Video gaming in Japan

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Video gaming in Japan is a major industry. Japanese game development is often identified with the golden age of video games, including Nintendo under Shigeru Miyamoto and Hiroshi Yamauchi, Sega during the same time period, and other companies such as Taito, Namco, Capcom, Square Enix, and Konami, among others.


1970s–early 1980s[edit]

Prior to producing video games, Japanese companies like Sega, Taito, Namco and Nintendo were producers of electro-mechanical arcade games. Soon after the video game industry began in the early 1970s, many of these companies turned their attention to producing arcade video games. Japan eventually became a major exporter of video games during the golden age of arcade video games, an era that began with the release of Taito's Space Invaders in 1978 and ended around the mid-1980s.[1][2][3]

Japan's involvement in video games dates back to as early as 1971. According to video game historian Martin Picard, "in 1971, Nintendo had – even before the marketing of the first home console in the United States – an alliance with the American pioneer Magnavox to develop and produce optoelectronic guns for the Odyssey (released in 1972), since it was similar to what Nintendo was able to offer in the Japanese toy market in 1970s." The first Japanese arcade video games were released in 1973, Pong clones produced by Taito and Sega, soon followed by original titles, such as Speed Race (1974) and Gun Fight (1975) from Taito's Tomohiro Nishikado; these games were localized by Midway for the North American market. Japan's first home video game console was Epoch's TV Tennis Electrotennis, a wireless home console version of Pong released in September 1975, several months before Atari's own Home Pong. It was followed by the first successful Japanese console, Nintendo's Color TV Game, in 1977. Japan's first personal computers for gaming soon appeared, the Sord M200 in 1977 and Sharp MZ-80K in 1978. Eventually, the 1978 arcade release of Space Invaders would mark the first major mainstream breakthrough for video games, both in Japan and North America.[4]

The first handheld electronic game was Electro Tic-Tac-Toe, released by Japanese manufacturer Waco in 1972.[5][6][7][8][9][10] The first color video game was the 1973 arcade game Playtron, developed by Japanese company Kasco, which only manufactured two cabinets of the game.[11] The first video game to represent player characters as human sprite images was Taito's Basketball, which was licensed in February 1974 to Midway, releasing it as TV Basketball in North America.[12][13] Tomohiro Nishikado's arcade racing video game Speed Race, released by Taito in 1974, introduced scrolling graphics, where the sprites move along a vertical scrolling overhead track.[14] The first microprocessor-driven video game was the arcade game Gun Fight, from Taito and Midway Games in 1975. The first tile-based video game was Namco's arcade game Galaxian (1979).[15] The Namco Galaxian arcade system board also introduced multi-colored animated sprites. Hardware sprite graphics was introduced by Namco's Pac-Man (1980), with the Namco Pac-Man hardware.[16]

Full motion video (FMV) games originated in Japanese arcades. The first FMV game was Nintendo's Wild Gunman, a 1974 electro-mechanical arcade game that used film reel projection to present live-action FMV footage.[17] The quick time event mechanic also has origins in Wild Gunman, which used film projection to display live-action footage of cowboys. Alternate film footage was played depending on the player's quick draw reaction. It paved the way for later QTE laserdisc video games.[18] The first FMV video game was Sega's laserdisc game Astron Belt, released in early 1983.

Sega's black and white boxing game Heavyweight Champ was released in 1976 as the first video game to feature fist fighting.[19] The first stealth games were Hiroshi Suzuki's Manbiki Shounen (1979)[20][21][22] and Manbiki Shoujo (1980), Taito's Lupin III (1980),[23] and Sega's 005 (1981).[24][25][26]

1980s–early 2000s[edit]

Following the North American video game crash of 1983, Japan went on to become the most dominant country within the global video game industry, since the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System and the third generation of consoles. Japan's dominance within the industry would continue for the next two decades, until Microsoft's Xbox consoles began challenging Sony and Nintendo in the 2000s.[27][28][29]

While the Japanese video game industry has long been viewed as console-centric in the Western world, due to the worldwide success of Japanese consoles beginning with the NES, the country had in fact produced thousands of commercial personal computer games from the late 1970s until the mid-1990s, in addition to dōjin soft independent games.[30]

The first platform game to use scrolling graphics was Jump Bug (1981), a simple platform-shooter game developed by Alpha Denshi.[31] Data East's Karate Champ from 1984 is credited with establishing and popularizing the one-on-one fighting game genre, and went on to influence Konami's Yie Ar Kung-Fu from 1985.[32] Capcom's Street Fighter (1987) introduced the use of special moves that could only be discovered by experimenting with the game controls. Street Fighter II (1991) established the conventions of the fighting game genre and allowed players to play against each other.[33]

