Japan may not be the birthplace of video games, but it is the heart of video game culture.
Later this week, gamers from around the world will make their annual pilgrimage to the Tokyo Game Show to take in not just the news and games, but also the culture that surrounds gaming.
This year, though, they may find a show that manages to attract bigger crowds with less video games. Microsoft, for instance, has a much smaller showing this year. Sega and Electronic Arts are combining their booths into one.
That physical downsizing of Tokyo Game Show's big booths, and a shift from traditional console games to more mobile games at the show, could be a sign that the Tokyo Game Show, and Japanese game development as a whole, is at a turning point.
That turning point seems to be fuelled by the rising interest Japanese gamers have in games made outside the country, Brian Ashcraft, Kotaku's Japan-based writer, says.
That sudden new interest within Japan seems to be creating a Japanese gaming identity crisis of sorts. Even some well known developers are worried about it.
Earlier this year, Fumito Ueda, creator of The Last Guardian, expressed concern that big-budget Western games were going to overrun the Japanese game industry. That's what happened in the Japanese film industry, he pointed out.
The film industry in Japan went in decline in the late 1970s as it became overpowered by the blockbusters made abroad. There is a fear that the same could happen with gaming.
Ashcraft thinks it won't. After all, he points out, two of the three video game consoles are still made in Japan.
Publishers say they still rely on the show as a way to reach the third largest video game audience in the world.
"We're excited about TGS this year as part of our commitment to supporting local events, activities and ways to reach new and existing audiences," a Microsoft spokesman told Kotaku. "Japan is home to some of the most legendary creators in our industry, and TGS is a great opportunity to highlight the creative talent of Japan's leading third party developers and reinforce our commitment to this unique market."
This year, Electronic Arts will be sharing a booth with Sega at the show. A first. But the developer and publisher says it's not a sign of flagging interest in Japan or its video game show.
"Japan is still in the world's top three game markets and TGS is an important promotional beat for publishers in that market," said Jeff Brown, EA's vice president of corporate communication. "For the worldwide market, the value of TGS is determined by the number of retailers, industry analysts and journalists who attend. The September timing of the show provides a good platform for promoting games that will launch in the Western holiday."
Shows like TGS, Brown said, are great places to coalesce critics and retailer suppot for a game. 10 years ago the Los Angeles' E3 game show was the most important show because gamers tended to buy their titles during a narrower time frame, but now gaming is a much more year-long hobby.
The seeming retraction of Tokyo Game Show's booths could also be tied to the lack of any major console launch. TGS has often been a show that ebbs and flows based on the release of new hardware.
This year's biggest news, for instance, will likely be about the approaching release of Sony's new Playstation Vita. But barring a new console to push news, TGS seems to draw into itself.
Kotaku will be at the show all week, covering it live to find out how well it weathers this particular dip.
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