Capcom’ next year’s plans is to continue on the same path

Capcom’s yearly integrated report was out at the end of the quarterly year, so nab yourself a .pdf copy if you’d rather read it yourself. Otherwise, let’s see what this year’s report says and how the year has come to pass. Grab some snacks and a drink, this’ll be a doozy.

Right off the bat, the report states two thing; Monster Hunter World has been Capcom’s most successful game to date, though the state the number of shipped units rather than sold units. Shipped units just sounds better, as it always is a larger number. The claim for the game’s success is twofold; Globalisation and Digitalisation. The aim for Iceborne, the Ultimate or G expansion to the game, to push further sales. It should be noted that the two games are treated as two separate entities, as this sort of updated version of the base game has been the standard for Monster Hunter since the first game.

MHW made the series a global success. Despite 4U selling well on the 3DS, the truly wall-breaking moment was MHW. The game’s overseas sales ratio increased to 60% of total sales compared to previous 25%. Bulk of Iceborne’s sales are expected to be digital, and whatever data they gather from that will determine Capcom’s future plans. Considering how well the game has been doing on Steam alone, it’s probable that Capcom will push more of their games on digital frontier and cut down production of physical goods. This has been a trend for a while now, but this most likely will only matter for the Overseas markets, as Japanese markets still prefer physical goods over digital. If MHW was offered as a physical product for PCs without any ties to Steam, it’d sell just as well there.

The report starts properly after this, listing Capcom’s Capcom’s method of business and ideology. Capcom shows itself as Creator of entertainment culture that stimulate your senses. Bits like this should remind you that company indeed is Japanese. Their net sales for the end of the year, that is March 31st, was 82.9 billion yen. This is their main bread and butter, counting home video games, PC online, mobile titles and DLC. Their multimedia net sales, that is all the merch in books, toys etc, movies, their arcade games and Capcom’s own arcade centres, events and eSports, netted then 17.0 billion.

Here’s the kicker though; Capcom lists four of their major franchises next, the ones you should consider to be the essence of Capcom at this moment; Street Fighter, Resident Evil, Monster Hunter and Mega Man’s sales are listed, tho after the report Mega Man reached another million units sold. The sales numbers in respective order is, 42 million, 91 million, 54 million and 35 million, now 36. Fiscal year 2019’s biggest hits were, unsurprisingly, Devil May Cry 5 at 2.1 million units sold, REmake2 at 4.2 million and MHW at 4.5 .MHW is noted to be a catalog title, meaning it is a game that was published earlier and not during the fiscal year, showcasing that a game can continue to sell for a long damn time as long as it is available.

The core idea of Capcom’s Single Content, Multiple Usage is effectively effective franchising. It all starts with digital content and with a popular video game. The core of this digital content can be expanded to PC online gaming, via multiplayer modes or similar as well as create spinoff titles or additional tools, wallpapers or whatever other applications for mobile devices. The base concept of something like Resident Evil can be put into use in arcades by using the same world and characters in different pachislot games or similar arcade games. Other business section is major, as that mostly includes third and second parties using that core game to expand the amount of uses. Books, comics, character toys, events, tournaments, eSports, television shows and movies are all part of this extremely expansive Other Business section Capcom is not directly involved with in most cases. All this leads into creation of a new game, that will be used multiple times over. The importance is in having strong IPs that can be used multiple times, that the titles have global popularity to ensure that these franchised elements will sell (though if we’re completely honest, most of the franchised stuff Capcom puts out stays in Japan) and then you have the movies. It is probable that Capcom has the most games made movies out of. We can question their quality in many ways, but they still make money. Every time Street Fighter the Movie is shown on telly, Capcom gets about a million yen.

This method of using single content is nothing special in of itself, yet the whole movie business makes it a bit special. Konami, for example, has a very similar multimedia approach to their business, though they are rather separate in most cases. Konami can have a successful toy franchise going on, but no real game or other media of it. Capcom recognises their main point is the games, and they aim to make a mass-appealing game they can franchise further. This ideology probably permeates the game design at its core level, where designers at Capcom have to ask themselves How can this be used multiple times down the line? This also explains why certain IPs, despite being strong previously, have not appeared in any modern form outside ports, as they can’t be used multiple times nearly as easily.

This method of franchising is dependent on the core quality of the game, however. Capcom’s quality in games was all over the map during 00’s and early 10’s, but after some financial problems they’ve managed to level out with increasing sales. Their Operating Incopme is up 13.1% from last year, Margin is 1.1 point up, a slow but steady rise from 2016. Their net sales are 5.8% up, continuing the trend from 2015, where their sales dipped. It should be possible for Capcom to reach their 2014 level of sales during this next fiscal year. After the slump of net income from 2013, Capcom has been doing much better with 14.8% rise from last year, about triple the amount since 2014. Research and Development costs have gone down a bit, mostly thanks to establishing their new engines and streamlining development, but it is expected to rise next year. The balance of work in progress for games went down major 34%. This was gained by closing down overseas studios and release of games that requires lots of works, i.e. REmake2 and DMC5. This is interesting though; Capcom split its stocks 1:2 last fiscal year, meaning the payout was decreased, but dividends increased. They’ve been managing to pay out dividends 29 times in a row. More people may have access to stocks, but payout per stock is smaller. Might’ve been a good chance to jump into the bandwagon at that point. Return of Equity, a.k.a. the  measure of how effectively management is using a company’s assets to create profits, is up one point. Should be noted that it barely beat 2009, meaning ever since 2010 Capcom was in a rut and had to fight hard to get back up.

With WHO recognising gaming disorder, something I’ve covered few times already (it has no basis), Capcom has Sustainable Development Goals, effectively meaning Capcom wants to showcase themselves as a company that balances their own economic growth with the sustainability of the society. In short, Capcom is supposedly trying to showcase themselves as a company that would not take advantage of people with gaming disorder. EGS, Environmental, Social and Governance form EGS material issues that come in four sections; Securing and Training human resources, Promoting diversity, Development of Solid Relationship with Society, and Enhancement of Corporate Governance. This needs a bit breaking down, as EGD and the four spots mingle slightly. All this is according to UN’s goals, which Capcom wants to go by. Furthermore, Capcom is to continue their 2011 program of supporting educational themes whenever a classroom requests such, meaning that Capcom has a program that would educate students about video games and career opportunities. However, this is largely Japan-only, though with Capcom wanting to globalise themselves further, they might want to tackle most major schools around the world in some manner, and maybe even send e-mails to smaller schools around the globe, offering some assistance in game studies.

Capcom is tackling Environmental issues with the usual fashion, like changing old light bulbs to LEDs to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and reducing paper resources by digitalisation. This has reduced costs, but also means that Capcom can showcase their push for further digital sales as part of ESG. Energy conservation will be their future goal.

For Social, Capcom is aiming to hire more non-Japanese employees and increase the number of women in management position, but an approach like this won’t serve well in of itself. All these people need to be competent in their work, as companies that will hire or kick up people into the higher up’s board for the sake of diversity does no good for the company itself. Whether or not this goal will be healthy on the long run will be seen. Forced diversity is not a solution, but that is the wind of the era. Capcom has been increasing the amount of women workers in their ranks, though in reality it shouldn’t matter what junk the employee has between their legs, just the quality of their work. It should be noted though that Capcom’s Relationship with Customers has a spot mentioning how they’ve monetised DLC without high-pressure microtransactions, something that a company like EA can’t say with all the lootboxes and whatnot. According to Capcom, games should be enjoyed for the entertainment value they provide with gameplay, not fir the thrills associated winning a lottery. Capcom intends to deliver core content for free for their games, with DLC being its own thing at a low cost. With their mobile games, they supposedly intent to continue have small as possible gacha elements. Localisation and culturalisation gets mentioned as well, and rather than talk about translation or localisation, Capcom wants to culturalise games so they’d be enjoyed in whatever locale. This sounds highly suspicious, but it also explain why mention of dragons got removed from Monster Hunter World in China.

Capcom is surprisingly effective when it comes to Relationship with the Regional Community, as they Capcom is involved with number of events in Japan, offering possibilities for cities and municipalities to make profit off of their own from these events and whatnot. This also doubles as an effect of Capcom getting their name out there to people who wouldn’t recognise it otherwise.

