Cooke says there was one big reason why he decided to strike out on his own: "Control. I wanted to be in control of what I worked on, who I worked with, and when I did said work." Leaving the studio system was a way to stay in Japan without crushing his creative spirit and passion for games by floundering within the Japanese game studios.
Unlike Cooke and Kay, JAB spent no time in the traditional Japanese studio system. He has worked independently in various countries for the past twelve years. "One of the nice things about being freelance is that I wake up when I wake up, and that's a luxury I'd hate to lose," he says.
Japanese Work Ethic
Game development is usually not an early morning activity but for these independent developers, just getting the same chemical kick in the rear that everyone else does can be a challenge. "Once up, I hit the coffee machine that I paid too much money to ship over here," JAB says. In addition, due to the time differences, most of their business has to be taken care of before it's possible to start work on the games themselves. Cooke says that his mornings were dominated by Skype calls with overseas clients, "I worked with clients in both Japan and in the U.S. My mornings were afternoons in the U.S."
Sometimes simple things like checking the mail become large, complicated tasks. "I have to go to the post box in Shibuya [one of Tokyo's 23 wards] and check for mail," says Kay, which means a trip on Tokyo's crowded subways. Then he must deal with the special bureaucracy that only the Japanese government has to offer. "I have to speak to the accountant or meet the lawyer, which is always a bit of a trip down the rabbit hole in Japan with its many rules and laws, some enforceable, some not." For example, Japan's labor laws require that Kay register for National Health Insurance through his LLC. Without a support staff, running such important errands himself is definitely a distraction from game-making. "Little things just annoy me. ... I'm an artist. It's what I do. Sometimes you just want to do that."
Even without small business tasks, the huge number of hours spent working on games is still more than those of most game industry workers in Japan or America. "For every game, I create all the programming, graphics and sounds, so there is always a lot to do," explains JAB. But that's JAB's "cross" to bear; it's clear that he loves his work. "It's hard to pin down when the work actually starts or stops, as it's all great fun," he says.
The same is true of Kay. "Sometimes, you're on a roll," he says. "You're working until 11 o'clock [at night]." Working alone or in small teams allows a lot of work to be done in a very small amount of time. Cooke sees the amount of work that he takes on as an honor instead of a burden. In order to demonstrate this point, he challenged himself with a seemingly impossible task: to complete ten games in ten hours. He turned the project into a presentation for a monthly gathering of Tokyo artists and musicians called Pecha-Kucha night.