run Lola Run.)

He then talked about banal nationalism. He warned us against generalizing about Japanese games and culture.


Next we had a panel on gaming and learning

Nina Langton: Incorporating Best Practices in the Use and Design of Games for the Beginning Japanese Language Classroom: An Instructor’s Perspective

Langton talked about experiments in developing language teaching games that she is working on. She tried integrating an existing game into a language course but it was too difficult for students so now she is trying to create her own game with students.

Henry Yu: Gaming History

Yu talked about developing materials to teach about the Chinese experience in Canada called Chinese Canadian Stories. They worked with a non-profit consortium called the Critical Thinking Consortium which brings teachers together. They also worked with students from the Center for Digital Media on an immersive game. The teachers didn't like it as it didn't have learning objectives and so on. So they created a different resource with the teachers that forced students to make decisions and explain them - there were goals and assessment. This was a way to work with teachers.

Flow and being immersed and "lost" in a world can be good, but may not be the learning objective. I wonder if our sense of what learning is are rooted in print.

He talked about how fun is much easier to create live - in person.

Patrick Pennefather: The Disruptive Game: Teach. Play. Learn. Play. Teach

Pennefather started by having us play a game in the room. He talked about the Masters in D Igital? Media that he teaches in. He uses disruptive play in his teaching. His students are prepared for jobs in the industry. He teaches his students to collaborate playfully. His talk was full of play itself.

He often asks "why do you think I made you do this?" This encourages reflection on the play.

What an awesome and engaging leader!

Samia Khan was one of the commentators. She talked about theories of learning like constructivism. She talked about models and model-based learning. In recent research the link between games and learning doesn't seem very strong. Engagement doesn't necessarily mean learning.

She encouraged us to think about model progression. You need to find what a student needs - sometimes students aren't ready for games.

I can't help thinking that the best way to teach using games is to have students create games. Samia confirmed this - that there is research that shows that students creating a game seem to learn more.

Stefania Burk closed. She talked about what we lose when we add all the play. Our students have limited time - we can't expect to be disrupt everything and burdening them.


The final session was a Book Launch

Shuji Watanabe: Why do people play games?

Watanabe talked about his book about gameness, "Why do people get sucked into video games?" Watanabe worked as a developer. Now he is at the Ritsumeikan Center for Game Research. Watanabe talked about the book by his colleagues "In the Time of the Famicom." Then he talked about his book "Why Do People play games?" He talked about Forecasting and Back Casting. They try to imagine the future as designers.

Watanabe then talked about the Nintendo Game Seminar and how senior designers try to get students to think about design. Rather than get ideas from other games, they encourage people to find seeds in real world.

Then he talked about how game design sketches might work. To Watanabe a key is sketching difficulty. Players try to find an optimal solution between being too cautious and playing too fearlessly.

When Watanabe designed Magic Pengel he showed it to Miyazaki who asked him if you can jump over a fence. In the game there was no over the fence. In anime the director controls dramatic tension. In games the designer is balancing different challenges to create a complex that the player can enjoy.

He showed a great graph of Pac Man's ludo structure.

He ended by talking about "wa" which means "Japanese". Wa also means a balance and can be one of the things that is specific of Japanese games.

Atsuo Nakayama presented about a book looking at social gaming. Social gaming for Nakayama can contribute

He has published recently on "The Third Wave of Japanese Games: Mobile" - a free short book in English. Japan has the challenge of how to globalize their system. Japanese game companies have been losing market share, especially outside Japan.

For Nakayama the third wave is the mobile market that has grown dramatically since 2010. Japan seems to have a significant share of mobile gaming. The tipping point was 2013 when the Japanese mobile business couldn't sustain their domination.

Interestingly the mobile market is not a zero-sum game. Success of one company can help others. But the Japanese see to mainly sell in Japan while North American companies and European companies are more international. He showed some fascinating slides about similarity of regional game taste. India shares a lot with US and Europe. Japan is alone in its taste. Japan should reach out to China. It needs to not be domestic.

