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Blast from the Past: Masahiro Sakurai's transcript on leaving HAL Labs

ThatObviousUser

ὁ αἴσχιστος παῖς εἶ
Apr 14, 2007
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Circa 2003.

Cherry-don said:
It was tough for me to see that every time I made a new game, people automatically assumed that a sequel was coming. Even if it's a sequel, lots of people have to give their all to make a game, but some people think the sequel process happens naturally.

With times as they are, it's really difficult to make any money for yourself, and I know that I'm taking a big risk here. It's entirely possible that I could just fade right away without ever seeing the light of day again. But even if that happened, I've already decided to myself that I should keep on doing the work I can do, even if it's not all about games.

When I look across the entire game industry, I think we're at a point where we can't get away with being lazy. The game industry is in big trouble, don't you think? Not a lot of people can survive off game sales these days, and the possibilities that games have to offer are growing smaller and smaller, I think. If games were able to receive a certain amount of support-if people had fun with them, if they sold well-then we should be seeing more innovative, more positive games come out one after the other. But that's not the future I'm seeing right now. The risks are so big that misfiring with one title can flatten an entire company.

That's why you see places trying to stay alive by putting out tons of budget titles and re-releases. Every game company, no matter who they are, is desperate right now. So one possibility is that people will say 'I can't live off this anymore' and leave the game industry in droves. You see a lot of people use terms like 'console wars' and compare the whole thing to a fight for territory. You [the interviewer] and lots of other people in the game industry get termed 'Nintendo people' or 'Some other console's people' by someone you've never even met. But this is no time for that, I don't think.

If I want to keep producing games as a business, then staying at HAL would be a more stable place to do that. HAL has its advantages. I get a reasonable amount of pay, living in Yamanashi prefecture isn't that bad, the rent's cheap, and I get national insurance, you know?

But I don't care about that sort of stability. Right now I'm far more concerned about the fact that the game industry, which is built from the balance between developers, publishers, and users, is beginning to fall apart at the seams. I think it's possible for me, as a developer, to have people think about this problem through the development work I do. If I stay in one spot, then I can only communicate this to a limited number of people around the company, but if I can go out and reach more people, I think there are lots of people with far greater abilities than myself out there in the world. I mean, I'm entirely focused on games and I really can't do all that much myself, but if I can get in touch with people that have other great talents, then I think that will set off a chemical reaction and in the end we'll have a chance to make new games and better things. People with these talents might be at a loss at what games to make, and perhaps I can help make up for that in exchange for lending me their talent. This may sound idealistic, but it's really what I think.

If one game sells 40,000 copies and another one sells 20,000 copies, then one sold twice as much as another, right? But if you work for a company, this isn't reflected much in your salary. No matter if your game sells or not, you'll get money deposited in the bank every month on the month, so sometimes you see cases where developers get indifferent towards money and lose the feeling that they're really earning what they make. On the other hand, gamers take money out of their wallets and use it to buy your game. This difference is making gamers and developers drift farther and farther away from each other.

I talked with different people from around the industry about this, and it always seemed like the people who understood what gamers want the most are the guys in sales or the guys working in the stores. But isn't that messed up? It's completely messed up that the people actually making the games are the farthest away from what gamers want. I want to do something about that. I'm not saying I want to change the game industry or anything huge like that, but I just want to do something.

But coincidentally enough-we didn't arrange this or anything-some people in this same industry, people that are fairly well known as developers go, are leaving or moving around in their companies. Other things are going on besides [Yoshiki] Okamoto's new company... It may all be a coincidence, but there are lots of people who think the way things are right now is no good, and I think it's great to see these people going in a new direction and taking the rest of the industry along with them.

I don't think I can take any large-scale work for a while, so I doubt I'll suddenly become director on some grandiose project. There is a chance I'll be involved in several titles at once, but I'll need to think over the balance involved carefully. I may be seriously involved in some, but on others I may let the director and staff at the office take care of it and stick to just giving advice.

Interesting on how much can be applied to today (tough times, one misfire putting companies under (Free Radical, Factor 5, etc.), console wars, etc.) and how much things turned out different (industry exploded 2006/2007 due to Wii/DS, him working on some grandiose project and a sequel at that (Brawl).)

Other thoughts?
 

bishoptl

Banstick Emeritus
Jun 6, 2004
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I've had various incarnations of this conversation with numerous colleagues several times over the past dozen years. It's bleak now, but there's also opportunity with XBLA and PSN - vehicles that weren't available in 2003. At least not to the same extent.

Sequels can be fun, especially if you're getting a chance to fix things that bothered the hell out of you in the first game, but doing the same thing over and over? I understand his frustration.
 

Mr. Pointy

Member
Mar 12, 2006
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Well he did create Meteos before he went on and did SSBB.

I think things like XBLA, PSN, Wiiware, Steam, Gametap or like PC services or even the handheld consoles are really good places to just go nuts with ideas that wouldn't be 'marketable' as a packaged console release. And it'd also give your company something to do in between Third Person Shooter Sequel #728.
 

vanguardian1

poor, homeless and tasteless
Feb 1, 2007
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bishoptl said:
I've had various incarnations of this conversation with numerous colleagues several times over the past dozen years. It's bleak now, but there's also opportunity with XBLA and PSN - vehicles that weren't available in 2003. At least not to the same extent.

One thing people constantly overlook is the fact that a lot of these services aren't used or even accessible to many households. IIRC in USA broadband penetration is, at max, at about 55% of buildings, while 25% of buildings don't even have the option. (no cable, dsl, etc)
 

Shig

Strap on your hooker ...
Sep 30, 2004
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vanguardian1 said:
One thing people constantly overlook is the fact that a lot of these services aren't used or even accessible to many households. IIRC in USA broadband penetration is, at max, at about 55% of buildings, while 25% of buildings don't even have the option. (no cable, dsl, etc)
True, but honestly I'd say that makes all the more case for the viability of those services. Many downloadable games manage to be profitable even with such a major roadblock. Online penetration is only going to increase over time, so then imagine how much better these sorts of projects stand to perform with an even wider market.
 

ThatObviousUser

ὁ αἴσχιστος παῖς εἶ
Apr 14, 2007
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vanguardian1 said:
One thing people constantly overlook is the fact that a lot of these services aren't used or even accessible to many households. IIRC in USA broadband penetration is, at max, at about 55% of buildings, while 25% of buildings don't even have the option. (no cable, dsl, etc)

Even still, the saved costs (not to mention creative freedom) of circumventing a publisher make up for it if you make even a modestly successful cult-game.