Koei Tecmo recently announced Dead or Alive 6 is coming to arcades in Japan. The home version will arrive on Feb. 15, 2019, and on all other platforms and for US availability.
Most North American gamers shrug at this as just something that happens in Japan, not realizing how the arcade culture of the ’80s and ’90s gave birth to the current state of gaming in America.
So what is it that keeps arcades alive in Japan long after their brutal deaths in the early 2000s?
The answer is rooted in the expectation of gaming underpinned by societal norms.
Choose your own adventure
NA gamers of all types expect the freedom and openness of a sandbox-style game. Even if a competitive title has overwhelming success, it’s expected at some point to offer an open-world format where players are free to do anything and everything.
The most recent example is Fortnite.
There’s no need to expound further upon the success of Fortnite. What is worth noting is not only did Epic create Battle Royale Playground, but it did so with some interesting additions. There was a time limit inside the sandbox, unlimited respawns with conditions, and other exclusive content.
It was such a wild success that the servers were overloaded, and the game mode had to shut down in order to reorganize server resources. YouTube testifies to the popularity of Playground with hours and hours of highlight videos showing the amazing creations of players just goofing around. Playground spoke directly to the freedom NA gamers seek and demand in every game they love.
Contrast this with Japanese gaming norms.
Enjoy the journey
The single-corridor, single player game mode died a long time ago in America. It still thrives in Japan simply due to the fact Japanese gamers value the gameplay experience and theme exploration at the expense of choice much more than Western audiences. This isn’t good or bad. It’s just a difference.
An excellent example of this concept is Final Fantasy XIII. It was wildly popular in Japan due to the animation and storytelling. Sales of the game in Japan were larger than America by about 400,000. It was panned by NA critics for its lack of awareness of the Western point of view.
This topic deserves a deeper discussion than space allows for here. Check out this Quora answer for a deeper dive into the concept.
The Japanese culture is much older and has a broader view of life’s journey than American culture. They enjoy time on the journey in the world as moments to be shared and cherished. It’s a very different perspective from how Western culture lives.
What it all means
Circling back to the original announcement of Dead or Alive 6 being release first in Japanese arcades, it goes straight to the heart of societal views of gaming.
Japanese players view gaming as an experience and adventure of discovery. Releasing the game into arcades means friends can play the game in a group and everyone can share the moment together.
NA players on the whole still view gaming as something to conquer and something to defeat. This means spending hours and hour honing skill and understanding in front of the screen in order to engage opponents on the battlefield. Failure in front of an audience is avoided at all cost. Grinding on the ladder is not just a saying. It’s a lifestyle. This is why arcades died. This is why LAN centers in the USA aren’t anywhere close to as popular as in Japan and Korea.
Contrast that viewpoint with Japanese players using gaming as a way to meet friends and enjoy animation for all it can be. Failure is an experience to share with friends as much as winning. Themes are different as well. There is much more of a collectivist view underlying Japanese games based upon their history of war and its cost. How would our views of conflict be altered having an atomic bomb dropped on us twice? This is only one of many factors that causes our views to diverge, of course. But it’s food for thought.