Keiji Inafune's been making games for nearly 30 years. He's the man behind one of gaming's most iconic characters (Mega Man) and several huge franchises (Dead Rising, Onimusha). After 23 years working at Capcom, one of Japan's largest game publishers, he suddenly quit back in 2010. "Settling down means death for a creator. As long as you are a creator, you cannot settle down," he announced on his blog. Just six months after being appointed Capcom's Global Head of Production (overseeing the company's entire gaming catalog, from Resident Evil to Street Fighter), he quit.
With that, he set off on his own and created two new companies: Comcept and Intercept. When we talked with Inafune last week at DICE 2014, he spoke of his plans for Comcept in detail. "I was a publisher for 20 years, so you'd be right in thinking I brought some ideas from there into Comcept," he said. That means, first and foremost, retaining ownership of IP. That's a major component of going with Kickstarter for the latest Comcept game, a Mega Man-esque action game titled Mighty No. 9.
The project sailed past its target goal of $900K and took in $3.8 million. Without a publisher, of course.
For the game industry, such freedom for mid-level studios is unprecedented in recent years. Comcept's last major project, Soul Sacrifice on the PlayStation Vita, is an original work by Comcept that is wholly owned by Sony Computer Entertainment. That isn't meant to demonize Sony -- it's standard business for game publishing, and more than likely that Sony shared non-financial resources in the process -- but to contextualize the importance of self-publishing. Inafune puts it best himself:
"At Capcom, makers didn't have rights for the game. But now independent, we're able to make what we want ... which makes us into a publisher. It's more to be a games maker; you become a publisher. You need to think as both a developer and a publisher."
He even said it's harder now for studios than it was just 10 years ago. "More than publishers giving out money, they're looking for hits (like Call of Duty), for investing into definitive things."
Of course, even with his years of experience and current projects, he can't speak for the entirety of Japanese game development. He's been asked to do as much many times in the past. Part of that is assuredly due to his outspoken nature -- a rarity among Japanese game devs -- and another part is due to his own speeches/rallying cries for innovation in Japanese game development. Inafune sees another factor as well: "I think it's the press that made me into this 'representative.'" Touché.
As Comcept grows in the coming years, Inafune's got high, but reasonable hopes: "A company that creates games where we hold onto the rights ... not a games maker that's ordered to make a type of game." His studio and games may be labeled "indie" for now, but Inafune's goal remains the constant it's been his entire career: to have the freedom to make great games.