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Tokyo Jungle director advises Japanese indie developers to be unique

Matt Leone has written about games for three decades, focusing on behind-the-scenes coverage of the industry, including books on Final Fantasy 7 and Street Fighter 2.

As the second keynote speaker at today's BitSummit independent developer conference in Japan, Yohei Kataoka took the stage to discuss his desire to see Japanese developers use their unique qualities to their advantage. Kataoka, CEO and game director at Crispy, is best known for PSN animal combat game Tokyo Jungle, published by Sony.

He began by talking about his history, noting that he entered the game industry by founding a company with a couple friends out of school, without much knowledge of how to make games. His first project was called MyStylist, which allowed women to take photos of themselves dressing up in different outfits.

Eventually he transitioned to Tokyo Jungle, a game inspired by his idea to combine a sci-fi setting with animals. It went over well in Japan, he said — and set sales records in other parts of Asia — but didn't receive as favorable a reaction in America from critics.

Still, he said, users gave him positive feedback, which meant a lot to him. Though at the time, he wasn't aware of much of an independent developer community in Japan to know how common his experience was.

"I don't think [Japan's game industry] is anywhere near over ... it's something we should be proud of."

He specifically remembered attending the Electronic Entertainment Expo in 2012 and hearing praise from people he respected, as well as questions about the independent game scene in Japan. "I didn't really know what to tell them," he said through an interpreter. "I wasn't able to give them a concrete comment on if it existed or was growing."

He said in Japan, it's historically been beneficial for indie developers to align themselves with large publishers, and that the indie scene needs to do more to stand out.

Whenever he's done interviews with overseas media, he said, the question inevitably comes around to the health of Japan's game industry. "I don't think it's over," he said, citing the popularity of Japanese aesthetics in manga and anime. "I don't think it's anywhere near over ... it's something we should be proud of."

In the end, he encouraged everyone in the audience to think less about marketing their games overseas, and more to focus on the games they want to make.

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