He made an interesting point that the USA, China and Japan all have such large domestic markets that they all suffer a form of Galapagos effect. Companies in Finland have to look out.


Day 2

Tatsuyuki Negoro: Transformations and Future Directions in Games: A Layer Strategy Perspective

Negoro began by presenting his view on platforms and layers. The traditional view is that new technologies compete and eventually replace old technologies. Maps are replaced by GPS navigation systems. By contrast his layered idea is that you have to divide the platform layer (like the console) and the complementary products (like games).

Books are more complicated. Bookshops distrbute books. Digital content store sells e-books for people to read on e-readers. There is now a content layer and the platform layer. There can actually be lots of layers. The network, the hardware, the OS, the contents store, the content.

Presently the competition is between game-based devices (game consoles) and general-purpose devices (smartphones.) He talked about how Nintendo is struggling as they are tied to game devices. Their peak was 2009 - now platform and game sales are dropping. Nintendo R&D cost is rising and their revenue is dropping. The competition is smartphones and the smartphone market is growing dramatically. Companies like Gunh HO? Online that make mobile games, on the other hand, are profitable. From 2009 in the Japanese market the games apps for phones has exploded. However, the world view is different. The global market has a different tendency as hardware and console software is growing globally.

The traditional model for consoles is that you take a loss on hardware and get royalties on software. You get a cross side network effect where the more players the more developers and the more developers the more players. Thus console maker has to price the console to get it moving and build user base. Smartphones, however work differently. People buy them for other reasons. The smartphone is a commodity. General purpose devices put downward pressure on pricing as they have limited licensing. Keeping software costs down harms the console makers.

In old days the winner took all due to cross side network effect. If your platform took off you made a lot. Now companies like Sony need to make software development environments (at a loss) to encourage developers. From 1st to 5th generation of games the competition was between game-based platforms. Now the competition is between game-based platforms, general purpose platforms, and P Cs?. In 2013 the online software market is dramatically bigger now. Hardware performance is not a guarantee of success any longer.

He concluded by forecasting that the new platforms will not take over entirely. There will probably continue to be specialized console on a global level. If the industry begins to shrink the console market may disappear. As general purpose devices get more powerful the console market will shrink.


The second day had some great industry panels.

Tomoko Nakasuji (BC International Trade and Investment Office) moderated the first panel.

Howard Donaldson: British Columbia Video Game Industry

Donaldson talked about the BC industry. He talked about how the Tron movie and Tron game were co-developed (in Vancouver). EA's FIFA games, Disney's Club Penguin are also games developed in BC.

He comes from business and worked for Mc Graw? Hill, worked for Disney and then EA. Now he works for Digi BC? the industry association. Their objective is to make sure the industry is competitive sustainable and leading world class. BC is second in Canada and in the top 10 in the world. The key reasons one would want to set up a business in BC are:

  • Tax incentives
  • Nice play to live
  • Culture and climate (people are passionate about living in BC)
  • Business economics are good (exchange rate is good, medical costs are controlled)
  • Large skilled labour pool
  • On the West Coast (40 - 45% of games are done on the West Coast and a lot of companies want to do business on West)
  • Asia Connection

Then he talked about the global games market. Currently the market is estimated to be $75 billion. The box office film industry is half the side. The games business is fast growing (7%). New platforms (smart TV and VR) coming out.

For Canada, games is a key strategic market. Canada is ranked 3rd largest producer and per-capita it is 1st. Estimated that there is 16,500 employees and 329 studios. 88% small or micro studios.

Distinctive Software is an important example company. Founded in 1982 - created by Canadians - 1st game was Evolution. Hit a ceiling. EA bought them in 1991. EA Canada established building on DSI. Focused on sports market and became immediately successful. Became one of the largest studios in the world with 1 billion in sales. Great talent with foreign investment made for success.

Donaldson had to do research to prove things to the government to get tax credits. There are 142 game companies and growing. 21 are foreign owned. 121 indie studies. 9% growth annually. Average lifetime of a studio is 9 years. Industry is expanding to Victoria and Kelowna.

