Japan Game Producer
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Working in Japan

Foreword

On this page I will add general Q&A about working in Japan covering the most often asked questions.

All of these comments are ‘in general’, based on pesonal or anecdotal experiences and do not reflect the industry as a whole.

In Japan there are a huge number of game companies and they will all differ in terms of how they are run, how they are set up and the staff within.
There are also a lot of foreign run game companies or companies that employee a lot of foreigners now.

Hence these comments and observations will not hold true for all companies – especially in this ever changing industry with new hungry start ups.

I will add clickable links soon:

Q.How easy is it for foreigners to work in Japan?
Q. How do I get a job in Japan?
Q. What are the Japanese working hours?
Q. Is there a lot of overtime?
Q. What is the holiday situation?
Q. What is the salary like and standard of living?
Q. What is this Japanese ‘Bonus’ system I hear about? 

 

Q. How easy is it for foreigners to work in Japan?

There are perhaps more possibilities to work in Japan now than ever before (despite the strong Yen which is making exporting difficult and some other issues) .
Companies are coming round to the fact that business needs are international especially in social gaming (and online gaming where Asian countries in particular such as China, Taiwan & Korea are seeking to import and export contents).
With social gaming you will see a large number of foreigners working in companies including producer positions.
GREE for instance have a large number of foreigners working for them.
Language is a barrier but more companies are able to set up ways in which to overcome translation issues.
Artists, programmers etc in particular are hot commodity provided you have relevant experience or skills and language skills are not quite as necessary as interpreters/bi-lingual staff can help in those regards by setting tasks and providing explanations.
Of course you will want to improve your Japanese to be able to communicate well (with programming comments in Visual Studio etc more likely being in Japanese too) and build up a rapport with team members but Japanese language ability is not the be all and end all nowadays.
I would definitely encourage people to learn though if they want to get a job, there are still a lot of companies who ask for a certain level of Japanese on their application sites, particularly for positions where you are expected to do business. In addition your quality of life will improve if you can communicate even the basics so that you can enjoy conversing with people and the great culture here in Japan.

Q. How do I get a job in Japan?

A lot of people spend time in Japan as english teachers whilst they study Japanese and then get a job when their level of Japanese is good enough.
Others study Japanese and then go on to become translators, naturally evolving on from there.
There are also a number of people who study in university here in Japan and land a job afterwards.
As mentioned, in the social field there are a lot more opportunities.

If you are not in Japan there is still the possibility that the company will arrange for your work visa to come over, provided you meet their criteria. With the visa procedure takes roughly 2-3 months.

Q. What are the Japanese working hours?

Officially this is generally:

9 – 6:00
or 10 – 7:00

with an hour lunchbreak.

However this varies from company to company.
The company I previously worked for used to have rules wherein if you signed in at 9:00 you would have half a days pay deducted. As trains are usually on time in Japan there are few excuses with regards to public transport (unlike UK where they are always late!). However it is a bit unfair that people work 10 hours+ for example (XX amount of time overtime) and then get penalized if they sign in a minute late.

Now though the rules have been relaxed and there was a bit more of a flexi time going on where you can work different hours as long as the team lead has authorized it (this does not have to be written authorization). This also means people can go see the doctor/dentist in the morning or do an important errand the first thing in the morning and not have to take a half day (some doctors/dentists and official places only have normal office working hours and days).

Q. Is there a lot of overtime?

A lot of companies do not pay for overtime and in games, and other entertainment fields, there can be a lot of overtime (this situation is the same worldwide however Japan does have a reputation for a lot of overtime).

I know someone who works for a social game company and his boss works from 10-7 but his supervisor works from 10-25:00 everyday and unfortunately for him the supervisor gives him work late so he ends up staying every night till 23:30 (if he did not have to catch his last train it would probably be later).

At a lot of companes if you work on weekends you get that time back provided you do a minimum of a half day- so if you work 0.5 or 1 man days you get that back, anything less or more is not given back, so you cannot work 10 hours and expect to get 1.+ man days back.

A lot of people do weekend work to build up their holiday (see the Japanese holiday section) even though they did not actually have to be in work on the weekend, or purposefully work slowly during the week so they can do some weekend work. This can of course cause problems with scheduling and you find people using their now accrued holidays during the middle of the week for mornings off.

At my previous company they implemented a new system to encourage managers to curb overtime.
Firstly all overtime past 23:00 and on weekends must be authorised.
Working past 23:00 gives you overtime pay for each hour worked until morning.