For Governance, Capcom has been increasing ratio of external directors and increased dialogue with the shareholders. Basically, Capcom wants to have more openness with their shareholders as well as be more transparent all around. Capcom even lists reasons why external directors have been selected, e.g. Masao Sato is expected to be able to contribute to the auditing and supervision of the Board of Directors via his experience and knowledge from serving the police administration. This is part of the whole “visible” governance, and we’re even given a third-party assessment of Capcom’s corporate governance. Capcom’s strength lies in capital efficiency and information disclosure, with Effectiveness being the lowest. This is pretty much as expected, as per the business culture Capcom resides in.

Rather surprisingly, Capcom has an increasing number of annual discussions regarding the market opinion. Whether or not these discussions with take true market opinion into count, or just what the gaming press wants the opinion to be, is wholly another question.

Regarding Capcom’s achievements for the year, there’s nothing much to cover. Their catalog titles i.e. older titles continued to sell decently, with MHW being still a top seller. Their two new releases, DMC5 and REmake2 sold extremely well, and apparently Capcom is satisfied with the sales of ports and such. As for arcades, Capcom apparently started an online crane game, and have been aiming to expand their target market towards middle-aged and the elderly. Plaza Capcom was opened in Hiroshima, which probably explain why they closed down one arcade and opened two new ones at different locations. Despite their five different Pachinko and Pachislot models sold reasonably, the changes they made in testing their equipment meant lower overall sales; 3,422 billion compared to last year’s 7,803 billion. Numerous events were held to maximise sales of games, as well as further use of eSports like Capcom Street FIghter League powered by Rage. Net sales increased and operating margin was 31.5%.

Capcom’s intention to build a strong business portfolio hasn’t changed any. Their aim, after all, is to make games they can make multiple uses out of. For the next year, Capcom seems to intent promoting their mobile games more and explore possibilities more, which is why we’re getting Rockman X DiVE rather than a home game release. Standard consumer releases are abound from major IPs. We already know REmake3 has been in the works for some time and will be out somewhat soon. Whether or not something else like DMC5 will be out is another question, tho Capcom would count MHW Iceborne on Steam a new title, and the base game a catalog title. Capcom also has to restructure their development to handle the new regulations Japan has made regarding gambling, as it impacts their pachinko and pachislot business. Business as usual, and in hindsight, REmake2 and DMC5 last year was Capcom reviving old IPs for new generation. Much less than what was expected, but the reception and sales of both titles speak for themselves.

Kenzo Tsujimoto’s section is up next, which is more or less a view on Capcom’s CEO’s commitment and look at the company’s history. Without much going in too deep, Capcom has six points in their philosophy, something we’ve already seen; Aim to become the best in the world, Compete with strong IPs, Stable long-term growth, Managing their IPs and companies properly to ensure the two aforementioned, enforce and encourage relationship with societies locally and globally as well as with stakeholders; and avoiding management risks with transparency. We’ve effectively covered most of these spots, but I’d like to give some spotlight on the third bit about stable long-term growth.

Capcom struggled most of the new Millennium to find their spot in the gaming market after the crash of the arcades, but their long-term growth has been better than most of their competitors. Their Operating Margins have been overall better than their main competitors’ with +66% operating income and margin being +7.9 points. While Konami may have +90% income, their margin is just below Capcom’s at +7.5 points. Contrast this to Square-Enix, who has -8% income and -3.3 points in margin. This of course could change during next fiscal year, when Final Fantasy VII Remake hits the store shelves. Neither Sega Sammy or Bandai-Namco can really compete with Capcom or Namco, as their respective numbers are -53% and +41% in Operating Income, with +1.8 and +1.1 points in margins. Effectively, Capcom has been making most of their last financial year’s success with just three titles, one of which was a catalog title. If they manage to keep both REmake2 and DMC5 selling well as catalog titles all the while rolling new titles as part of their main growth driver as per their management strategy, they should see further increases in profits and margins during 2020. Nevertheless, it seems that their most stable source of profit is still in arcade and amusement equipment with no real changes how well they’re selling.

Capcom will aim to increase profits with three-angled long-term plan. This plan consists of increasing digital sales on the global marketplace, preparing for the next generation of standards that will be rolling around during the next few years as well as focusing on eSports and aiming to popularise a new culture for content. First part is easy, overall speaking. All Capcom needs to do is release their new games via Steam alongside the usual home console market. That’s effectively what it amounts to. Capcom’s overseas games sales have increased drastically since 2015, while homeland sales have not really changed any. You could say that Capcom’s secret of being successful is to have IPs that are globally attractive. After all, Japan in itself is a very small market compared to the Americas, Europe and Australia, and the rest. China is of course a place they’d like to gain a strong foothold, but that’s going to be difficult still. Make digital the first option, and you’ll save in manufacturing costs. Capcom is also taking note of both Cloud gaming and Subscription services and are exploring ways to enter both of these. Cloud gaming, however, is still a pipe dream, while subscription services should be nothing new to them, technically speaking.

With new standards like 5G wireless, Capcom can’t help but make use of third-party outsider know-how. This is mostly for mobile market and most likely relevant only in Japan, but the underlying message does touch upon upcoming Microsoft and Sony consoles as well.

eSports was a major thing for Capcom last year, and apparently it netted some 1,096 million USD for them during 2019. That’s nothing to be scoffed at, and it is estimated 2020 eSport scene would net some 1,790 million USD. This is through the usual establishing of new leagues, analysis of trends and then promoting regional developments. As long as Capcom manages to establish a profitable and sustainable ecosystem, they should be able to maintain their practices. I’m sure this is part of the reason why Street Fighter V is the way it is, where the game is stable and easily accessible in various regions. The Marvel VS series, while superbly popular in the US, didn’t exactly have the same position in Europe, for example. Street Fighter V aimed to be very safe game and something they can build further revisions on easily, and it has been that. Certainly a success in financial terms, but not really a loved game in the series. However, in the next five years Capcom will assess if there is any more growth in eSports and whether or not it is profitable to continue promoting sales through it.

All this really amounts to Capcom’s plans to effectively follow 2019’s lead in terms of business. MHW has made them recognise that games can, and in future will have, longer sales periods than before. This is partially because digital marketplaces don’t run out of copies and are constantly available. On the long-term, if Capcom is to keep their current standards in visuals and sounds, the Hollywood look in their games, it will cost them more to research and develop. Something they are well aware. This probably means Capcom will put out only few new games per year, which most likely will be sequels or remakes, that they will bet on as their heavy hitters all the while ports and catalog sales are supporting them and making the risk of these big titles slightly smaller. Digital, however, is the thing that is being pushed further.

Interestingly enough, Capcom seems to aim to have their younger employees work on their popular IPs, meaning legacy IP in Capcom is a living thing. If there are more people like Yoshinori Ono, who want to revive a sleeping but still popular IP, in principle we could see some level of resurgence of some IPs down the line. This might be wishful thinking, but history has shown how legacy IP under younger employees can bloom like no other. Take Mega Man and Street Fighter as examples.

Rather than establishing new IPs, Capcom intents to expand new markets and find new customers. You can expect to see more remakes in the future, as games are considered to be obsolete after some time have passed. This seems to be their long-term plan; remakes and ports. At the same time, they aim to curb sales of used-games somehow as well as address piracy, especially in the Asian markets. Capcom loves to talk about their IPs, but at the same time the they’re not having new blood in their library. In the end, their aim is to expand into new territories they’ve yet to make an impact and raise global earnings. This applies to their arcade business as well, where they aim to attract new customers and enhance their lineup of titles.

Their analysis of game industry and market hasn’t changed, with general consumer and PC market overlapping somewhat and offering the most balanced place to be successful in. Mobile market may have large sums of money moving about, but the competition is extremely intense. Consumer market is 77% of all of Capcom’s net sales, followed up by mobile with 2%. PC online, like the crane catcher, makes double that at 4%. While they are in a good position to expand, Capcom currently has mostly high-risk options in their Value, Rarity, Inimitability and Organisational evaluation. Capcom doesn’t have as high competitive edge as they want to believe, as other companies possess all the same external edges as they do. Capcom being slow at making quick decisions probably have already bitten them in the ass couple of times, but the lack of direct competitors to their main selling IPs should be a concern. In Mobile market, however, Capcom is still at a complete loss. Then you have their directors competitors still rolling their IPs in the media and can easily overcome Capcom.

