Speaking at the Game Developers Conference, Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune discussed the current state of the Japanese game industry in a speech entitled "The Future of Japanese Games." In it he hit on the decline of Japanese video gaming, a subject that got him in hot water a few years ago. He attacked the tendency for Japanese companies to rely on simply sustaining established brands and not taking risks with reinventing or establishing brands for the future. Inafune used Mega Man Legends to illustrate his point: (emphasis added)
"15 years ago I was working on Mega Man Legends," said Inafune. "It was the first 3D Mega Man title for PlayStation. I was very excited, very passionate, and very confident about this game. As such, I did everything I possibly could as the game's producer. However, it was not an easy road to success. The Mega Man series was slightly on the decline, and perhaps the expectation levels were not as high as the previous games. Therefore, we weren't able to sell or promote the game as we expected and failed to attract an audience."
"Putting aside the quality of the game, at the end of the day the game was a failure from a sales perspective," Inafune admitted. "Mega Man fans I know are looking forward to a next installment in the series, but we shall see what happens. Back in those days nobody probably would have asked for the next Mega Man Legends, though. That experience is my biggest failure and biggest treasure in my video game career."
Inafune also used his speech to acknowledge the angst felt by Mega Man fans the world over, stating "As with yourselves and fans around the world I am concerned about Mega Man's future."
While he stated his belief in Capcom's ability to compete globally, he hit the entire industry for losing the desire to win:
"Before you can win again, you must first acknowledge your loss. And then be prepared to start over again. For many years Japan was the winning team. Thanks to those victories we became big-headed. As someone who spent many years at a major company I was able to see that first hand. But I am ashamed to admit it but whenever I travel overseas I feel as if Japanese games are becoming a blast from the past. They have become great memories and little more."
"But there is a limit to how much business you can do trading on past glories," he said. "We rarely see new creations from Japan. So we stick to our memories and we ship an HD version. I feel that’s the upper limit that we are showing to users today. It's not what they want."
Inafune claimed that the way out of the current situation is to rebuild Japan's old brands with determination and innovation. "In Japan I believe that we still have some of the power to create brands. But what we don't have are the people who will pour in a huge amount of effort. What we have is the result of us having relied heavily on brands in the past, neglecting efforts to create something new.
Inafune's comments makes the development of the various Mega Man series a bit more decipherable, but more importantly it outlines several important issues that could afflict Mega Man's future. Is Inafune right? Could a completely new game make us feel the same way Mega Man does? Should series like Mega Man go through a radical reinvention? What was more interesting, the Mega Man installments that sought simple gameplay tweaks (Mega Man 4-6) or the brand new installments that sought to reinvent the formula (Mega Man Legends, Mega Man Zero)?