Rethinking the Japanese Videogame Industry through Superstar Indies & Small-Scale Localization Companies

Project Description

This project will examine independent videogame companies founded by well-known personalities as well as small-scale localization companies. Qualitative analysis of these two unique types of videogame companies will allow for the reconfiguration of thought about the videogame industry. Colloquially, the videogame industry is viewed as a two-tiered system consisting of large AAA developers and smaller Indie game developers. This has become especially true as AAA budgets inflate and create a dichotomy of large scale, high budget AAA games versus smaller scale, low budget Indie titles. However, this system does not apply to the Japanese videogame industry. This can be displayed through a closer investigation of videogame companies that do not fit either of these molds, such as “Superstar Indies” and small-scale localization companies.

For the purposes of this project, videogame companies founded by established, well-known personalities will be referred to as “Superstar Indies”. There are several examples of well-known personalities in the videogame industry leaving large corporations in order to start their own companies (see table 1). While this phenomenon is noteworthy by itself, the move of celebrity videogame producers, directors, and creators into a different segment of the industry raises several important questions:

1) How are these new companies funded?

This is far from standard and ranges from large contracts with established companies to fan funding of Kickstarter projects.

2) What are the corporate structures that these new companies use?

Once again, this is far from standardized. The superstar may be deeply involved in the process or they may simply be a figurehead in the new company. This has a potentially large impact on the quality, or lack thereof, of the games that the company makes.

3) What types of games are being made?

In many cases the superstars leave larger companies in order to work within genres that have been abandoned by the AAA industry such as horror or metroidvania.

4) Can these companies be referred to as being truly “Indie” developers?

These companies are quite prolific due to the involvement of the superstar. However, they are sometimes large companies with millions of dollars in financial backing. This raises questions about the definition of “Indie”. It will be particularly interesting to compare media coverage of superstar Indies at development shows such as BitSummit, which caters to the more traditionally defined smaller Indie companies.

Answering these questions, and analyzing how small-scale localization companies (see table 2) fit into the Japanese game industry as well, could lead to a general reconfiguration of how we think about the Japanese video game industry. As a final note, I foresee this project building on established literature in the field, in particular, your book Atari to Zelda and Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter’s Games of Empire.


Table 1: “Superstar Indies”

Indie Company
Notable Games
Igarashi Koji Inti Creates Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (Upcoming)
Inafune Keiji Comcept Mighty No. 9
Itagaki Tomonobu Valhalla Game Studios Devil’s Third
Kojima Hideo Kojima Productions Death Stranding (Upcoming)
Mikami Shinji Tango Gameworks The Evil Within
Sakaguchi Hironobu Mistwalker The Last Story
Suda Goichi (aka suda51) Grashopper Manufacture No More Heroes
Yu Suzuki Ys Net Shenmue III (Upcoming)


Table 2: Localization Companies

Year Founded/ Place
Notable Games
Active Gaming Media Inc. 2008

Tokyo & Osaka

Demon’s Souls, No More Heroes, LittleBigPlanet
Aksys Games Localization Inc. 2006

Torrance, California

Guilty Gear series, BlazBlue series, Muramasa Rebirth
Alt Japan Co., Ltd. 2000


Dead or Alive series, Ninja Gaiden series, Strider


Preliminary References

Aoyama, Yuko and Hiro Izushi. “Hardware gimmick or cultural innovation? Technological, cultural, and social foundations of the Japanese video game industry.” Research Policy 32 (2003): 423–444.

Carlson, Rebecca and Jonathan Corliss. “Imagined Commodities: Video Game Localization and Mythologies of Cultural Difference.” Games and Culture 6, no. 1 (2011): 61-82.

Dyer-Witheford, Nick and Greig de Peuter. Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

Picard, Martin. “The Foundation of Geemu: A Brief History of Early Japanese video games.” Game Studies 13, no. 2 (December 2013). (accessed October 27, 2016).

Storza, Cornelia, Federico Riboldazzi and Moritz John. “Mobility and innovation: A cross-country comparison in the video games industry.” Research Policy 44 (2015): 121-137.

Wada, Takeaki. “Exploitation Reduces Novelty: An Empirical Analysis of the Japanese Video Game Industry.” Annals of Business Administration Science 10 (2011): 1-12.


Japan & Games 2.0

Updated on 2017-07-01T15:55:23+00:00, by mLab.