What is Capcom’s plan for the future then? To use their existing Intellectual Properties to make games and leverage them into further franchising. They are no intending to make new IPs at the moment, but deliver further remakes. REmake3 is the direct result of this. Long-term and steady growth seems to be their aim. Expanding their target market and find some new regions in Asia to make some more money. While all this probably will continue to continue kicking just fine, Capcom is not offering anything that could add to their existing strategies or IPs. Perhaps it could be said that Capcom intents to keep their current core customers happy while offering new generation of players the possibility to play classics in a remade fashion and in modern terms. Their plant to “make use of sleeping IPs” ultimately ended up being a remake and DMC5 with some ports. Maybe they could follow suit with some other of their sleeping IPs, like Commando and turn it into a generic Call of Duty clone or something similar. I don’t expect Capcom to expand IP library anytime soon. Now if they’d begin to remake games that would need them, like the original Street Fighter, rather than games that were already well made.

I mentioned Capcom Hollywood games, because it sounds what Hollywood blockbusters are doing; one or two big budget titles per year by using well established IPs carrying the whole studio. Smaller games are not even a thing really with Capcom anymore. Mega Man 11 seems to have been a sort of fluke, as the franchise was moved to mobile once again. All the small titles Capcom has been pushing out as of late have been ports and re-releases. Currently, it seems Capcom is not intending to launch a new IP anytime soon, but in long-term, that should be one of their priorities as well. After all, all of the IPs they like to talk about has to be established at some point, and it is necessary to have something that’s designed from the ground up to the current generation. However, the global popular culture has been marred with rehashes, remakes, adaptations and reboots for good two decades more than previously. Sadly, it must be admitted that relying on existing franchises and IPs with a built-in fanbase to revitalise business has been successful. However, as of late we’ve seen big franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek faulting during the run with lessening revenues and falling consumer interest. Capcom’s management has to work hard to avoid the same pits Hollywood studios have stumbled upon. Capcom has a history of falling on their face and success with this kind of approach, but there’s only so much they can use as existing material for remakes, unless there’s going to be complete and utter reboots.

Hell hath no fury like a fan scorned

I have to admit I enjoy following a good shitstorm now and then. Especially on Tuesdays. The latest Pokémon games may be the third most selling Switch titles at the moment, but I’m constantly seeing news about modders injecting better models and textures, as well as importing monster models from the Go games into Sword and Shield. The fans haven’t taken the limited amount of monsters lightly either, alongside numerous other glitches, like the Auto Save glitch that can destroy all your save game data on the SD card, and quality control errors, like mislabeling items or having a mouse cursor moving in the end credits over the scene. All little things pile up very quickly, and even the smallest things, like vanishing Trainers during battles, end up being extremely irksome and simply showcases how badly this game was developed. Then add to the top that this is a series that hasn’t revised its core mechanics at all to the point of having giant ass bears walking in ankle high grass while their forest is one or two trees near, you get the idea that despite the new lick of paint, Pokémon at its core is out of date. At its core, Game Freak is still making that tile based sprite game in their heads rather than building proper worlds with modern tools, mechanics and visages. Then again, why should they bother, when the games still sell so well?

Pokémon Sword sits at 82 points from industry reviewers and 4.1 from general audience on Metacritic at the time of this writing. Eyeing through the reviews, most of the user reviews end up being more or less sensible, if not short. Some recognise that the series has been in decline for years now, while others note how the title Pokémon keeps it afloat to a large extent. Some are spiteful for sure, but that’s what you get for every game. On the contrast, the “professional” review side shows why having 100 points is useless. They really should have to choose between three stars and nothing more or less. All this is largely just academical, however. It’ll take at least six months for proper consumer reaction to show itself and how well sales have been made. It might be the third most sold Switch title at this moment, but will it be keeping its position for long? Considering the Switch doesn’t have exactly the rosiest future regarding additions to its library, it just might.

There are rumours of Game Freak setting up at least some of the missing monsters as event obtainables or the like, pose them as some kind of service, that they listened to their fans and are fulfilling their wishes. Whether or not this is true will be seen in the future, but this isn’t the first time Game Freak has got their fans mad at them, and this won’t be the last time they mostly, if not outright, ignore the consumer feedback. Pokémon has a fanbase dedicated enough to gloss over everything, but that’s emotional attachment to a brand for you.

That said, at least Game Freak and Pokémon at least can do something like this and not lose a whole lot. Well, Sword and Shield have already been financial success, so there’s that. The same can’t be said of Arc System and Guilty Gear, which is now intended to alienate the core fanbase by cutting the series’ play mechanics and drastically alter how the upcoming game is played. While movement options are still there, some series-defining mechanics are lost. For example, Gatling Combos are gone. This is just GG‘s fancy way of saying chain combo, where you can press attack buttons in ascending order for a combo. Roman Cancels, ability to cancel an action at any time, is now a physical hit effect and slows down the opponent rather than functioning as a reset too. The end goal is still the same, but the way you get there is different. Other differences in defence mechanisms and such are many, like how in blocking an aerial attack will change the blocker’s momentum backwards rather than down. The game has become heavy on resetting the player positions rather than encouraging constant forward thrust of offense. I have to admit that my personal preference for Guilty Gear stems from this. There isn’t really another fighting game where offence has all the tools available and is even encouraged.

With Guilty Gear Strive, ArcSys appears wanting to expand their consumer base, which in turn will alienate part of their existing one. It is an incredible balancing act, catering to both new and old. Thus far, every attempt at ArcSys trying to gain new audience with an old IP has been a failure to a large extent, but also that some of their attempts at new IPs have failed harshly. Nobody remembers Battle Fantasia, despite that being the game that Capcom feared due to its 3D prowess when developing Street Fighter IV. Some long-terms GG fans have already stated that they won’t move forwards from Xrd, which also was heavily criticised for dumping mechanics and elements from the previous games as well as slowing down the play. Xrd also allowed larger windows for inputs, but it should also be noted that the game before Xrd, Accent Core Plus R or whatever the latest revision was, was also marred with criticism on how balance and new mechanics threw a monkey wrench into the play. There are certain limitations all around, and unsurprisingly ArcSys has made clear they want new users. Ishiwatari stating how old GG fans are too old to play games and such. They did find success with BlazBlue, though there is overlap between the two series’ player base.

It is four times harder to gain new audience over keeping your old. While Dragon Ball FighterZ may have made loads of cash, it was largely driven by the IP rather than ArcSys themselves. Much like with Pokémon, the fandom often twists the hard data, but the same data also can’t be ignored. If there’s money to be made here in a certain manner, then better make the best of it. Guilty Gear doesn’t have the same backing, all it can support itself with is by its existing fans and the legacy of its past games. Legacy that Ishiwatari wanted to remove at some point, mostly due to licensing and trademark issues. It would appear that all the Guilty Gear games with Sega Sammy attached to them are, or at least were, in some sort of licensing or trademark hell, where ArcSys can’t really do much with them. Guilty Gear 2 was intended to be some sort of soft-reboot of the series, removing all the X-titled games from the canon and memory, but in the end Ishiwatari and co. gave up on that. Now X and XX games are side-stories, but we’ve covered all this in the past. The issue of GG Strive is whether or not can be a hit among new consumers with its more simplified play over the previous entries, and the series’ history tends to say no. While it will find people to play it, and probably enters tournaments just fine, it most likely will gain the same cold and lethargic reception and acceptance and Street Fighter V did. In many ways, fighting games have been aiming to expand their user bases by removing options and making the play more predictable, intended and more about formulaic pacing. SFV actively removed elements from characters that made them wild compared to the rest of the cast, something that could’ve been cool to use and make work. Instead, such things were culled. No-fun rule seems to be in place in modern fighting games, where everything has to be like Finnish autumn; grey with no colours in the nature, wet to the point of nothing ever drying, stupidly dark and enjoyed only by few. You can’t go outside in frolic in a T-shirt and boxers, else you get a pneumonia. That’s what playing SFV is like. While we can’t really tell if Strive will be that too, it’s very much going to that direction.

Much like the previous posts’ Battletoads, you can lose your customers relatively fast by going against the consumer grain. Battletoads had no modern legs to stand on while both Pokémon and Guilty Gear have full titles in recent memory. While Game Freak has to do a lot more damage to Pokémon before they need to put their A-game back into the ring, or reheat some old fan favourite again, ArcSys doesn’t have that luxury. While they could make a new franchise or revive Battle Fantasia for whatever style they want, something that they’d think would appeal to the wider audience, that probably isn’t possible. Recognition also plays a big part in this, but as said, all that can be pissed away if consumers deem your work worthless of the time and effort you put in. Nothing sucks more than having your work judged utter shit, but video games is a service industry. If you expect your customers to pay for your games, these games need to cater to their wants.