The survival horror video game genre began with Capcom's Resident Evil (1996), which coined the term "survival horror" and defined the genre.[34][35] The game was inspired by Capcom's Sweet Home (1989), retroactively described as survival horror.[36] The earliest game to be retroactively described as survival horror was Nostromo, developed by Tokyo University student Akira Takiguchi for the PET 2001, with a PC-6001 port published in 1981.[37]

One of the earliest Japanese RPGs, Koei's The Dragon and Princess (1982),[38] featured a tactical turn-based combat system.[39][40] Koji Sumii's Bokosuka Wars (1983) is credited for laying the foundations for the tactical RPG genre, or "simulation RPG" genre as it is known in Japan, with its blend of basic RPG and strategy game elements.[41] The genre became with the game that set the template for tactical RPGs, Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryū to Hikari no Tsurugi (1990).[42]

Japanese developers created the action RPG subgenre in the early 1980s, combining RPG elements with arcade-style action and action-adventure elements.[43][44] In 1983, Nihon Falcom released Panorama Toh, coming close to the action RPG formula that they later became known for.[45] The trend of combining RPG elements with arcade-style action mechanics was popularized by The Tower of Druaga,[44] an arcade game released by Namco in 1984.[46] Its success inspired the development of three early action RPGs, combining Druaga's real-time hack-and-slash gameplay with stronger RPG mechanics, all released in late 1984: Dragon Slayer, Courageous Perseus, and Hydlide.[47]

The 1983 first-person adventure game, The Portopia Serial Murder Case, featured a non-linear open world,[48][49] which is considered ahead of its time.[49] The action role-playing game Hydlide (1984) was an early open world game,[50][46] rewarding exploration in an open world environment.[51] Hylide influenced The Legend of Zelda (1986),[47] an influential open world game.[52][53] Zelda had an expansive, coherent open world design, inspiring many games to adopt a similar open world design.[54]

Bokosuka Wars (1983) is considered an early prototype real-time strategy game.[55] TechnoSoft's Herzog (1988) is regarded as a precursor to the real-time strategy genre, being the predecessor to Herzog Zwei and somewhat similar in nature.[56] Herzog Zwei, released for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis home console in 1989, is the earliest example of a game with a feature set that falls under the contemporary definition of modern real-time strategy.[57][58]


In the early 2000s, mobile games gained popularity in Japan's mobile phone culture, years before the United States or Europe. By 2003, a wide variety of mobile games were available on Japanese phones, ranging from puzzle games and virtual pet titles that utilized camera phone and fingerprint scanner technologies to 3D games with exceptionally high quality graphics. Older arcade-style games became particularly popular on mobile phones, which were an ideal platform for arcade-style games designed for shorter play sessions. Namco began to introduce mobile gaming culture to Europe in 2003.[59]

In 2002, the Japanese video game industry made up about 50% of the global market; that share has since shrunk to around 10% by 2010.[60] The shrinkage in market share has been attributed to a difference of taste between Japanese and Western audiences,[60][61] and the country's economic recession.[62] Despite declining home console game sales, the overall Japanese gaming industry, as of 2009, is still valued at $20 billion, the largest sector of which are arcade games at $6 billion, in comparison to home console game sales of $3.5 billion and mobile game sales of $2 billion.[63] The Japanese arcade industry has also been steadily declining, however, from ¥702.9 billion in 2007 ($6.82 billion in 2017 dollars) to ¥504.3 billion in 2010[62][64] ($4.93 billion in 2017 dollars). The domestic arcade market's decline has also been attributed to the country's economic recession.[62]


In recent years, Japanese companies have been criticized for long development times and slow release dates on home video game consoles, their lack of third-party game engines, and for being too insular to appeal to a global market.[65] Yoichi Wada stated in the Financial Times on April 27, 2009 that the Japanese gaming industry has become a "closed environment" and "almost xenophobic."[66] He also stated: "The lag with the US is very clear. The US games industry was not good in the past but it has now attracted people from the computer industry and from Hollywood, which has led to strong growth."[66]

Although Japanese video games often do sell well in Western markets, the reverse is not so in Japan.[67][68][69][70] Foreign games often sell more poorly in Japanese markets due to differences in escapism.[71] However, as detailed above, Japanese games have been becoming less successful in recent years, even in their own country.[72][73][74]

In the present day, Japan is the world's largest market for mobile games.[75] The Japanese market today is becoming increasingly dominated by mobile games, which generated $5.1 billion in 2013, more than traditional console games in the country.[76] The country's traditional console gaming market itself is today largely dominated by handheld game consoles rather than home consoles.[77] In 2014, Japan's game market reached an all-time high of $9.6 billion, with $5.8 billion coming from mobile gaming.[78]

See also[edit]


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