Not exclusive to games of course is the quite old fashioned way of waiting for your boss to leave before you do. A friends boss sleeps at work during the day and does work at night meaning she has to stay late and another friend who always went home on time was told to stay later to be part of the team. She asked why, because she always does all her work, and was told it was to be part of the team and that she do something, even if its reading a book or learning something valuable.

The overtime culture in some companies can really burn out staff and any sort of initial enthuisasm that new graduates have can often be stripped, which is a shame because their fresh minds and enthuisasm can be key assets especially when steered and tempered by wise experienced veterans.

Of course not all companies are like this and you don’t HAVE to stay late, wherein on some projects you WANT to stay late because you are having so much fun.

It is important for managers to try and send staff home at a reasonable time, particularly when not in crunch periods, and have a balanced work and life balance especially for those in the creative industry. If staff spend all their time at the office they wont be able to muster up creativity as they will be confined in a small world.

In the west some companies work on a no overtime policy – someone I worked with a decade ago set up a studio founded on that principle

“When Andy and David set up Relentless it was with a background of 30 years of development where crunches, late nights and eating pizza at your desk were commonplace but neither felt that it was necessary to make great games. In fact, they thought that some of the problems of game development stemmed from these bad working practices.
Relentless was set up in 2003 and a pact was made with the staff: if you give us a solid day’s work, we’ll give you a 35 hour week. What started as something of an experiment ended up being fundamental to our success, both as a company that creates great games and as a company that is a great place to work. Since then we’ve mastered over 100 SKUs and have never crunched, never worked late and never worked a weekend. This doesn’t make us lazy, we’ve just found that quality software and great ideas aren’t born through lost weekends and late night pizzas at our desk. The working hours are one policy which has worked out well for us. We have many others.
Our working practices are completely intrinsic, but we’re going to stop shouting about it. We’ve been the poster-child of anti-crunch for a while now and there are better things about Relentless than the fact that we work in a way that’s completely normal outside of videogame development. We told you about the BAFTA and the 10 million sales, right?

I also worked with a company that implemented pair programming (wherein 1 programmer is programming and another programmer is watching them program, correcting their mistakes if they notice anything). They work solidly from 9-5 and have a 30 minute lunch break and two 15 minute breaks either side of lunch.

I believe you don’t need to be THAT strict with regards to anti-crunching (because creativity and inspiration can come at anytime) and do not mind working overtime (and have done my own fair share of overnighters) but there needs to be a balance. If there is a need to do overtime (or if you want to improve the product quality on your own volition or train up new skills) then yes lets do it if we are able but if there is no need then managers should encourage their staff to enjoy other things in life so they can come back with new ideas and are refreshed.

This is not exclusive to Japanese companies – there are a lot of horror stories in worldwide companies such as Team Bondi staff pressured into working 60-hour weeks without getting rewards for doing so.

Again as mentioned above, this is also not just exclusive to game companies neither with a friend of mine working as a camera assistant in the Japanese film and drama industry and they work some insane hours such as regular 19 hour days or more!

Q. What is the holiday situation?

From personal experience I started with 10 days holiday (for the first year)
Each year 2 more holidays are to be given up to a certain limit and if you are a permanent worker you can carry them over to the next year (up to a certain limit).
If you are sick you must either use your paid holidays or ask for it to be unpaid.
Japan does have a lot of National Holidays (15) but at these times its very expensive to travel as millions of other people are also travelling.
Some companies have a  summer and winter holiday too.

Again the above is specific to my previous company.
I have friends who work for foreign companies in Japan and they get all the benefits of the foreign companies native country such as 20+ paid days holidays.

It is often difficult to get holidays because of project needs but this is standard procedure in  a lot of companies, particularly games and entertainment fields.

In the UK there is also a lot of public holidays (15) and people generally have 20+ days paid holiday plus 30 days paid sick days. I remember working with someone who would use exactly (no less and no more) the full allotment of sick days per year (usually on sunny days).

Q. What is the salary like and standard of living?

OK just a foreword on salary – in Japan the company generally pays for transportation costs whereas in most other countries that comes out of your salary. In that respect the monthly take home amount will be higher than the wages listed below. I also lumped in ‘standard of living’ (such as medical costs) below as it is important to factor that into consideration when talking about salary.

Another thing to note is that this article primarily talks about presumably console sectors whereas the new social companies will be a different story.
Some companies like GREE will pay a much higher wage to attract the best and the most motivated whilst smaller start ups will pay much less.
Lastly, the article below talks about annual salary but does not take into account monthly wage when the Japanese ‘Bonus’ is taken out of the equation. Potentially though your contract shows a nice annual salary your actual salary for that year might be MUCH LESS!.
I will explain more after the article.

