In an earlier post, Square Enix professed the thought that Americans don't like turn-based games (which I don't think is true). Now, Square Enix CEO, Yoichi Wada, is currently unhappy with the way Japanese game developers are making gameplay choices, calling them "very weak". Harsh words, but are they unfounded? Not entirely.
Wada-san spoke with Gamasutra regarding his thoughts on Japanese game developers and outlined his three-axis philosophy on game design. Wada-san says the first axis is genre selection and core gameplay, something he commends Western developers for being "much stronger" in.
A chunk of the interview follows in which Wada-san talks more about his axis theory:
And this [Wada indicates the first axis] is the axis that Japan has become very weak in for the past five years. And these [other] two levels haven't changed much.
The Western developers have become much stronger, during the past five years, in this aspect - the game element. This is the area the Japanese creators are struggling with right now, trying to explore in new ways. So if you look at all these three factors and ask, "is Japan strong or weak today?" I don't think we can say Japan's strong.
So if you look at all these three factors and ask, "is Japan strong or weak today?" I don't think we can say Japan's strong."
Wada-san's theory is actually very interesting and is a well defined way to look at game development as a whole. It is a very simple and refined way of looking at what companies do in their pre-production meetings.
Would I agree with his thoughts and call Japanese game developers weak, as compared to Western developers? In the recent console cycle games coming out of Japan, while some are incredible, seem to be lacking. Staple series like Mario, Zelda, and even Dragon Quest are amazing titles that have stood the test of time, but when it comes to newer titles, like Lost Planet, while the concept and story are both interesting the execution (as in gameplay) was a bit lacking.
It could be said that the exploration of new ways for the game element is a painful one and as the developer, you're bound to have a few problems before you find that winning formula (or combination). In an age now where games have been sticking to known formulas of working, it's hard to find something new that will be impressive to gamers and play just as well.