With his long hair and rock-musician threads, Kenji Eno stands out in a sea of Japanese salarymen. His successful electronic-game design company, WARP Inc., is also a standout in Japan's lackluster economy. That has made the 28-year-old high school dropout a star among game freaks.
Eno's creativity stands out in a crowded business. His heart-pounding science-fiction games sell half a million copies at $50 a CD-ROM each time a new version hits the streets. They have such a loyal following that all the major game-console makers are courting him. Eno's next creation, a movie-like game, will be for Sega's next-generation machine.
Eno's youth prepared him for life outside Japan's Establishment. As an only child from a broken home, he dreamed of being a musician. At age 10, he asked for a synthesizer but instead was presented with a computer. Soon afterward, he was designing computer games, winning his first contest at age 13. But when he entered high school, Eno forgot games and concentrated on surviving the endless battery of tests to prepare students for numbing university entrance exams that are the entry point to jobs in corporate Japan. "It was so boring," he recalls, "because it was all memorization and nothing useful or creative." By his second year, Eno had dropped out. But, at age 18, when he tried to look for work, he found the pickings slim for a dropout. Recalling his childhood game design skills, he was able to land a programming job. Four years ago, Eno launched WARP with backing from a Tokyo publisher.
Today, Eno enjoys the rock-star status he longed for as a child. And his success shows, perhaps, that in the new Asia, rebellious creativity may be a winning business model.