Guest Writer: 404#8199
It’s no secret that entertainment is a big part of our lives in the modern world. Most entertainment mediums, in this day and age, come in the form of video games and are widely consumed by younger generations as one of the most interactive and easiest ways to experience pleasure during free time. Japan is one of a few countries that have majorly contributed to the evolution of this industry with major companies such as Nintendo, Sony, and SEGA.
The Early Days
The First Generation
- In 1975, Epoch released the first Japanese video game console ever, called TV Tennis Electrotennis, a home version of Pong, which was only available in arcades prior to that date.
- In 1977, It was followed by the first Nintendo console called Color TV-Game, which ended up selling 3 million units, making it the most sold console of the first generation of consoles, surpassing the Magnavox Odyssey and Telstar, and also the first successful console from Japan.
- In 1978, Space Invaders was released to the arcades, becoming the first Japanese game to become mainstream, influencing most of the shooting games released since then. Space Invaders also became the first game to be part of what we call “pop culture”.
It was around this time that video game arcades started appearing in malls and “corner arcades” were present in restaurants, bars, and movie theaters all over Japan.
The Second Generation
During this time, Japanese consoles weren’t very dominant, but games like Donkey Kong (1981) and Ms. Pac-Man (1980) proved themselves to be really popular, selling 60,000 units and 115,000 units respectively.
Before 1982, the gaming industry saw the release of many iconic and influential games. 1982 marks a shift in the market where it was flooded with low-quality games which led to the huge crash of the video game industry in 1983.
Now growing desperate, many consoles were released for the second generation in the hopes of improving the economic situation of these companies. This led to the oversaturation of the market with consoles which worsened their economic situation even more.
The Golden Age of Gaming
Then the year 1985 came by, and the once dim fire that was the videogame industry burned stronger than ever with the release of games such as Super Mario and Tetris for the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), marking the start of the renaissance of the video game industry.
In the late 1980s, the third generation of consoles started, being centered around various Japanese games such as The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, and Dragon Quest.
In 1987, the PC Engine was released and it became a huge hit, marking the start of the golden age of the Japanese computer gaming market and lasted a few years before ending in the late 90s.
It was during this time that we saw the birth of genres popular to this day. In 1987, the first stealth game was released, known as Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear which was released for the MSX2 computer. In 1989, Sweet Home was released by Capcom, the predecessor to the survival-horror genre and was released for the NES.
In 1990, when the cartridge-based console games dominated the industry, various companies started to hop on the bandwagon of console gaming. Faced with this new reality, Nintendo released the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System), which was vastly superior hardware-wise to its predecessor.
One of these companies that started entering the market with an overwhelming force was SEGA, which through huge marketing campaigns and having a game catalog with a more adult appeal, became a fierce rival for Nintendo, which at the time was a huge force in the Japanese video game industry.
The 90s were a period of innovation for games.
There was a transition from sprite-based graphics to the 3D graphics we are so used to nowadays. Japan played a crucial part in this transition. During this time handhelds became more relevant than ever, especially in Japan with the release of the Game Boy.
In 1994, Sony released their first PlayStation console to compete against the likes of Nintendo 64 and Sega Saturn, and it proved to be an enormous success.
Fast forward to 2002, and the Japanese video game industry which previously controlled about 50% of the global market, declined to around 10% by 2010.
Japan is currently the world’s largest market for mobile games and its gaming market is currently dominated by them. The current arcade industry in Japan is very harmonious with Sega, Taito, Namco, and Konami working together to keep it alive and relevant.
Gaming Culture Today
The Japanese video game market, although not as big as a few decades ago, is resurging with games like Pokemon Sun and Moon setting sales records around the world. 2017 was the year where many critically acclaimed Japanese games were released, between Persona 5, Yakuza 0, Nier Automata and even Monster Hunter: World, which led to the industry making a significant comeback that year.
Even though Japan has a significant foothold in the industry, they never culturally embraced PC gaming compared to China or Korea. The future lies on PC gaming, so for the Japanese industry to succeed they will have to transition their console legacy into the PC gaming area which is rapidly growing. The fairly recent shift on the idea of gambling works in Japan is a step in the right direction since it allows now for competitors to participate in Esports events even if there is money involved.
Esports and RPGs are clearly the future of Japanese gaming, and Japan is starting to change its approach to both to secure its position as the main force in the gaming industry once again.