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Sneak Peek to Japanese Gaming Industry 2024


Image by Jezael Melgoza

Many of us grew up with Japanese video games. From Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, and Pac-Man in the 1970s, Super Mario Bros, Final Fantasy, Street Fighter, and The Legend of Zelda in the 1980s to the early 2000s, to Monster Hunter and Pokemon Go in the 2010s—Japanese games never failed to impress the world. Working in one of those gaming companies sounds like a dream come true. Fortunately, it is an achievable dream, even for foreigners.

Here's the guide to working in Japan's gaming industry.

Japan's Gaming Industry Overview

Japanese games are popular everywhere, solidifying the country's status as a global gaming powerhouse. They are renowned for their innovation, captivating storytelling, and meticulous design. Japan holds a significant position in the history of video games and remains as huge players nowadays as the third largest gaming market in 2021 behind the United States and China.

In 2019, the Japanese gaming industry raked in an impressive $19 billion in revenue, with mobil games claiming the lion's share of the market. The significance of mobile gaming skyrocketed in early 2020, experiencing a remarkable growth of over 50%. This surge was attributed to the global pandemic, compelling people to stay indoors and seek entertainment through their mobile devices (App Annie Gaming Spotlight 2020 Review).

Playing a mobile game (Picture: David Grandmougin)

The popularity of video games in Japan is also related to anime and otaku culture. Around 15% of Japan's top mobile gaming titles adopted their gameplay from popular intellectual properties (IPs). For example, Pokémon GO, Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle, and Fate/Grand Order. By incorporating familiar and cherished IPs into mobile gaming experiences, developers make it even more exciting for fans. This mix of game and beloved anime characters adds to the fun and keepspeople hooked on playing.

There are thousands of games developed by hundreds of Japanese companies. The giants in this industry, Nintendo, Square Enix, Sega, Bandai Namco, and Konami, are known as the Big Five. They dominate the market with games across platforms, consoles, and even arcades.

Working in big companies might come with prestige, but there's a unique and rewarding charm in being a part of smaller to medium-sized comapnies. In these settings, you often find yourself playing a more substantal role within a close-knit team. Additionally, the competition tennds to be less intense compared to larger corporations. It's different kind of satisfaction and you can choose what may fit you the most.

Salary in The Gaming Industry

The average annual wage for employees in the gaming industry was JPY 3.91 million in 2019 (Doda). This number is lower than the average yearly salary of JPY 4.14 million. Based on the wages revealed on Glassdoor, it ranges from JPY 3.3 million to JPY 20 million per year depending on roles, working period, company size, and types of games.

The gaming industry has long been synonymous with the term 'passion job', where employees are driven by their love for what they do, even if the salary doesn't necessarily reflext their dedication. However, notable shift occured in 2022 when some gaming companies decided to elevate their base wages. This change not only marks a positive development for the financial well-being of those in the industry but also signals a growing recognition of the value and dedication of individuals who contribute to the dynamic world of gaming.

Japanese games are also popular in arcades worldwide (Picture: Ciaran O’Brien)

Possible Jobs for Foreigners

Marketing (Translation and localization)

You will be responsible for advertising the game and all related promotional activities such as events, press tours, and media planning. This role usually includes translation work, especially in a company that targets the international market or vice versa, in foreign companies that target the Japanese market.

Localization is one of the marketing strategies. It's essential to improve the user experience when playing foreign video games. It's not just about translating the language but also the cultural, visual, and technological aspects of changing a product to suit a specific market. Having an N1 or N2 JLPT certificate and some experience in any kind of translating or marketing work will help you enter the industry.

Game programmer

Game programmers are not remarkably different from any other programmers. They write codes to make the game operate correctly. Since it's not a specific area, programmers from other industries can change their career paths in the gaming industry. The term game programmer is sometimes used interchangeably with the game developer.

Game designer

Designing a game means creating the story, gameplay, and levels. Game designers need to have programming knowledge so they can understand the game engines better. Bigger companies usually differentiate between game designer and game artist roles. The game designer's work includes creating graphics and visualizing concepts if it's not separated.

The Requirement to Work in the Japanese Gaming Industry

  • Japanese skill

First and foremost, you must speak Japanese at a professional level. As a game developer, you will work with many people during production. It is a basic requirement since you will be living in Japan, working in a Japanese company, and creating products that will primarily be marketed toward Japanese people.

  • Japanese visa

Unless you have a rare skill set and superb portfolio, Japanese companies won't go to such lengths to recruit overseas candidates. The easier way for you is to come to Japan through other industries that are more willing to sponsor visas. After some time, you can look for jobs in gaming companies that are in line with your visa category.

You can also move to Japan as a university student if you're still young. Then, apply for these gaming companies through a fresh graduate mass-hiring process known as shukatsu. Another way that doesn't involve a visa is to work in a Japanese gaming company's subsidiary abroad and hope for relocation.

  • Portfolio and CV

If you are currently a student in Japan, you don't have to worry much about work experience. You just need to follow the shukatsu process. Other than that, you have to build a portfolio to enter the gaming industry.

As mentioned before, many people want to work in this industry. Being passionate is not enough; you have to offer some values too. Don't forget to write your portfolio and CV in Japanese. Also, don't be afraid to reach out first to companies, especially smaller companies, even though there aren't job openings on their website.

The gaming industry in Japan is continuously thriving. Small and big companies keep pushing ideas and expanding their influences. So, after reading this sneak peek, are you still interested in working in Japan's gaming industry?





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