Whether or not the audience would like to a properly modernised Pokémon with high quality control and fighting games that are less crazy is up your decision really. You’re the customer, you make the decision where you put your money into.

Action that drives the narrative

The more scholar video video games consumers out there have often argued to my face that the games are at their best when they are driven by a narrative, that games need to grow from their infantile state to something more whole and unique, to more mature a form to take part among other fully formed media like film and literature. Reading through some comments left on numerous Youtube videos on Death Stranding reminded me how little consumers think of video games, especially its main audience. Yes, reading through ‘tube comments is about as recommended task as licking a malaria ridden opossum, but sometimes curiosity takes wins over sense.

In all seriousness, it’s no surprise that consumers use theories and practices used in film and literature theory when discussing video game storytelling. This is understandable to an extent, as they are considered higher in the hierarchy of studies over game and play studies, topics which people who work with children have to be relatively familiar with. When we discuss story driven games with children, we are talking about a directed play, where play is directed and told through a story. The story in itself is important only as a setting, something to facilitate the actual intention and core of the game; the play. The narrative however can not advance if the play is not advanced. It’s not unusual for the story to changed due to how the children may play the parts differently from the intended directed play, but that’s business as usual. This isn’t a theatrical play, but a children’s game.

Video games still don’t have dynamic storytelling implemented in them, not in a way where moment to moment decision could directly affect the whole flow the game to wholly different results. For example, you can’t decide to just walk out on the mission for the water purifying chip, that is your set mission and frame you are intended to play in. You have a limited map you can’t escape and certain set role. This is the exact same as in a game of football (your choice, soccer or handegg) where the player is set to play with certain rules. Both the player of football and Fallout must adhere to the set rules. Both can cheat by breaking the rules, though in both cases other would frown on the action, and in case of the football player, he would get a penalty of sorts.

Both games also work in a similar framework of a story. For the football player, it is all the history him and his team alongside the history of his opponents. That is their lives stories all in all. It is truly dynamic and is told bit by bit, injury by injury. Fallout may have a pre-made framing with its story, but neither story can move forwards if there is inaction; the only way a game’s narrative can progress if there is action on the player’s part. If players don’t play, there is no forward motion in the game. The story stands still. The true narrative that moves game forwards, video game or otherwise, is active narrative.

What I mean with active narrative is of course the interaction the user must have and the intention through that action. Pressing buttons in itself is no action of playing, but the meaning behind it is. It is vital, perhaps the most important part, as there is no game that is passive. There must always be a participant to take action and follow readily laid out rules. The opposite of this would be passive narrative, something we practice when we read or watch something. We can’t participate in this narrative, it is readily there and can not be shifted. There is no rules to play according to. The narration of text or video moves along without their consumer. The story of Super Mario Bros. is about a plumber from Brooklyn saving the princess, but the narrative never moves on without the player deciding how the plumber saves the princess. Will he avoid most dangers, or will he attack every possible enemy? Will he come out rich from collecting all the coins, or will he ignore them? How fast he will run through the Worlds, or will he take a more careful pace and just walk along? All these decisions are what makes a game’s active narrative, and it is always dynamic simply because rules of play within a game always allow some variation how game is tackled, often coloured by the player itself.

Fighting games are probably the simplest example of this. There is a tournament and a final boss. Who won the tournament and in what order? The order that playthrough time showcased. There might be ‘official’ story set, but more of then than not that sort of detail is an afterthought. Street Fighter used to handle this in a clever fashion, where each game were in continuity, but not necessarily the way each game set themselves. The story, the little most fighting games had in the 1990’s, was there to facilitate the framing. Guilty Gear XX, or rather its later revisions, handled Story mode in a clever fashion, where paths would change depending how player won or which moves he used. This is completely the opposite to Guilty Gear Xrd, all of which tell their story in a form of a movie. Technically speaking, the game portion of Guilty Gear Xrd has no story, but there is a story that gives enough set-up for the play. Like an example I used years ago, only games could make walking vast distances with nothing in-between interesting because it is action that drives the game and its narrative. Death Stranding, from everything we’ve seen thus far, embodies this the best. Well, next to Desert Bus.

A game requires active narrative. Without one, it ends up being something else, either a film or work of literature. Visual Novels are somewhere between these, it is its own form of media. The fact that the framing has grown more important than the actual sections that drive the narrative is rather strange, but that might just be technological limitations we have now, but also the intentions. Games, as they largely are now, are equivalent of directed play, just without the possibility of real dynamic story. That might be limitations in technology, or just that such video game would be incredibly difficult to design and develop. It is much easier to set a framed structure that gives the player a set-up to play in and motivation to drive them with, like Save the princess.  The rest, hopefully the majority, is all about the story the player carves himself. That is the pull games have over films; the player is the driving force, the necessary element in active narrative.

Xbox One is struggling in Japan

…and nobody is surprised. For what is often dubbed as one of the Big Three, Microsoft struggles in Japan. That is their lot in life as a company that doesn’t seem to be able to make any proper products for the market, and the developers don’t seem to be all that interested to develop for the platform. The occasional Xbox exclusive game Japanese have made often also stay in Japan or are so generic that nobody really even recognises them. The 360 may have been a shooting game heaven with all the Cave shooters, but do you really want to be recognised for the same thing that the PC-Engine is? Perhaps you do, but being one-trick pony only really works in arcades, and arcades are dead.

Much like how extremely anime games don’t sell in Japan, games with extremely Western aesthetics and mechanics don’t sell in Japan. The example of GTA being called Western kusoge always tickles my funnybone. Halo wasn’t exactly a killer title either. There are multiple reasons in play, and while the unappealing games are a major element, cultural differences are the second major factor. The two directly ties with each other. Just like the stereotype of Americans preferring the Xbox, so do the Japanese prefer their nation’s two machines.

While Microsoft will say they don’t really care about the loss of sales, that they are concentrating more on services than console products, the fact that Xbox One sold about 102 931 units by the end of 2018 has to sting. The same chart shows that 3DS had sold 24 304 964 units, PlayStation 4 hitting a healthy 7 552 090 units, followed by Switch at 6 889 546 units. Hell, the PS Vita sold 5 824 354 units, which really subs the salt in even further. If you calculate what percentage Microsoft has from the market using those figures, you’d end up with something around than 0.27%. Then consider that Japanese sales are 0.3% out of all global Xbox one sales from the second quarter of 2019, the picture painted is very, very grim.

Microsoft certainly is making a buck with its subscription models, but out of all major regions, Japan still eludes them. They can’t really make a buck on services that people don’t have a platform for. Perhaps Windows and app sales for it evens it out, but can’t really seem to find any proper data on that.

Outside not being able to bring in domestic developers to cater to Japanese tastes, it has also been suggested that the sheer size of the machine and its visuals has been a factor. Japanese homes are smaller than either in the US or Europe, and seemingly prefer handheld gaming over bulky home consoles. The Family Computer AKA Famicom was designed to be a small device that wouldn’t take much room, something that most if not all Nintendo’s home consoles tried to go for. The original Xbox is about as big as two stacked N64’s. I should know, I have them next to my original Xbox due to lack of space. Nintendo making Switch a hybrid was probably designed around Japanese home culture rather than for the overseas audience, but that hasn’t really deterred its success. The constant ports and no original content is hurting it, it’s becoming more and more a Vita 2.0 in a bad way.

Anyway, Microsoft did try to alleviate the size problem with the original Xbox a bit by designing and releasing the S Controller, smaller version of the standard Duke controller, because not everyone has huge hands like most American seem to have. The difference in body structure and ergonomics is an important part when designing for a market, and while you can find a golden middle way when designing e.g. a controller for all ages, Microsoft largely ignored people with naturally smaller hands with the Duke. Too often designers try out things themselves or in a small group rather than seeking larger pool of people to test their designs with, often due to lack of time and resources. Nevertheless, Microsoft already had two decades worth of design info, and kinda ignored it. Good for the people with large hands, not so much for the rest. All the successive controller from Microsoft have been much better in this regard, if not more generic in design. That said, Microsoft’s design for Xbox brand is not the most attractive thing in Japanese eyes, and often comes out garish. It’s not just about the bulk, but something how the shapes aren’t all that attractive and seem… maybe even a bit amateurish? Xbox just don’t fit well into the design of Japanese homes and appliances. The same can’t be said of American and European homes in general.

