What it’s like working at a game company in Japan

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6 months ago from today I took a chance on an ad I saw on Craig’s List and quit my miserable teaching job to move to Tokyo and pursue my childhood dream of working for a video game company.  I had only lived in Japan for less than 4 months, and not even a year had passed since I graduated from Michigan State University, but I was determined to work in a position that connected my degree with my hobbies and helped me improve my Japanese language ability.  Though the ad was very vaguely written, and there was not much information online about the company despite me spending moderate time on LinkedIn researching it, I had hope that this opportunity would help me grow and lead to a successful future.

Through the ups and downs of the inevitable language barrier and the long and seemingly endless nights of overtime while working on translation for a future update, I have found a job that constantly challenges every single thing I learned in college and helps me better my abilities day by day.  As a Operations Staff and GM (Game Master) at CyberStep, I can proudly say that I made the right decision of with my life and am happy where the future is taking me.

The MMO Life

Day 1 at CyberStep began with me going into a heavily-secured building complete with a doorman at the entrance to greet me.  Though I walked into the central office 15 minutes early, there were already many employees furiously typing away at their keyboards and already seriously at work.  That is the way of a primarily Japanese company.

I introduced myself as a new intern (in Japanese) and was led back to a room where I signed several contracts, signed up for Japanese health care, and was asked to provide my visa and documents for registration.  I was then introduced to an extremely tall Australian man who would later become my partner in crime for translating, promoting, debugging, marketing, running events, and evening updating the forums and fanpage for the MMO free-to-play game Onigiri.

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Onigiri (a funny pun in Japanese that is written as “demon killer” but verbally it generally means “rice ball”) is a game where you create your own character, choose your stats based on what weapons you want to use, and run through dungeons, slay demons, fight alongside other players from all over the world, all while in a fantasy world with fancy cut scenes and music.  It really is a charming game compared to most of the free games out there.  The game is for PC, PS4, and Xbox One in both English and Japanese.  The profits come from players who make in-game purchases with real money to gain items, exclusive outfits and accessories, and partner characters that fight alongside you.  Before I was hired, my Australian coworker managed the whole entire translation for the game, which updates weekly on every Tuesday, while managing customer support across 3 consoles in English all by himself.  Can you imagine that?

Now we divide our work as equally as possible.  My coworker who has a degree in journalism does the bulk of the detailed translation work, handles the contracts with Sony and Microsoft, and does most of the correspondence with the Japanese developers and systems team.  I handle most of the promotion, customer support, graphics design, and player interaction on the US server and do simple translation of skills, attacks, and battle quotes.  We both test the game and split some of the support tickets to make things equal.  Though we have support from a number of Japanese developers and programmers, plus guidance from our boss of the Overseas Service group, We are a 2 man team managing 3 servers with thousands of players.  I would be lying if I said that this job wasn’t stressful and draining at times, but I would be bored with a typical 9-5 job in America that wouldn’t challenge me to sharpen my skills and learn new technologies.

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Initial design of my first character: A pink angel wielding a Light Saber.

The Atmosphere

I work with roughly 200 people in a brightly-lit office that requires you to take off your shoes when you enter (traditional Japanese-style).  Of those 200 people, only roughly about 10 of us are foreigners.  We always treat one another with respect, using honorifics and saying “お疲れ様です” (“thank you for your hard work”) when we pass each other.  We are allowed to get up and stretch hourly as needed, and our day begins with an optional stretch routine over the radio.  The perks are having  half-off vending machines, discounted company bentos, and of course gaming as a career!

My battle station consists of two monitors and a pretty buff PC with a killer harddrive.  Most of my coworkers have anime figures, posters, and plushies sitting around their desks.  It’s fun to walk by and see how personalized each person’s desk is.  Being an anime and cosplay enthusiast I have found I have a lot of common interests with my coworkers.  Recently at an anime convention I was at, I cosplayed Kaguya, one of the characters from Onigiri:

Photo Credit: Yenra Photography

Kaguya is a lot like myself–huge nerd, kind of clumsy, obsessed with anime and manga… you get the point.  I am happy that I got to cosplay a character from the game I am working on!  Given that my games gets new characters biweekly, there are many options to choose from.