Why do we need tax incentives? Everyone wants high-paying tech jobs in their region. If you don't have tax incentives you lose jobs. In 2009 and 2010 almost 5000 jobs were lost when the tax incentives were withdrawn. Now the government has an Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit.

There are a lot of Japanese companies - many set up when tax credits. Why Vancouver? They want to expand North American market and want to be on West Coast. Good talent pool with lower salaries and health benefits. Easier immigration than US. Nice place to live.

Naoki Kameda: Sega

Kameda reviewed the challenges that Sega confronted (that he talked about the day before - see above.) He showed the difference between traditional development flow and mobile flow that involves a lot more work after release.

Joe Nickolls and Sakae Osumi from Capcom introduced himself

Kaiser Ng: DeNA?

Ng presented on DeNA?. He is head of operations of Vancouver office. DeNA? is a mobile internet company. From 1999 they are now a multiple billion dollar company. In FY 2014 Q3 they had 293 million in Revenue and 40? in profit.

They are not just gaming. they are also in sports, educational apps, entertainment (interact with stars). They do Freemium, Mobile and Social games. They started acquiring companies into China, US and Vancouver.

They just released FFRK (Final Fantasy Record Keeper) in Japan. They are releasing in China. The Vancouver studio is in Yaletown and does only games.

Nakayama: Bandai Namco

Nakayama started by talking how he started in HR. He is now the studio manager of Bandai Namco in Vancouver. BN has three types of business:

  • Toys and Hobbys - stable business
  • Content - mostly from mobile - growing
  • Amusement (facilities)

Their main source of revenue is Japan. They tend to export content from Japan to West, but that doesn't work so well. The Vancouver studio is to create good content for mobile in the West as an alternative to importing Japanese content.

Then they opened the discussion.

Joe Nickolls talked about how they set up shot where the talent is rather than paying that much attention to tax credits. For Sakae Osumi the ability to bring in talent easily is also important. Kameda talked about the problems of San Francisco (which is too expensive) and the problems or really big cities. The advantage of the Bay area is all the IT industry.

Nakayama felt that what is missing is Marketing in Vancouver.

I asked about relationships with universities. A lot of the companies have interns and coops. They seem to work closely with the Centre for Digital Media. The Vancouver Film School reaches out. Academics need to ask.

The Centre for Digital Media also has R&D programmes with companies. Emily Carr is moving to CDM and will have an industry park of some sort.

Also they would like to see connections to business and think about systems for bringing students into business side.

Business intelligence and analytics is important as is marketing. Companies won't be able to shift all aspects of their business to Vancouver without

Joe Nickolls talked about how they want people who are good a lot of things. They want technical and creative and ability to present.

Some advice for students:

  • Get an internship
  • Learn basics of finance and accounting
  • Be broad

Donaldson and others talked about getting the message out about Vancouver.


Working with Japanese Game Companies: Best Practices

Patrick Pennefather (Centre for Digital Media) moderated a panel on collaboration with Japanese Game Companies. He had a student doing a live drawing of the event.

Joe Nickolls talked about the importance of asking and told a great story about getting zooming satellite images of German soccer stadiums.

Festinger talked about how the same terms will have different meanings across cultures. The communication across cultures is

Atsuo Nakayama (Bandai Namco) talked about the differences in tacit assumptions across cultures. North Americans are far more literal than Japanese and structure processes more. Japanese don't proceed without consensus - this approach doesn't transfer well to North America. He then talked about ideation processes.

Festinger talked about how Japanese contracts are short, but the meetings after go on and on. North Americans do the opposite. The level of detail is enormous but then it is done and everyone forgets about it.

Joe Nickolls talks about how both Japanese and Canadians want to be polite and thus waste a lot of time not being frank. No one wants to be the jerk which can end up wasting time. He also talked about the importance of personal interaction.


And that was more or less the end. Someone from the UBC Co-op programme talked. The Japanese consul talked and then there was a reception.

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