Supposedly, Microsoft never released their consoles are the right time, especially missing their release window with the first one, but outside some claims I’ve never seen proper arguments for this, just claims. What I do know is that Microsoft tried to push the 360 at full force for the Japanese. They had Japanese section put up, organising all sorts of events with race queens showcasing the console and as Japanese games as they could muster at the time, having deals with local marketing firms to work their brand and games in the local culture and economy and of course none of this worked as intended. Microsoft always came at the third place in a three horse race.

Project Scarlet, whatever it will end up being, will not success in Japan. Not unless it is small, sleek and will have similar games to Sony’s and Nintendo’s machines. Even then, it has to offer something special, something specific and something unique for that particular market. Microsoft’s brand isn’t at a strong point in Japanese market, and probably will never be despite the good (marketing) intentions Phil Spencer has. At this point I shouldn’t call it a struggle, it’s more like Xbox is kept languishing, wasting away in the Japanese market, drooping as Microsoft tries to keep hanging on their small hold in the market. At these sales, most other companies would probably have already left.

Grave of the Darkstalkers

With it being Halloween season and all that, I’ve been on a small Darkstalkers bend. Going back to my source books, playing the games, remembering there was a terrible television animation and somewhat decent OVA that looked pretty damn nice with plot being somewhat nonsensical. Darkstalkers is a fighting game series I used to play more than any other, despite starting with Street Fighter II. With the third game being the last in the series, and Guilty Gear X hitting the scene, Darkstalkers went into a limbo only pop up whenever I wanted to something gofast from a fighting game, or roll out Q-bee once more.

Perhaps the most atmospheric intro a fighting game to date, outside the first game’s

It’s no secret that Darkstalkers as a fighting game franchise never really hit through the masses. Morrigan may have eclipsed the franchise as a whole in popularity, and nowadays the franchise itself is probably known for her rather than for any other reason. It’s rather funny, perhaps even rather pathetic, to consider how the series’ main character, Demitri, was dropped to a second place by the time Darkstalkers 3 rolled around and was seemingly killed off in an audio drama. I remember some fanfare for the games when fighting game’s golden age was still going, but after that the only people who kept the franchise alive to any extent were the fans. Despite it being recognised as a watershed moment for fighting games in terms of visual design, animation, speed and gameplay, all those reasons probably were also the reason why the series is now in the grave.

The above tournament video shows off Darkstalkers 3 at a decently high level of play. The series was never a Street Fighter clone in itself, unlike some SNK creations. No, Darkstalkers was as high production fighting game you could have at the time. While the first game was more experimental than the its successor, being slower in pace speed and trying out to find its footsteps, the second game, Vampire Hunter, brought in the blazing speed. Third game would take this and make a game that ultimately hard to get a proper controlling feeling of. It’s one of those games when you learn to play it even to a small extent feels like a massive reward, as it feels like you’re in control of something wild and dangerous, something that any moment now could go out of control. Out of all fighting games, Darkstalkers has tight timings, unconventional projectile mechanics (you don’t even use the fireballs the same way to control space as you would in almost any other fighting game) and attacks that simply defy normal comprehension. All this is of course by design, which makes the series something an anomaly, especially the third game; you’ll find a lot players with low-skill or high-skill. There really aren’t all that much people in the mid-skill tier, because you either know how to play the game or not. Part of this is that it takes dedication of get good at Darkstalkers, and the second part is that the core fans have been playing these games since the late 90’s and never really stopped.

Darkstalkers had some of the best promotional and production artwork made for a fighting game to date

Then you have that the fact that Darkstalkers suffers the same fate as Street Fighter III; Third Strike – Fight for the Future; only the third game seems to matter. This is apparent how most fans treat the series, and how Capcom themselves pretty much ignored all other titles in their latest attempt to resurrect interest in the series with Darkstalkers Resurrection. It didn’t go so well, with low sales ultimately being the deciding factor. When it was heard that a new Darkstalkers game would be in the hands of sales numbers, I didn’t even bother. Seeing how the franchise’s history was of neglect to that point, there was not reason it to sell or Capcom to put the effort in. Both were the case. Resurrection is effectively a port of the third game for the PS3, which also means some of the cast members are missing. Darkstalkers 3 is a rather peculiar case, where characters from previous games had to be cut out because of memory limitations in Capcom arcade system of the time, CPS-2, and thus Capcom opted to make two further versions, Vampire Saviour 2 (Vampire Saviour being the Japanese title for Darkstalkers 3) and Vampire Hunter 2, both of which were remixes of their numberless predecessors with characters and mechanics switched about. You wouldn’t even know these existed outside Japan, and the game’s name change, as well as some of the characters, ultimately confused some for a long time. Sometimes you can see articles and videos discussing Darkstalkers 2 when it should be Vampire Saviour 2. There is no Darkstalkers 2 per se, that’s Vampire Hunter. Nevertheless, despite Capcom releasing a versions for the PlayStation, Dreamcast and PSP where you could play all the characters, and even systems and movesets in later games, Resurrection was aimed at the tournament scene players only and lacked all the cut characters. This was Capcom’s best chance and spot to rebalance the game, include all the characters into the game and effectively rework the title with old assets without losing anything. Of course they didn’t, that’d take time and money, and it wouldn’t be ‘arcade perfect.’

Despite Darkstalkers being largely designed around Western character archetype and animation was based on old Warner-Brothers and other cartoons, it mostly found its place with the Japanese audience, who embraced it fully. It doesn’t help that the game’s humour and core is still very much Japanese, and very 1990’s in a good way. I keep misspelling good ans goof, but maybe that works when talking how humorous Darkstalkers really is at face value. The sheer visual prowess may fit the 1990’s Capcom, with all jokes hidden in there, but if they were to make a new entry nowadays, Capcom would be royally screwed. None of the 3D models of the characters in Marvel Vs Capcom or Tatsunoko Vs Capcom had the same charm, the same level of care and animation, as the 2D sprites. 3D models simply can’t represent the 2D in the same manner, and Capcom argued so during Street Fighter IV’s releases, that the technology to warp 3D models on the fly the way Darkstalkers requires didn’t exist or was far too taxing and hard to do. The sheer amount of unique sprites and animations in Darkstalkers is insane and is probably the reason why the third game hit memory limitations so damn hard. Just take a look at the EX Special Moves collection and consider how so many sprites are just thrown around that don’t get used anywhere else. Lilith’s standing sprite is also a sight to behold.

This might be cartoony violence, but it wasn’t exactly accepted back in the 1990’s either. The blood effects were changed to white, which made it kind of worse. Lord Raptor, the rock zombie that quotes Michael Jackson, has a throwing move where he jabs his spiky ribs into the opponent before tossing away. The blood’s colour was changed to white, and now it looked like he’s cumming buckets while penetrating the opponent. Not only the animation is cartoony, exaggerated and over the top to the point of being incomprehensible to some, but it is also gruesome and violent. If we’re completely honest, the visuals of Darkstalkers does not fit with current Capcom. Capcom used to be 2D sprite king back int he day, but nowadays they are all about pushing the limits of realistic 3D. Resident Evil 2 Remake, Devio May Cry 5 and Monster Hunter World are the trifecta of modern Capcom style, and Street Fighter V fits that look perfectly. The company culture of mid-90’s Capcom doesn’t exist, and Darkstalkers probably embodies that era of Capcom the best. We can entertain the idea that Capcom would put the money and effort into making a whole new 2D fighting game, seeing Skullgirls was heavily inspired by Darkstalkers in style; characters have unconventional ways of attacking, body morphing all around the place and excessive animation wherever wanted. Capcom could showcase that they could put the effort and money into making 2D game to beat all 2D games in terms of animation and visuals. They wouldn’t want to do that, mostly because it wouldn’t sell the amounts modern Capcom expects their highest-end titles to sell, and they wouldn’t want to dethrone Street Fighter III from the animation throne… despite Skullgirls already done did it. There are even Motion Collections on Youtube just to see what sort of bullshit is hidden in Skullgirls animations. The same can’t be said of most other fighting games.

Then you have the point of Darkstalkers isn’t really fit for what the eSports scene likes at the moment. Some character designs are intentionally risque and sexual undertones are as intended. Be it the flat-chested Lilith trying to be playful, Morrigan rather direct with her nightly pleasures of Felicia having her tits bounce, some of the characters probably would need to be redesigned in order to appease a minority. If Rainbow Mika’s standard costume is too sexy for ESPN, so would be Morrigan’s and Felicia’s. Not only that, but in terms how Darkstalkers is all about that uninterrupted play, it makes a poor spectator’s sport in the modern era. Most modern fighting games have that element of visual splash, the Cinematic Moment where audiences and players are intended to be hyped. When you pull off a super move in any of the current fighting games, the screen freezes, you get a huge ass close-up and camera going every which way. You get those slo-mo effects in Tekken and Soul Calibur too. Darkstalkers is very much the opposite, where the only times there is any pause is during throws is very rare special move, like with one of Jedah’s.

