Declining Influence? - Japanese Game Developers Nearly Absent From E3 Awards Lists

'Wii Music' - One of many Japanese games to not even get nominated for a Game Critics E3 awardJapanese game developers, arguably the most influential video game creation community in history, are on the verge of nearly being shut out at this year's E3 Games Critics Awards.

The list of 71 nominations for this year's awards lists only 12 nods to the work of Japanese creators, few of which are likely to take top honors when the winners are announced in the coming days.

The 12 nominees includes multiple nominations for "Resident Evil 5" and a heavy Japanese presence in two categories: three of four nominated best fighting games ("Soul Calibur IV" and two versions of "Street Fighter") as well as two of three nominated best new pieces of hardware (Wii MotionPlus and the "Lips" microphone).

Japanese winners have been on the decline for several years. In 2005, Japanese creators took home six Game Critics Awards. In 2006 that number dropped to four. Last year they claimed just two.

With final judges ballots now in for tabulation from the three dozen reporters selected for judging  -- including mine -- Japanese developers may walk away with the fewest wins across the contest's 15 categories in the Awards' 11-year history. And no Japanese developer or company can hope to win the biggest award, Best of Show, because no work from Japanese creators made the cut to be nominated in the final five. (Contenders are "Fallout 3," "Gears of War 2," "Little Big Planet," "Mirror's Edge," and "Spore" - three games from the U.S., one from England and one from Sweden). Japanese creators had taken the Best of Show three times in years past, all for hardware: GameCube, PSP and Wii.

There are many possible reasons for the lack of Game Critics' commendation for Japanese-created work. Could it be Nintendo's failure to connect with the E3 media? Was Sony holding back Japanese-created content for Tokyo Game Show? Or is there a real decline of Japanese development, something that "Ninja Gaiden" creator Tomonobu Itagaki mentioned off-hand to me as a problem during an interview we had at Game Developer's Conference? He is not the only Japan-based game creator to have expressed that anxiety to me.

E3 and the Game Critics Awards have never been dominated by Japanese games, but looking over the list of nominees and guessing at the expected winners, I find it hard to reach any other conclusion than that Japanese game creators had less impact on this E3 than any in recent memory. If this is a sign of a geographic shift of the gaming industry, I imagine it is one that could make our lives as gamers a bit less rich, a bit less creatively interesting, even for those of us who find a way to import "Rhythm Tengoku Gold" for our subway rides home.