Originally posted here :

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/27758/Report_Japanese_Developer_Salaries_Average_57590.php

“Japanese video game developers earn an average salary of ¥5,184,995 (US$57,590) across all disciplines, according to a new Digital Content Association of Japan report collecting various employment-related data.

The study, which was published on Hachimaki and translated by Andriasang, also found the average age of Japanese developers to be 33.79 years and the average time in the game industry to be 6.59 years.

That average salary is about 27 percent lower than the average American game developer salary of $79,000, according to last year’s Game Developer Salary Survey conducted by Gamasutra sister organization Game Developer Research.

The Digital Content Association found producers to earn the biggest paychecks, averaging ¥6,925,000 (US$76,915). By contrast, programmers were the highest paid group among U.S. developers (not counting business personnel, who were not included in the DCA’s data), with an average salary of $85,024.

Unsurprisingly, testers were the lowest-paid workers in both regions, earning ¥2,583,333 (US$28,693) in Japan and $39,571 in the United States.

Other Japanese salaries by discipline, in descending order, include ¥5,636,279 (US$62,602) for directors, ¥5,590,625 (US$62,095) for audio staff, ¥5,225,000 (US$58,034) for network engineers, ¥4,641,390 (US$51,552) for programmers, ¥4,238,588 ($47,078) for artists, and ¥4,096,340 (US$45,498) for planners (designers)”

Now for standard of living 

  • The tax rate in Japan is quite good (see below)
  • Heavily subsidized medical expenses through mandatory insurance taken out of salary  - I know in UK we have free NHS , but we all know for the most part it is terrible with long waiting lists and doctors who will try to ignore referring patients for further checks (to avoid NHS costs). Here you will get seen by a doctor pretty quickly and they do not mind sending you for checks if you request them or if they feel it is needed.
  • Remember transportation (office commute) is paid for by the company.
  • Food is extremely cheap and the quality is amazing – it is rare to find bad food.
  • If you like to drink there are plenty of options to keep the bill down such as a ‘Nomihodai’ which is an ‘All you can drink’ plan, for example you can pay  ¥1500 for 120 minutes of all you can drink beer, select cocktails, spirits etc (varies by venue). There are even some select clubs that have ‘All you can drink’ included in the entry fee, such as  ¥2500 till the club closes in the morning! (not sure how they make any money off that).
  • Low rate of crime and people are very honest so if you lose your wallet, bag, camera etc… there is a good chance you will get it back! It is highly unlikely that you will get robbed or mugged (though there is always a chance …people are people unfortunately). When we climbed up Mt Fuji a friend of mine lost her wallet on the mountain with thousands of people there – she got it back the next day!

UK Tax Rate

Basic rate: 20% £0-£37,400
Higher rate: 40% £37,401-£150,000
Additional rate: 50% Over £150,000

US Tax Rate

10% $0 — $12,400
15% $12,401 — $47,350
25% $47,351 — $122,300
28% $122,301 — $198,050
33%$178,651 — $388,350

Japan Tax Rate

Taxable Income Tax Rate
less than 1.95 million yen 5% of taxable income
1.95 to 3.3 million yen 10% of taxable income exceeding 1.95 million yen plus 97,500 yen
3.3 to 6.95 million yen 20% of taxable income exceeding 3.3 million yen plus 232,500 yen
6.95 to 9 million yen 23% of taxable income exceeding 6.95 million yen plus 962,500 yen
9 to 18 million yen 33% of taxable income exceeding 9 million yen plus 1,434,000 yen
more than 18 million yen 40% of taxable income exceeding 18 million yen plus 4,404,000 yen

Q. What is this Japanese ‘Bonus’ system I hear about? 

OK the ‘Bonus’ system!

GENERALLY this is how it works!

From your annual salary the company holds back roughly 3 months worth of wages for 2 annual bonuses ( Summer and Winter) which may or not get paid back to you.

If everything goes well with your company such as business is booming in all areas then you will get 1.5 months wages twice a year in a nice lump sum which is great! However, if your business is not doing so well, through no fault of your own of course such as bad managerial decisions or a separate division not doing so well then that money will be severely reduced OR you might not get ANYTHING.

Some companies have proper ‘bonuses’ and other incentives such as stock options and profit kick backs but the above is the general bonus system. I heard that sometimes you can opt out of it but it’s not so common.