Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS/Wii U are scheduled for release this year and can't come out soon enough. Why does Japanese game development take so long? In his semi-weekly column for Weekly Famitsu, Super Smash Bros. creator Masahiro Sakurai addressed a fan's concerns directly.
A fan wrote to Sakurai: "It appears that the time it takes to develop a game differs between Japan and other countries, so why do people say that Japan takes a lot of time on development?"
Whether it's domestic or international, development speed is a case-by-case scenario, so I feel this may be a biased opinion. I think the Yakuza team is quite fast considering the scale of their games, and some foreign games can take over 5 years from initial proposal to the actual product release.
However, the fact that someone asks this does seem to indicate that it's not completely unfounded. If I were to guess, it seems that foreign studios have the appearance of a stricter product schedule and organisation. Then again, in some cases, even if the development period is long, the development staff can be small, so the entire picture is a mystery.
Also, the time between announcement and release does not necessarily equal the development period. In most cases, when development actually started is never publicly announced.
In any case, whether it's cost-effective or not is what's important. Whether the development period is long or short, the real questions is if the man-hours spent can bring about a profit or results. Of course, this is also a case-by-case scenario.
Sakurai has definitely been putting in the man-hours for the new Super Smash Bros. — so much so that apparently the condition of his right arm has spread to his left. "The tendon sheath inflammation symptoms in my left forearm are especially hard to deal with." Sakurai writes. "I've been moving the controller as gently as possible. And losing at Smash Bros...."
I want the new Super Smash Bros. as soon as possible, but I want Sakurai to get better more. Development of Japanese games may seem to take longer than other countries, but I can stand to wait a little longer for a game so long as its developer stays healthy.