An Average Day

The core hours of our company are from 10am-7pm.  My day starts out by clocking in with our fingerprint scanner and checking our ticket system for account and billing inquiries, bugs and reports within the game, and also suggestions from users.  I act as the voice of the English-speaking players and correspond with them, solving the simple tickets by myself and assigning the more advanced ones to other people in my department.  I also check and update the Onigiri US Facebook and Twitter pages.  If I have time before lunch, I will login to the game with my GM character and answer player questions as well as raid some dungeons.  This is the aspect I love the most!

After lunch I usually do some graphics design in Photoshop and make banners for the Onigiri website.  Between 3 consoles, the website gets updated almost daily.  The PC version of the game gets updated every Tuesday, and the consoles have monthly updates which are extremely content-heavy.  While my coworker translates, I play through and test the latest update before it is released and also take screenshots and write up a synopsis of the new content so players know what to expect when it is released.  I also help translate content from the Japanese website and we help localize it into the game.  At times it is frustrating because we have to wait for approval from the higher ups before we can start localizing, but there are usually enough tasks to keep us busy in between!

Another part of my job is planning and running events and campaigns on the US server.  For example, I have hosted several boss summoning events where players team up to fight field bosses for extra EXP and rewards.  I also ran an art contest where players drew their own characters for prize packages in the game. We also run frequent campaigns where if players buy in-game currency, they receive a bonus set of items (such as a drop rate or EXP boost; even a rare limited edition costume if the spend enough money).  At the end of the month, we compile the sales data and have a meeting with the rest of the Overseas Service group to discuss our marketing strategy, the KPI data, and the pros/cons that we encountered.  Together, we build on our strengths and offer support to one another so we can better reach out to our English audience.

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Promo banner created for the game”s 2nd year anniversary.

So there you have it.  My job is a mix of social media, translation, event planning, data/sales analysis, game testing, boss summoning, and dungeon raiding.

Pros/Cons

This next part is difficult for me to write as I’ve never worked for a US game company before, but it is best to think of this a general comparison as to working in the US vs working in Japan.

Pros:

  • Incredible experience.  I’ve learned so much about the work ethic in Japan and also gained a lot of knowledge in sales, game localization, and translation, not to mention having the experience of working on a diverse international team.  If I worked for a US game company, I would probably be only tasked with one thing and miss out on all of the increible experience I could be getting.
  • Great balance of work and play.  Translation and user complaints getting tiring?  Time to slay some enemies in-game with players!  Getting overwhelmed by the amount of players surrounding you and asking you questions?  Time to design some graphics and update the Facebook!  This job has so many aspects that I can do whichever task fits my energy level.
  • Wonderful benefits.  Having health care in Japan comes with much better medical coverage than in America.  Also, every public holiday our office has off (which happens at least once a month).  As a women, I even have the priveledge of menstrual leave.  My boss was even generous to give me time off to go back to see my family in America for 10 days.  For being a fresh graduate, I feel extremely fortunate for all of these benefits.

Cons:

  • Frequent overtime.  This is typical for all Japanese companies, but it definitely can be tiring no matter what culture you are from.  I typically work 25 minutes-2 hours of overtime per day.  Though I am not required to stay, if the update doesn’t localized in time, we lose sales.  Because I am passionate about the game and the success of our company, I do not mind working overtime when it needs to be done, but it definitely sucks some of my energy away.
  • Not a lot decision-making power.  Though I get to plan a lot of fun events and contests with the players, I have very little say of what content goes into the game since the Japanese developers decide almost all of the content.  A lot of the players come to me with cool ideas and suggestions, but ultimately the developers decide what is best for the game, and we follow suit.  However, with time I hope that this will change so we can collaborate more as the English server catches up.
  • Language barrier.  Very few of my coworkers outside of my team speak Engish, so most of our communication happens in Japanese.  Though I majored in the language, there are still are times where I feel like a language barrier is present.  Sometimes during meetings people speak fast and I have trouble grasping exactly what they are saying.  Fortunately, a lot of our correspondance occurs over SNS, so the good news is that we can translate unknown words using online dictionaries.  My boss also is fluent in both languages so he is a huge help to us all understanding one another.

