Game Store Staff: Masahiro Sakurai
Comment from PushDustIn: If you enjoy these translations, please support Sakurai by buying his book. Out of respect, the original Japanese will not be posted. However, if you would like to check my translation you may request it by e-mailing me, or by messaging me on Twitter. Please note, that this article takes place between the time that Sakurai had decided to quit Hal, and way before he started working on Brawl. I decided to translate this article as I believe it gives valuable insight into Sakurai’s working approach, and is an interesting story that is completely unknown. “One Button Concept“ received the most amount of votes, so I will be translating that article next. sutamen is working on additional Famitsu articles, so we will have more in the near future. Stay tune and subscribe!
I always put my efforts into making gamers feel that they are satisfied and that they are enjoying the product whenever I am making a game. However, sometimes it’s impossible, or it causes great distress to the staff.
As a game developer, I see a lot of games and hear a lot of stories, but one consistent concern I’ve felt is that many developers seem to miss their target. We, as developers, should approach the creative process from the perspective of the consumer, but more often than not, developers end up distancing themselves from their target and creating a game that only they can enjoy. I’m sure you can come up with an example or two.
For physical distribution, it goes Development > Business Relations > Store > Customer. The distance between development and customer is far, but it’s important for developers not to forget about the gamers!
However, I turned this question onto myself. Have I been ignorant of gamers? I figured that now was the best time to reevaluate my thinking on how various types of people approach buying video games.
There! My friend works there! At a store in Nagoya. I contacted a representative from Mag Mart, and asked them if they would allow me to work part time in the game shop!
If I worked in a job that had direct contact with the customers, I could fix my bias on how gamers view games. Since I’m a freelance employee, I figured this was my chance! Before I could second-guess myself, I set out for Nagoya.
The store had a parking lot, and the layout of the store was splendid. The various game consoles were all together, and the store sold used games, DVDs and even cell-phones. The staff was led by three people.
I started my part time job on Saturday. Saturday is a popular day for families to come visit the store. I put on my uniform vest, took orders, packed bags, put empty cases on the shelves, cleaned up the cardboard boxes and took reservations for customers. You can say it was a normal part time job. Just like anyone who had just started working, I looked confused and fresh. I messed up punching in the orders and incorporating sales. I handed bags back haphazardly, and I forgot to give customers their member’s cards back. I input the wrong info (game title, price, etc.) and had to tear up the receipt and start again. I was sort of a slapstick shop keeper. I’m sure that I would have improved if I had worked there everyday, but luckily people just laughed while overlooking these mistakes. Welcome to the store!
Nevertheless…, like a fierce wave, a tremendous number of games came and went. I know the incredible amount of hard work it takes to make a game, so I was amazed to see just how many games there actually were.
There were many unique types of customers that came to the store. I enjoyed seeing the customer’s personality come out during our interactions. I guess other shopkeepers may see the same thing in me when I am a customer. I’m always the classy customer that buys games with a huge grin on my face….
While I was working, I sold one of the games I made! The people that bought it were an elderly lady and her granddaughter. When they were purchasing the game, the granddaughter looked happy. The grandmother while paying for the item, noticed this and I think she looked pleased too. When I was ringing them up, I was also secretly happy! This is a great business!
The customers that came to the store had a variety of interests. The couples that bought the new popular title. The adults who bought DVDs of the a TV series so they could enjoy it. The college students who reserved the upcoming niche release. The hardcore gamers who bought a variety of titles. The high school students who play video games all day long. All of these people are important customers for the store.
The store was selling used video games. Whenever I was packing the video game into the bag, or ringing up a customer, I would became very sad with the thought of selling these used games for so cheap. In my head, I can understand why people would buy used games. However, for the people who are working on these games, they have to put in every ounce of their craftsmanship, and their knowledge to work. It takes a great deal of effort with long hours and sometimes multiple years until you can actually see the results. I know all of this well.
However, when I look at it from the consumption side of things, people purchase every other commodity with money. Other jobs also require hard work, craftsmanship and knowledge. When comparing me, who had just started working at the game store, and a veteran employee this becomes clear. The opposite is true too, if other people became a game designer like me, they might have a difficult time. Everyone is working their jobs, and going to the game shop with their money. I became happy with the realization that the customers are specialist in their own right. My outlook greatly expanded when I realized that customers are buying games with money scrapped together, and parents putting their kids enjoyment over theirs.
I worked for five hours straight. So I guess my salary was 4,000 yen. With this pace, it might be difficult for me to even afford my own game. You couldn’t even buy one new game with that amount of money!
Two young brothers came to the store, to buy a game. They each put 3,000 yen towards the game, but they didn’t have enough. So the mom covered the the tax. On one hand, games are too expensive for children. On the other hand, we need to be able to pay the people working on these games. I think a fair price would be where art and compensation intersect. It might be little difficult to reach an equilibrium….
It goes development, administration, debugging, manufacturing, advertising,operation costs, wholesale,over the counter sales and then finally the customer. Video games, which are used by televisions, are trying a strange form of entertainment that incorporates a lot of people. Without a fair price, it would be similar to blood not running through your own body, causing you to become short with breath. I feel a sense of thrill supporting my hobby. As the world turns, I’m thankful for a lot of people. Of course, I will continue working hard.
When my day as a cashier ended, the manager gave me a members card. As I returned home on the Shinkansen, I stared at the green card. I felt business moving, and thought back to people enjoying video games.
Interviewer: You really worked in a game store, huh? Did you panic when you at the register and a customer came up to you?
Sakurai: Nope, I didn’t notice them! (laughs). It was really a great learning experience. I was debating on whether or not I should write about the experience.
Interviewer: Is that so?
Sakurai: However, I thought it was important for people reading the column to know about this topic, so I wrote a draft.
Interviewer: It’s a little strange to say, “This is because a lot of video game developers are unable to relate to the customers, despite trying to build a game for them”
Sakurai: I probably tend to think that way because I end up doing so much extra work after development has finished. I do work as a producer, but I also assist with promotion and advertising, and I help the website design staff as well. I dunno–am I doing things backwards?
Interviewer: Backwards? Is the order wrong?
Sakurai: No, thinking about the customers after providing post-release support is backwards. You should think about customers and then provide post-release support.
Interviewer: I see. With publishers and other media companies, they often rely on marketing and advertising specialists to promote their products, but I sometimes hear about directors who work behind the scenes to help promote their games. Creating a quality product is their top priority during the development phase, though, so I can imagine they simply don’t have the time to think about promotional issues. I guess it varies from case to case.
Sakurai: I think people should work on their project as soon as they are able to. It’s a waste to rope off people saying these are your duties as a publicist, and these are your duties as a producer. After all, It doesn’t concern the customers at all.