For an outsider there’s not much on the offer here. It’s extremely heart-pounding for the player, asks a lot of concentration, but the general audience who isn’t into this particular game, it doesn’t offer the same Cinematic hype Moments. The speed also probably also means people will miss numerous points of attacks and reversals, meaning some can’t keep up with what’s happening on the screen. At least on the surface and at face value. If we’d take the series and fit it to the current mould, it would need to be slowed down a bit with more planned Moments. Not to say Darkstalkers couldn’t be that, though that frantic pace has always been part of its soul. When you see a Darkstalkers represented in a VS game, it always plays a bit flaccid. There’s none of that heart in there, as the characters have fit some other, foreign mould. It’s like shaving a square peg down to fit a round hole. Sure it goes in there after that, but the nice parts are gone. A new Darkstalkers would be like modern F-1, where all the things that would make the cars go faster are banned. Capcom’s current concentration on eSports would make Darkstalkers dull and generic.

Perhaps it is Darkstalkers’ uniqueness that doomed in the first place. It’s not historically a lucrative IP, and despite Capcom saying they want to revive old IPs, they’re looking into something that doesn’t take whole sections of their budget, like Mega Man 11Capcom released their business-year end of reports, and I’m intending to cover this year’s Integrated Report like I did last year. Part of the report is about Capcom having a hold on eSports via Street Fighter V, and another title from them might sway that boat. Spectators are made a big point, and as we’ve discussed, Darkstalkers isn’t the best spectators’ game.

I would still recommend you to fire up a Darkstalkers game, be it via emulation or that Resurrection pack. It might feel weird at first, but after you’ve gotten used to the game system and get things roll, you’re ending up with an enjoyable game that won’t take too much of your time, but to which you want to return again and again from time to time.

Siding with all the sides of the market

Every international corporation has multiple ‘faces’ of promotion. Rare companies like Coca-Cola has relatively universal marketing across the globe, while entertainment companies like Nintendo and Sony have very much different approach depending on the market region they are in. In Japan, Kirby smiles and is happy-go-lucky, while in the US he wears a determined frown ready to cut shit down. This is extremely simple and straightforward example, yet it extents how corporations act in different markets. When a corporation tells you they act globally and think globally, it’s less about ‘Global’ thinking and more about being in as many probable markets around the globe they can. Why? Money, of course.

The whole deal with Blizzard nuking Hearthstone player blitzchung’s status and winning money has made some people realise this. For example, some of the characters in Overtwatch are gay outside China, while in China this statement has not been made, as Chinese standards on statistically deviating and abnormal sexuality in media is rather harsh. That is, it’s pretty much banned without any exception. Video and computer games themselves are considered to be detriment to the society, and having such examples that don’t align with Chinese standards of what is considered accepted. Then you had Blizzard making a statement that is very much different from their official Weibo account. One makes clear that Blizzard is not tied to Chinese in any way nor they can influence Blizzard’s decision, while the other rather clearly sides with the Chinese government and side with the current Hong Kong situation. Let’s put aside that Blizzard’s Western statement has been questioned anyway, as its language structure appears to be by someone Chinese who speaks English relatively fluently.

This is, of course, completely normal.

Wait Aalt, isn’t this Blizzard having two different opposite stands at the same time? Yes and no. Company can have completely different standards and practices in different market regions. For China, they have to conform to Chinese standards, and have majority of Chinese ownership somehow in order to operate there. This is why many companies would rather work together with a Chinese company, like what Nintendo used to do with the iQue Player. The company named iQue was fully owned by the Chinese while being Nintendo’s subsidiary. This has been the de-facto way of doing business in China, though within the last decade or so the Chinese have taken major parts of shares of some companies, while Chinese companies doing the heavy lifting, especially in the movie industry, All movies that Legendary Pictures have been part of somehow have had relatively heavy Chinese influence in them, and seeing China has become the single largest film market, it’s not unsurprising that studios are making Chinese-only edits of their movies. I recall Iron Man 3 having a China specific cut, where a Chinese doctor was cut in throughout the movie and is set to be person who ultimately removes all the metal shards from Tony Stark’s chest.

The question whether or not this is good or bad is really up to you, dear reader. This is largely just the reality of things. Don’t mistake one second that companies don’t have conflicting interests globally. While claiming to be progressive by being in favour of whatever class of minorities works as a decent way of making money in the West, this of course doesn’t apply everywhere and strategies need to be adjusted. Make no mistake, whatever the surface dwelling issue might be, companies will strike it to make money. Revealing characters to be homosexual seems to be very easy way to get in the good side of some of the customers seems to be a successful plan, at least in the US. Europe is not unified in this nearly to the same extent, and one way of advertising in London wouldn’t really work as well in Germany. Different cultures, different values.

That is the core here really. We expect companies to work under the regulations and values set in a country or region when they come from abroad. They might have damn good products, but they better hit the local consensus. Blizzard might be an American company, but that doesn’t negate that it is more sensible to try to cater the Chinese as well. Of course, most of the Western audience expects stances that cover the global market, but that is largely impossible. You can’t expect Americans to placate to Chinese values and vice versa. In the US, and probably in most regions outside China, banning blitzchung was extremely bad PR move. English speaking users have gone their way of closing their accounts, burning their games and overall voting with their wallets. Not all, some just don’t give a rat’s ass either way.

The question of course is if this is financially all that sensible. The Chinese market bubble isn’t looking too healthy in the future, despite being less than one third of the US economy. This is important, as US can be largely self-sufficient when it comes to international markets, while places like Japan have to import foodstuff and such. China could be too, but it doesn’t have the infrastructure or culture to be so. Chinese economical interests have been in building empty cities and expanding in Africa and Europe. China is dependent on exporting to the US though. According to George Friedman, China sends quarter of its exports to the US. If, perhaps when the US decides to pull off from the world stage, China’s economy is fucked. Around 2010, Friedman also estimated that China’s debt is around 40%, but still won’t enforce economic discipline. Japan had to do this in the 1990’s, which lead many unprofitable companies to be culled, something that continues to this day. Just look at how many Visual Novel companies have gone down in the recent years.

While catering to Chinese markets is completely standard procedure, something you don’t hear about because you’re not in the market, Chinese economy has higher chances imploding. Gaming is high-risk investment, and the Chinese are putting lots of money into gaming now to ride it. Electronic games market will feel when it hits. Companies with majority Chinese holders and money sources will dry up, projects will be cancelled and lots of people will lose their jobs. The Chinese government will put its citizens and companies before foreign ones. The Chinese market is not the same as Western markets, it is a twisted version of it at best. China is a communist nation after all, though their practices are more akin to fascism. Not Nazi fascism, but the kind that made The New Deal successful, the third road between capitalism and communism, putting the state at the handle of markets and companies. With Western companies, especially the US ones during when US seems to be retracting itself, are investing and putting their focus and effort like Blizzard has, the end result will be weak performance outside Chinese market, at worst straight out losing out if and when the Chinese economical implosion takes place.

I wouldn’t be worried about what happens to a games company in China. I’d be more worried about the incoming macro-economic shitstorm that is about to hit the world. The US can handle themselves just fine, the rest of the world really can’t. The Western world has fatal number of elderly people compared to the younger generation to replace them as workforce. When nations say they need immigrants to do work, they’re not lying. Global recession is imminent and countries have to look after their own asses. Common money like the Euro might end up fucking many nations over, thanks to already existing EMU partner nations who lied about their economical statuses and expected other member nations to bail them out whenever needed. In retrospect, it was a stupid idea for any EU nation to follow EU’s trading ban with Russia when Russia is one of the largest trading partners. In Finland, some of the industries like dairy products had to revamp their sales models and where they imported their products, as Russia was the most important trading partner. The dairy industry never got the same money off from European sales they managed to put up. If you’re not your own boss, you should be worried about your job.

