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 both inside and outside Japan. They are prominent worldwide, as one of the inventors of video games and the third largest gaming market in 2021 behind America and China.
The Japanese gaming industry had $19 billion in revenue in 2019, and mobile games take the largest market share. Japan's mobile gaming market had grown by over 50% in early 2020 as many people were stuck inside their homes due to the pandemic (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.
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.
While working in big companies can give you prestige, working under small to medium companies is not less rewarding. You can have a more significant role in a small, tight-knitted team. The competition also may not be as fierce as bigger companies.
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.
Working in the gaming industry is considered a 'passion job.' The employees are expected to work hard despite the low salary because they love their job. However, things started to change earlier this year as some companies raised their base wage.
Japanese games are also popular in arcades worldwide (Picture: Ciaran O’Brien)
Possible Position 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 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.
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
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.
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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