Controversy Behind The Untold History Of Japanese Game Developers – Part 3

[Continued from Part 2]

In an attempt to suppress negative press, Agness reached out to previous employers and game websites where John worked, in hopes of keeping them from publishing anything against her. According to The Ralph Retort, tweets from Agness point to Hardcore Gaming 101 as an outlet that enabled a “bully on the staff” to reap consequences that could have been stopped had they “acted”.

I did reach out to various outlets that were supposedly contacted by Agness and I did receive confirmation that they were indeed contacted by Agness to remain “neutral” in the situation.

Additionally, I was informed off-the-record that John Sczcepaniak was a good employee and very professional. I was told that it was sad to see John getting dragged through this situation.

On the flip-side, John also reached out to various media outlets, albeit for a different reason: he wanted media coverage for his Kickstarted book and its release. He sent letters to various gaming sites about review coverage for the book, including contacting Destructoid, Polygon, NEO Magazine, Kotaku and even Siliconera.

Interestingly enough, Japanese-centric Siliconera responded to John, with writer Spencer Yip writing…

“Thanks for offering us review copies. We don’t usually do reviews on Siliconera, but I would be happy to post about the book when it’s ready. Maybe we can post up a sample chapter or something like that. Have fun in Japan! I think you’re going to do a kick ass job with this.”

To date, Siliconera has not posted about the book. Forbes has done a review, Eurogamer, various WordPress blogs and even Nintendo Life have posted articles about the book. Later on it was mentioned that NEO Magazine did include coverage of the book.

N4G also claimed they would work on a review for the book, with administrator “Cat” Caithlin Sentz responding to John back on September 3rd, 2014, saying…

“Hey, John! Thanks for contacting us – we’d love to post a review of your book on N4G. I’ve copied the writer, Lou, here so you guys can communicate directly”

However, a month later, on October 1st, 2014, John received a brief letter from the reviewer, Louis A. Adducci, writing…

“I apologize for the delay on the review. Personal life has gotten in the way of my ability to focus on your 1st volume. I hope to return to this review soon.”

Most interesting is Kotaku’s response. Associate editor Luke Plunkett explains in his e-mail to John exactly why Kotaku passed on writing about The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers, saying…

“I found your book interesting, but it was also pretty niche/hardcore, and we didn’t think it was something we’d recommend to a wider audience. Sorry :(“

Funnily enough, Kotaku published a 2014 Gift Guide for books, featuring niche topics and books like Cosplay World, a book that Plunkett helped contribute to, D&D 5th Edition and even a book called Mechs & The City. Yet somehow, The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers was too “niche” for a video game website covering books about… video game culture?

I reached out to Luke Plunkett and Kotaku’s editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo multiple times to ask about this, but at the time of the publishing of this article, neither have responded.

Edge Magazine also opted not to feature the book in the monthly issue, with one writer stating…

“I don’t think the issue is out yet — but I should probably let you know that unfortunately The Untold History didn’t make it in in the end. Sorry about that — it’s nothing personal as there were so many books that didn’t make the final list due to space. (My original list had well over 100 books, and we ended up with room for around 60… it was heartbreaking having to reduce the list).”

I also reached out to Ashley Day, a former editor at GamesTM who was working as a game journalist at the time of being contacted by John. Day is currently employed as a digital content manager for the U.K., division of Nintendo. When asked about being contacted by John for coverage of The Untold History Of Japanese Game Developers when Day was working at GamesTM, this was the response

According to John, he e-mailed and contacted more than a dozen websites and sent a few of them physical copies of the book, but only a few responded and even fewer went through with any sort of coverage. This is all despite the fact that John is a notable name in some circles of the video game media ring. According to him…

“It’s worth noting that for higher profile websites, such as NintendoLife, I freelanced for the same magazine as the reviewer (Retro Gamer). It seems only people who already knew of me, or had the same editors as me, and therefore knew Agness was lying about me, actually gave my work any attention.”

“Foreign or non-English-language websites also gave coverage, though they contacted me requesting review copies. I did not approach foreign publications.”

Despite the attacks and the media blackout, the book is still up and available on Amazon, and readers really seem to enjoy it, with majority of the reviews being “5 Stars”. A certain Jesse D. Watson wrote in one of the user reviews…

“It is amazing to me that this book exists. Yes, we have the Kickstarter backers to thank (I was one of them), but we really owe the author for his extreme hard work on the project. He seemed to stop at nothing and went the extra 100 miles or more.

“The book itself has simply never been done before, not in English and perhaps not even in Japanese. It attempts to chronicle years upon years of the history of Japanese game design through interviews, and it largely succeeds.”

Meanwhile John is already hard at work on the second and third volume of the book, mentioning…

“I am currently transcribing Volume 2, arranging fantastic artwork for the covers, trying to source the perfect foreword contributors, and I have fluent Japanese speakers going through each minute of audio correcting mistakes. My interviewees revealed some amazing, undocumented secrets about gaming history, and I owe it to them and their families to convey their stories.”

Someone who worked closely with John and appreciates the work that Agness has done in the past, decided to offer his take on the situation, saying…

“I respect Agness’s work on MGS2 and Katamari and her willingness to speak out against Hideo Kojima’s writing. (The interview, which John conducted, was on HG101, but is available on Internet Archive.)