It’s a small miracle that companies don’t practice different branding and advertising more in different regions. Of course, this is part of the whole globally recognised brand thing. I may not appreciate Blizzard having almost opposite stances in China compared to most of the rest of the world, but I can’t really boycott a company I was never a customer of. Game companies hope to hit gold with the Chinese bubble before it bursts, but after treating their PR this badly, they’ll have to work thrice as hard to win back the audience. All of it will be plastic surgery on the surface, while the core won’t change. Blizzard’s PR disaster probably will haunt them for a while among the fandom, but that will last only so long. They’ve lost a lot of good will from their customers, but their interest lies elsewhere. Vote with your wallet. People who say this doesn’t work clearly haven’t kept theirs closed enough. Make the company know your displeasure, hit where it hurts, and demand their focus to be on more solid market, market that houses the consumers who made their company.

Collections, collections, collections

So there’s a new Mega Man collection coming out, this time adding the Mega Man ZX games into the Mega Man Zero collection. I’m not sure how many remember, but the Zero games got a collection on the Nintendo DS, for better or worse, and they contained a mode that made the game easier across the board in order for the player to have an easier time so he’d see the story from start to finish. The original games were more or less intact, except with the connectivity thing with later Mega Man Battle Network games. Throw ZX games and you have a set of games people have been asking for some time.

What’s to write about this? Capcom has been collecting Mega Man games into bundles for a solid decade now, excluding the few earlier Anniversary collections that we got for PS2, GameCube and Xbawks. No, scrap that, let’s count them in. Ever since those collections, Capcom has been releasing old Mega Man games collected in each generation, except the Battle Network and Legends series. Legends is stuck with copyright hell thanks to Capcom using licensed drinks and labels in it, and due to Sony’s asinine Classics line rule, they can’t just remove these from the games and release as-in; they need to be as they were when they were first released on the PlayStation. Sure, we got the DASH games for the PSP, but only in Japan, hence the use of DASH instead of Legends. Without the two extra shoulder buttons, there’s some wonky controls about. We’ve never seen DASH since in a compilation, just as digital downloads, and Battle Network hasn’t been around at all. Maybe that series is stuck with license hell as well, considering the TV show and shitloads of other stuff regarding it were tightly wound together those (glorious) years. A compilation of sorts with online play would surely make many fans happy enough to blow their loads.

I bet your ass there are people who want that Zero bust just to hotglue it

Capcom Test is a term used when people assume Capcom is throwing something cheap out to test waters. While this has some credibility, the fact is that Mega Man doesn’t need its waters tested. They already know that there is demand, at least towards collections. Mega Man 11 showed that a game with relatively low budget compared to their hard, big hitters can and will make its money back as longs as it is competently made. Capcom hasn’t come out with any news whether or not they’re even considering developing Mega Man X9 despite teasing it in that one remix soundtrack CD (that was a letdown.) While some would argue that Evil May Cry 4‘s re-release was to test waters, we know from the director that he had made an ultimatum; he was given DMC5 or he’d walk out. At that point there were no waters to test, but perhaps what Capcom was testing was if there was enough demand for a higher budget. Game itself would’ve been made anyway. RE:make2  on the other hand needed to testing, after all Resident Evil is pretty much second only to Monster Hunter and even that is debatable after World, which in itself was carefully testing waters by dropping numeric from the title and opted for a subtitle instead, just in case if the game would crash and burn, meaning they could do a “real” Monster Hunter 5.

Let’s pose the question; if Capcom Test is a real thing, what are they testing with Mega Man Zero/ ZX Collection? The first answer might be that they testing whether or not there is enough demand for a new ZX game, as some would argue that the story needs to be concluded somehow in order to tie it properly to Legends. That really doesn’t hold much water, as Legends itself was left unfinished, and Capcom never greenlit Legends 3 despite all the public shit that was going on about it a decade ago. Theoretical ZX3 or whatever bullshit they add to the end (ZXA is ZX2 by all means) and would let the developers almost complete free reign to take the whole non-linear format to new directions. After all, these Montezuma’s Revenge-clones are still very popular. This collection won’t test how much demand there is for the Zero series, I doubt any of the fans would like to see Zero revived again for a fifth entry.

No, if they’re testing anything it is how much fans are willing to dish out, testing out how much pain carrying that loaded wallet causes. For this particular release Capcom Japan online store is going all out and releasing the previous Collections again in a box that has a separate space for Z/ZX collection. Y’know, get all the games (except Legends, spin-offs and Battle Network) in one major box.

Classics Collection, those X Collections, MM11 and free slot for Z/ZX. PS4 has its own as well, but Japan only, as usual with these

Capcom hasn’t really overstayed its welcome with these constant Collections yet, but they’re at the utmost limit now. If they were to publish a Legends Collections, they really should make it a complete package with all the missing titles, like Mega Man’s Soccer, Mega Man and Bass and its WonderSwan sequel, translated Rockboard and why the hell not throw that Chinese-only Rockman Strategy. I’m sure you can already tell that I’m not exactly looking for this particular release, but it does support the notion that Capcom is still riding on nostalgia wave instead of putting their goal to produce a new, high caliber Mega Man for whatever real reason. Inafune’s shadow can’t be that long, that there is nobody willing take the position and say We have a classic, long franchise with a ready install base we can easily expand by hitting some of the current trends all the while pushing the envelope on the franchise.

Mega Man innovated themselves from time to time. X, Legends, Battle Network, Z and ZX are all significantly different from the Classic series, and even then each sub-series changes the formats game-by-game basis. While I fully expect some kind of Mega Man game to be made based on the current cartoon, it seems Capcom is treating it like they treated Street Fighter The Movie in that it works as a promotional vessel rather than an adaptation. I would like to say that Capcom can’t coast on collections much longer, but the reality is that fans and consumers interested in the franchise will buy these collections every time a console generation shift hits around the corner, and if a special version like the above or the one with all the trinkets, there will be customers buying it. Fans find themselves in a vicious cycle of thinking that if they don’t show support, no more future entries in Mega Man will be made, but at the same time, you’ve already bought and played these games two or three times over and Capcom still isn’t putting out anything new. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The customer loyalty is still there and that probably is ultimately what will keep all these afloat for now. Special edition packages with craploads of stuff in them have always been a thing, slowly I have to question if that is becoming the only reason Mega Man collections are selling? Despite the franchise now lacking a face, the emotional contact is still there. Zero series has especially fanatic cult following, claiming it being the height of the franchise’s 2D game play design. They’ve been asking for ports of the series ever since the last collection on the DS came out, but apparently the originals and that port aren’t enough. Then again, maybe that goes to the other collections as well. Perhaps people really are just abandoning their old machines every single generation. Maybe Capcom should just start releasing collections every generation and never make a new game, as they seem to make a decent buck with each of them.

Capcom is coming out with Rockman X DiVE that’s making its rounds, but goddamn if people aren’t sick of beloved franchises getting a mobile game rather than a full-blown, big budget title. A proper entry, if you will. Just look at how happy Breath of Fire fans were about BoF6. While mobile titles can be massive successes, thus far none of them have been considered as “true” installments into a franchise. Then again, we did get that social mobile game Rockman Xover, which was less than ideal entry in the series, and was largely lambasted people who didn’t end up sucking on Capcom’s dick. Only so many companies have managed to strike true with their mobile games, and the Big C is not one of them. X DiVE has budget behind it, it has good assets and lots of work put to make it the best kind of mobile Mega Man X game it could be, which kinda says to us that the hinted new entry in the series rather than X9.

Capcom really lost the ball by not announcing a new Classic or X series game. They didn’t even need to have it released yet, just have the info out, some concept art and nothing else. Keep the heat going on, but often fans will just take anything they can grab and roll with those, but only for so long.

Claims of censorship do not always apply

Here’s a curious case for you to ponder; is it censorship, when you are contracted to fulfill a character design to an employer, and the employer changes after it is from your hands? If you answered Don’t be daft Aalt, if you’re employed and the contract says that the design needs to fill certain criteria, of course it isn’t then you don’t agree with Olivia Hill. Hill recently gave a small jab toward people who argue and are against censorship, in games and otherwise. She claimed that her vision of a character called Astrid was a bold anti-hero character, which was then changed into a generic fantasy anime lady. He calls the executives, who made the final decisions and changes to the character, douchebags and other unsavory names all the while claiming that they cut people out from the studio who didn’t want to work under their rule.

That’s given; if you don’t do your work, you get fired.

