Last week I spent 3 days in Japan for the Tokyo Game Show, and for some meetings with online gaming companies and agencies. A short trip, but absolutely worth it. Especially the Tokyo Game Show and the things I heard during the meetings gave me a lot of inspiration for opportunities that still exist in Japan, but also ideas that can be used in other countries in Asia. Japan is so close to China, but it’s a whole different world.
It already starts when you arrive at Narita where you have to take a train in order not to arrive bankrupt in Tokyo itself. Taxi’s are outrageously expensive and the airport is about 80 km from downtown Tokyo. Hotels are similarly priced, we stayed in a hotel close to Shinagawa harbour and paid something like USD 160 per night for a 8m2 room (I think it was arranged by the Dutch government, next time I’ll take a hotel closer to downtown). Prices are not as bad as during the 80’s I was told, but I was still shocked at having to pay USD 40 for a couple of beers in an average bar. Even taking the metro is an expensive affair, taking a taxi in Shanghai would be a lot cheaper for the same distance.
What I like about Tokyo is that it’s a bit like a village. There are of course some skyscrapers (but not as tall as the ones in Shanghai), but generally there are a lot of 2-3 story houses all over the city. If you walk into a side street from one of the main streets you are immediately in a quiet environment totally unlike a metropolitan city. Also traffic is pretty good, there are not many cars around, even not during rush hour. Most people take the train, probably because it is cheaper and faster: traffic lights are horrible and it can take ages to get from A to B inside the city.
The Tokyo Game Show itself was fun, and also very different from ChinaJoy (Shanghai’s Game Show, that is actually bigger than its Japanese counterpart). While in Shanghai you see lots MMO’s and other online games, they are almost completely absent at the TGS. What you see is mainly console game titles (consoles are machines like the Playstation, Wii or Xbox360) or titles for handhelds (like the Sony PSP or the Nintendo DS). Next to that a lot of mobile game titles, with most of them programmed in FlashLite. But hardly any pure online games like you see them in the rest of the world.
We saw and met with some interesting mobile virtual worlds (think social network meets games on a mobile), very interesting to see what they have achieved so far in Japan. The rest of the world is still far behind in that respect. Not illogical, considering the fact that mobile internet speeds in Japan are higher than the fastest broadband in China. People seem to use their phones for everything, from playing games to watching TV to paying for their metro fee. Some even still use them to make phone calls!
It was a very inspirational trip for me and I am glad I took the time to go the Tokyo Game Show. Last year I decided not to go, but because we will launch our first site in Japan soon I am glad I went this time. Japan is a different country from most other Asian countries, but I believe that we can be successful there as well. Time will tell whether it will work out, but I am quite optimistic.