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Games Businessmen Play: Tokyo 2001

First published in Develop, issue 6 (May 2001). This article was edited for content (and possible libel!) and the text presented here represents the original copy.

It may have been a disappointing Tokyo Game Show, but the men & women on the Digital Content Trade Mission to Japan kept themselves entertained...

Game 1: Dodge the Bill

The rules are simple. Sit yourself in the hotel bar and order a beer. Sooner or later, someone you know will turn up and they'll order a beer too. Keep drinking and more people will join the group - continue until there's at least one millionaire at the table, and let them pick up the tab.

The game is more subtle than it first appears, however, since there's always the possibility that a millionaire won't turn up - or worse, that they turn up but then slip away, leaving you with a table full of heavy drinkers and no walking cash-point. Of course, you can always leave shortly after the millionaire does, but that looks suspicious.

The game ends up much like no limit poker, whereby you can only afford to let the tab build up to the point where you can still just about squeeze it onto your overworked expenses without a lot of clever bluffing.

Although he will probably not thank me for the accolade, Crawfish's Cameron Sheppard was widely considered to be the master of this game, but there were no shortage of contenders for his throne.

Game 2: Yenhunter

Played by almost everyone, it seemed, the game of Yenhunter places you in the role of a businessman who has run out of cash, desperately trying to find a cash machine that will accept your card. This is no easy game to win at, but a good tip is to look for a green shamrock-like icon - that usually means the machine will take Visa. Post offices are a good bet, but be warned that they tend to be closed at the weekend.

Virtucraft's Brian Beukan racked up the most mileage in his quest for frequent petty cash top-ups, sandwiched between meetings with Capcom and the inevitable outings to Rappongi; ground zero for the Tokyo night life.

Game 3: Rappongi Monopoly

Roll a die. Whatever number comes up, move to Motown - or any other nightclub with standing room only. Drink prodigious amounts of beer then return to the hotel lobby with three women from random countries who you just can't get rid of for some reason. Get as little sleep as you can, schedule your hangover between your two meetings, then collect 50,000 yen when you pass Go and do it all over again.

As with conventional Monopoly, the game goes on so long that it's more of a test of endurance than a game of skill, but the boys from Empire certainly seemed contenders for the prize, having spent something approaching the GDP of a small African nation on drinks.

The most likely winner was Jon Oldham, the Pickford Brothers' pocket thug and the nicest guy ever to be blessed with forearms that could crush Peter Molyneux's head like a quail's egg. John's dedication to Rappongi Monopoly was such that it seemed by the end of his stay that he'd done every conceivable thing one can do in downtown Tokyo at night, except sleep.

Game 4: Embassy World Cup

Although in most respects the trade mission was extremely well organised, there were times when it seemed we were involved in a sporting challenge of Embassy United versus Business International. The clash usually came down to the lack of understanding the Embassy staff has of the games industry, or the usual breakdown in communication that goes with any major event.

George Bray of Guildhall Leisure scored a stunning goal for the business side after a frank exchange with Trade Partners rep Kevin Coleman, and was rewarded with a whole team of staff at the Embassy working to resolve a set of problems that could easily have been avoided from the outset if there had been a little more specialist knowledge available to the Embassy.

Game 5: Sim Foreign Businessman

Two ways to play this one: you could either do your level best to respect Japanese customs, use a little of their language where appropriate and commit yourself to a lengthy process of building trust, or you can take the Teleca/Bio-Virtual approach. Turn up with a strong, visual product (one that you can understand irrespective of language), go yachting with the President of Sony and announce a distribution deal in front of a captive audience of Japanese businessmen at the British Embassy. Hats off to Paul and David for the PR coup of the trade mission.

Game 6: Buzzword Exporter

Several companies were trying their hands at Buzzword Exporter, which is a tricky game since you can never be entirely certain if your preferred buzzword has the right impact when translated into another language.

Clem Chambers (one of the aforementioned millionaires regularly mixing it up in the Dodge the Bill tournament) was selling the concept of Visual Datamining to the Japanese. It's a great product for the right client, although Clem and I disagreed as to whether it actually constituted a datamining application (as well as debating the origin of the universe, ecological dynamics, the nature of religion and just about every other topic we could squeeze into a quiet night's sake drinking together).

Another buzzword in the game was 'content convergence', being touted by Jonas Eneroth and Gil Payne of Wired Realms. Although their buzzword raised some laughs amongst the ex-Bedroom Programmer nobility on the mission, you only have to rough out their business plan on a napkin to see they could be making some serious money in no time at all provided they get even modest market penetration.

Game 7: Card Harvest (Japanese Edition)

And finally, the classic game of exchanging business cards is given a new lease of life in Japan where the rules are slightly different. Of course, as with Sim Foreign Businessman, you can play by the old rules and rely on the 'fools license' granted to foreigners, but unless its abundantly apparent what you have to offer your potential Japanese business partner, it's worth making a few changes to your behaviour.

You'll score good points for passing your cards using both hands, taking the time to look intently interested in the text printed on the card given to you and then placing you contact's card somewhere safe, preferably in a card holder. Just be careful not to put it in your back pocket - you might just as well use it as toilet paper as far as many Japanese are concerned.

And remember, it's not the number of cards you harvest, it's the opportunities each of those cards represents that allows you to keep score in this game.

Chris Bateman is Managing Director of International Hobo Ltd, the world's largest games consultancy. He speaks better Japanese than he realises, but still managed to order "two coffee-people" in the hotel bar.


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