Final Thoughts

I have grown a lot as a person from working here and feel very fortunate to have this position.  A lot of my colleagues in America are still struggling to find employment, and even when they do they are not promised benefits, while I feel safe and secure in this country though it is very different in a number of ways.  Not many people can say that they lived out their childhood dream and also found a relevant career out of it, but I hope this post inspires people to get out there and take that chance!  If you are unhappy with your current career, then don’t settle for it because there may be something greater waiting for you to discover.

How long do I plan on staying in Japan and working here?  At least 1-3 more years, maybe forever.  I am only 22 and very spontaneous in developing my career and living my life to the fullest.  Plus I have a Japan bucket list that I must complete before leaving.  And I have a cat that I adopted who I am in love with, many friends of all cultures, that I connect with, and a company of people who I consider family; however brief our interactions may be.  All of these things are more than enough reason to stick around.

Questions or comments?  Feel free to contact me or add me on LinkedIn!

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5 thoughts on “What it’s like working at a game company in Japan

  1. Miya Sweet says:

    Hey,

    I actually went to high school with you. Although we were in different grades, we had a few classes together. I actually hopped on facebook to contact a friend and saw your link to this blog post at the top of my feed. I really don’t keep tabs on my facebook, and honestly we didn’t talk much outside the computer class (and BPA) we were both in, but I can honestly say that I am really happy to see you succeed so well and find a career that brings you both satisfaction and happiness.

    St. Louis was such a small school, looking back now, I wonder a lot more about how we as complex individuals sorted ourselves into various labels and groups that made it difficult to really ever see each other as more than our own preconceived notions. I never would have guessed you were into anime and gaming, though I suppose I never bothered to ask. Maybe if I had we could have been friends since gaming and anime are passions of mine as well. I do remember that you were incredibly nice though and fairly talented.

    At one point I moved back to St. Louis for a short time and saw a lot of familiar faces from school. Some were friends and some just people I had classes with and knew by reputation or brief interaction. On one hand, it was cool to… I guess re-meet people in a setting that allowed us to get to know each other as coworkers and individuals and not some stereotypical label. On the other, it was kind of disheartening to see so many people I went to school with stuck in dead end jobs, having either settled down too early or were unable to find a way to leave. Most of them talk about all the things they’re going to do, but don’t seem to be making any forward movement to actually do it. In another five years, I wonder if they’ll still be working at McDonalds or Walmart, talking about that thing they’re going to do. I guess for whatever reason, they flopped. Maybe I’ve flopped too, I haven’t really decided yet. I think that’s why seeing your blog post made me so happy. It’s incredibly inspiring to see someone from our crap little town make it in the way that counts. You took a chance, and I’m not sure I can say I would have had the courage to do the same. I really hope things for you only ever get better. Maybe in a few years you’ll be developing your own game. I’d definitely look forward to showing it around and going, “See that person in the credits? I went to school with them.” It’s so weird how cool that would be. XD

    Ah, but I’ve ranted enough. I’m afraid it’s a side effect of not having yet gone to sleep by the time the clock strikes 8 am. I’ll let you go know (>_> because this is definitely a telephone and that’s how these things work. I can feel my control over my brain slipping already.) But you know, I’d love more people to talk anime with, so I suppose if ever you take a break from your overtime and real life Japanese adventure maybe we could talk about the joys of fantasy Japanese adventures x3 But if not, I’ll definitely be keeping a closer eye on how things are going for you, and quietly rooting for you all the way back in Michigan.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Miya Sweet says:

    I actually wrote this three paragraph, existential post about how I found this whole thing and you to be incredibly inspiring, but then my internet cut out on my phone when I went to post it… which I suppose is the story of my life. I considered just giving up and trying to go to sleep again. (If you’ve forgotten, it’s about 8:30 am here in Michigan, and I have yet to be able to fall asleep) But then I thought that I really did want to share my thoughts with you. So here I go, trying to somewhat recreate what I said before, but slightly more tired and less coherent than half an hour ago when I started writing it for the first time. Also probably a lot shorter because I honestly cant remember half of what I wrote to make this three paragraphs. So here we go! Down the rabbit hole for another thrilling adventure!

    Hi,

    We actually went to school together. Although we were in different grades, we attended some of the same classes and clubs together. We weren’t really friends in high school, only ever really talking on occasion in BPA or our shared computer class. I honestly dont even use facebook anymore, so it was really a chance that I even got on and saw your post on the top of my feed. I just wanted to let you know how incredibly inspiring this blog post was to read. I feel like it should be kind of strange how happy I feel for you that you’ve achieved a career that makes you happy, not to mention one that takes you abroad.

    It’s things like this that really make me look back on high school and how we’d all seem to fit ourselves into these labels and groups that made it hard to ever see much more of each other than our preconceived notions and biases. I never knew you liked gaming or anime. Then again, I never asked though I do wish I had. What I do remember of you was that you were talented (Like when you belted out Fergie (Pretty sure it was Fergie anyways) in class or all the stuff from BPA) and incredibly kind.

    I went back to St. Louis for a short time after moving away, and it was incredibly disheartening to see all these people from school who I remembered being talented and having resources devoted to them… still in St. Louis. On one hand, it was interesting having a second chance to meet all of these people without the imaginary social limitations from High school, allowing us to get to know each other as individuals. On the other, it was difficult to watch people who you were dead sure were going to make it somewhere, still working at Main Street Pizza and talking about that thing they wanted to do while making no forward motion to ever try and achieve that dream. In five more years, how many people are still going to be stuck in dead end jobs, talking about their dreams and never reaching for them. For whatever reason, they flopped. Hell, maybe I’ve flopped too, I haven’t yet decided.

    But that’s why this — why you — are so inspiring for me. You not only made it out of St. Louis, but all the way to Tokyo. You took a chance for the sake of your dreams and it paid off. I’m not sure I could say I’d have the courage to do the same if I were in your shoes. I really, sincerely hope that things only ever get better for you. Maybe in a few years you’ll be heading up your own game. I can run around and make people play through it just to be like, “Right there. You see that important name in the credits? I went to school with that girl!” It’s kind of odd how excited that would make me.

    I guess that’s all I have to say, so I’ll let you go. (Because this is totally a telephone and that is how these things definitely work. Can you tell I’m getting more and more tired?) But hey, if ever you find free time between your overtime and living your real life anime adventure in Japan, maybe we could chat. I could always use more people to talk about anime and video games. If not, then I’ll be watching to see how things go and quietly rooting for you all the way back in Michigan.

    -Miya

    Like

    • Catherine Little says:

      Miya, thank you so much for your heartfelt message! It means the world to me that you are so supportive of me even though all of this time has passed. I definitely remember you! Being the best of our word processing class and both winning first place at the county BPA competition… I also wish that we could have talked about anime and gaming more! High school was very rough for me because I felt like I couldn’t connect with people. But that changed after I started going to anime cons and connecting with others through cosplay! I agree that most of our former classmates have sadly ended in dead-end jobs and have settled very soon. Though I miss home a lot, and there is definitely a cultural barrier, I am so happy that I have escaped that town!! I made a promise to myself that I would go to Japan and now that I am here I plan to stay for a very long time so I can continue to help localize Onigiri! I hope that your job is something that you love and that you’re passionate about. Thanks again for taking the time to connect with me and if you ever want to talk you know where to find me! You are welcome here in Japan of course as well!!

      Like

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