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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!