“I am friends with John and I support his work documenting game history in Japan. He has never come across to me as unprofessional in any of our communications, both e-mail and face-to-face. He did not bring up the lawsuit or the translation work anywhere in the keynote he gave in Montreal this past June.

“It is unfortunate that such an otherwise great project that I continue to back and support has run into so much trouble. I hope the remaining volumes will be published swiftly.”

The keynote speech referenced in the quote refers to the International History of Games Summit that took place back in June, 2014. John, as stated in the quote, is listed as a keynote speaker on the Game History Annual Symposium.

There were some anonymous individuals who came out to defame John’s previous work, but they were unwilling to go on record or have anyone corroborate their claims.

According to John, he’s already set his sights on finishing The Untold Story of Japanese Game Developers: Volume 2 and Volume 3, and that nothing will stand in his way, stating…

“I never capitulate when challenged. I did the right thing and I spoke the truth, despite the actions of my detractors, who lied in an effort to smear my name. I have never tolerated poor business behaviour or others screwing around with money. Whatever happens, as long as I am alive Volumes 2 and 3 will be finished.”

You can learn more about The Untold Story of Japanese Developers by visiting the official Kickstarter page or by paying a visit to the Amazon page.

(Full disclosure: I was given a free e-book copy of the book for the purpose of researching information for this article.)


OAG staff consists of writers creating content about video game and digital culture.

9 thoughts on “Controversy Behind The Untold History Of Japanese Game Developers – Part 3

  1. Couple things, Kotaku saying this was too niche of a thing, yet they have Brian Ashcraft on staff and he pretty much deals with nothing but Japanese related culture.

    Or you have articles like this:

    And then I can’t seem to find it so maybe I’m misremembering something, but I swear I remembering seeing something from Kotaku, or perhaps Polygon, recently (at least since gamergate started) where they reviewed a book or wrote an article about Japanese gaming history.

  2. Also with Agness Kaku she lost her job because of the hit job on /m/ on 4chan did back in 2012 where they translate what she said about Kojima and posted it on 2ch and had Jin115 tell Konami or Kojima can’t remember.

    1. I thought that was a very interesting sub-plot to this as well. Although, it was a bit far outside the relation to the book itself to explore further in the article.

      That would require a whole other piece to go over how that unfolded.

      From the e-mails, I believe it was Jin115 that helped with that.

  3. Kotaku translation: “You’re not my roommate so Kotaku readers are not going to be interested about your stuff”.

    It was kinda sad to see HCG101 been dragged into a mess like this. Its a good site with lot of great contributions and contributors.

  4. Thanks for your hard work researching and reporting on this debacle.
    I’ve been following some of it and everything you’ve said matches or elaborates upon what I’ve learned thus far.

    Interesting (and yet unsurprising) to see how sites like KOTAKU have reacted to this.

  5. I don’t know if John Sczcepaniak’s approach to doing these interviews was the best way. He spent thousands and thousands of dollars on interpreters so that he could personally interview the developers. He then expected to use those on-the-go translations directly in the book (and later complained about having to re-translate some of the poorer ones). Additionally, he was an unmistakeable outsider with an extra layer of an interpreter, so I don’t know how much the interviewees would really open up to him. I’ve read parts of his book and at times he really seems to ask uninformed or ill-prepared questions.

    I really think he should have used a Japanese collaborator for this. Possibly a game journalist or enthusiast who knows the lingo. Sczcepaniak could prepare questions or topics and let his collaborator conduct the interview entirely in Japanese. Then, at a later date, it could be transcribed and translated for a tiny fraction of the cost of using professional interpreters. I think this would have resulted in better interviews at a much lower production cost, but of course this probably didn’t appeal to Sczcepaniak because he wanted to personally do the interviews for whatever reason.

    1. this probably didn’t appeal to Sczcepaniak because he wanted to personally do the interviews for whatever reason.

      It’s no different than James Cameron going down in the tiny little sub to see the deepest part of the ocean. Of course an oceanographer and marine biologist would be able to better determine what they’re seeing down their and make better scientific notes, but the whole point of the journey was just as much a personal experience as it was a shared experience.

      It’s extrapolating that personal appeal of an event or a journey with the public at large. I mean, an even more efficient way of doing the interviews is just e-mailing a PR rep from the companies and having the people give written answers… but the whole point was to capture the nuance of the interview, and the personal experience from the developer to get the untold story behind some of the developers’ experiences. You don’t really get the same effect by not being there.

      …And sometimes, the journey itself is a story.

    2. His approach definitely wasn’t optimal and I’m sure this was explained to him (repeatedly!) but, like you said, he wanted to do the interviews himself. His own lack of skill and social ineptitude didn’t help, certainly, but even competent interviewers struggle with setups like the one he insisted upon using. You can put it down to ego, I suppose.

      A lot of excuses have been made for why he declined to provide interview questions in advance, including the one presented here (which the author allowed him to present as a hypothetical, despite the evidence supporting the accusations.) They range from “he thought providing questions in advance would lead to canned responses” to “he didn’t understand why it was useful or why he should adhere to custom” to “he couldn’t be bothered to take the time to write them down”. Regardless of what you believe, the assertion that failing to provide questions in advance somehow made the interpreters’ jobs easier is complete nonsense.

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