Hill’s claims are dubious at best, seeing there are only screenshots and ads given for Evertale, a game I’ve never heard of, but it seems to be your standard gacha mobage. Considering the game’s developing company, ZigZaGame, is a Japanese corporation and I can’t find any connections between Hill and her supposed past studio that worked on Evetale. Instead, it would appear that she did not exactly have to do anything with the game, and as a reply to her post points out, an artist named furuya. English provided jack shit information, as per usual in cases like this, but you can check Kazto Furuya’s Twitter for a post, where he mentions how he finalised and tweaked Astrid’s character a bit. He also has a promotional render on Pixiv. Considering how Furuya acts like most Japanese illustrators and designers working on a game like this, it is far more likely that Hill was blowing some air, taking credit for someone else’s work all the while accusing of Furuya, and by that extension people of ZigZaGame, of being pedophiles due to Astrid’s design, on or out of bikini. Astrid however does not look like your twelve years old warrior woman as Hill claims, might I add. She looks like any other generic teens-to-thirties Japanese cartoon character.

While I can’t disapprove Hill’s claims about her previous studio (unnamed) or what sort of work she ultimately did there and to whom it went to, Hill doesn’t offer any proof either. However, I’m going to trust what Japanese sources and especially what Kazto Furuya himself says with traceable sources and call her out on bullshit. However, she does claim to live and work in Japan and places herself in Tokyo, so maybe she was part of writing house that wrote the initial treatment for Astrid. Still, that alone doesn’t confirm anything really over Furuya’s case.

That out of the way, let’s reconsider her claim; if executives changes your character design to fit the marketing better, is that censorship? No, that’s just business.

To use a comparison, the censorship Sony is currently practicing is different. It is not one and the same company putting pressure on its own hired workers to finish on an agreed product. This is an outside company, from whom a developer and/or publisher has bought a license to publish a product on their platform. While some may justify Sony’s censorious practices by the fact that PlayStation is their platform and they have the full control over it, other may not agree with that notion fully. The guidelines are muddled at best, demanding developers to send their products to be vetted in English, damaging the relationship between Sony and third party developers. It should also be noted that some products, that already were on release schedule and ready, were veto’d afterward. Simply because Sony can does not mean they should, but their arbitrary rulings are always an outside force, not something that comes from inside the developers’ houses.

Let’s assume Astrid was an experienced warrior woman clad in black first. That’s the first bit I have problems with, as black is such a goddamn dull choice of armour colour in a fantasy setting. If Astrid was changed from this simple description to her much younger looking form, which still would appear to be a high-ranking warrior in a red armour on her own rights, there has been no censorship. It is no surprise to anyone that a work changes as it goes forwards. It didn’t meet up with the standards, it wasn’t what was needed or demanded of you, it does not fit the overall plan or the groundwork and so on. The reasons are numerous. A writer or an illustrator, artist even, are not hired for a company just because they can create something, but that they could create something for the corporation to market and make profit of. If you are employed in any way to produce content like a character design and background, you are expected to deliver by the books. Unless your contract has a miracle clause that says the corporation has to release whatever you do without them touching it, you are there to work for them and they are the ultimate beginning and end for your work.

It always seems like artists’ visions get trampled when someone changes it within a company. The fact is, often these visions are costly and/or not marketable. If an artist has that much faith in his given work, he can tweak it enough not to infringe on the corporation’s rights and publish something with that would be more along the lines of that original vision. Majority of the time, whatever character design work you do, that work is owned by the employer  by default. In very few cases, the creator retains rights to the character or whatnot they have created. American comic’s industry is well known for this, and it has been a long time discussion who should own the rights to created characters; the writer/artist, or the company? As I’ve mentioned, if you’re happy to give your work to a corporation as per contract, there’s no reason to dilly dally and doubt.

It is not uncommon knowledge that games change according to what investors and executives want. Video and computer games are a business after all, their main goal and drive is to make money. Unless you’re a big dick on a company or its head, your vision means jack shit if it is in the way of making some dough. That’s why people who consider their vision utmost importance either work their way into this position or put up their own companies to realise their goals to the best extend they can. No one’s work is untouchable when they’re working for someone else. With ZigZaGames, they seem to put fun first and foremost. To quote their website, If a game ultimately fails to be entertaining, we will never release it, no matter the funds or the effort we have put into it. Taking everything at face value, it would seem that Hill’s initial treatment wasn’t fun enough, and more resources were expended to tweak the character to fit the game director’s and main illustrator’s vision. Again, that’s not censorship. That’s polishing aspects of a product before release.

For whom is the Switch Lite for?

While the Switch is a mobile device just fine, it is rather bulky in certain aspects. It has to be. After all, it must serve as both home console and as a takeaway handheld console. Some play it solely in handheld mode, some just keep it attached to a screen for larger resolution play. Both are valid options. The preference just seems to change according depending on the nation. With some little digging, it would seem that the West likes to have the Switch docked most of the time and then just separate it whenever someone’s on the go. This seems to be a bit different from Japan, where handheld consoles have always been the top dogs. Be it space or because its just so much easier to nab a small console out for a quick play, there’s something in the nation’s cultural schema that supports small portable devices like this. Flip phones are still a culturally iconic devices, despite them being completely overshadowed by iPhones in the current day. Its one of the many reasons Monster Hunter found its breakthrough on the PSP was because people could just whip it out, check if there were other players in the area and a have quick hunt or two. This does not really work most of Western world nations. You’ll most likely get ridiculed if you are seen playing a handheld in public if you’re over fifteen. It took long time for Monster Hunter to become popular in the West, and despite the success on the 3DS (Nintendo really, really wanted that PSP Monster Hunter money on the 3DS) the real Western market breakthrough wasn’t until Monster Hunter World. Just don’t play with the French.

Switch Lite probably has a two-fold aim, First is to provide the Japanese market a smaller, more portable device that functions as a dedicated handheld, especially now that the Vita’s dead long dead and finally buried, which has left Nintendo with no competition in the handheld market. While Nintendo always had largest sect of the handheld market to themselves, they flourished whenever they had competition. Hopefully there will come some competition from whatever company might want to tackle the market, so Nintendo’s monopoly won’t make them lazy. Despite Nintendo claiming that they don’t follow what their competition is doing, this is of course PR bullshit. No company would willingly stay ignorant how their competition is doing and why. The second reason is that the Switch is not exactly a child friendly device. The simple fact that the Joycons are removable device raises the system’s cost and kids can misplace them rather easily. I’ve heard few friends having to buy new Joycons because lil’ Jimmy misplaced one in the backyard. This sort of hybrid nature doesn’t really work, unless the machine is dedicated to stay in docked mode, but that’s wasting the Switch’s potential. The same can, and must, be said of Switch Lite, where now you can’t switch modes, but now kids have something that can have their mittens properly on. It is far from a perfect solution, but you won’t have perfect solution for a hybrid console like this at this moment. Perhaps if Switch Lite still supported the docking it would have some leverage, but as it stands now, for average adult, the Switch Lite is a weird choice to go for.

If we use the past portable consoles Nintendo has manufactured before, their modus operandi should be roughly as follows; produce original version, create a smaller version with some improvements here and there, then create an upgraded version that seems a standalone from the previous iterations. For original Game Boy, we have its Pocket version as the “lite” iteration and Color as its final upgrade. The GB Advance is the deviation, with SP being the lite model with backlit screen, but nobody really seems to think GB Micro as the end-all version of the system. The NDS follows this line just fine though, with Lite being a thing and DSi followed soon after. We also got the larger screen versions to go by. 3DS is pretty much the same, followed by lite and the New 3DS version.

We can also tell that the Switch has been a success from this line. The only consoles Nintendo has not done upgraded versions of are machines that weren’t a success enough. The N64 never had a clear visible new edition to it, despite the Famicom/NES gaining top loader model, and SNES having SNES Jr model. GameCube stuck to its cubic form, and we don’t count Panasonic Q as a proper variation due to it never being aimed at mass markets. The Wii had Mini, which apparently sold rather well if I’m top believe a friend who worked at retail at the time. The Wii U was a disaster and never saw similar treatment. Here we are, with the Switch. Nintendo can afford to treat it as both handheld and home console, and seeing upgraded hardware per generation has become a standard again rather than new case design, we should probably wait for the announcement for whatever souped up Switch Nintendo has been cooking for some time now. After that, Nintendo’s attention will move towards their next console generation, though it would be in their best interest to give the Switch as long lifespan as the original Game Boy had. There is no reason to cut their hardware short just because they or their third party developers would like to play with some new hardware and not be limited with almost decade old set. The hardware oriented mindset does not do favours in the console business, whereas software centric is very lifeline these machine run on. I will use the old mantra that system with weakest hardware in the end has sold the most each generation. Deep Red Ocean market can hate the Wii however much they want, but the sheer joy of Nintendo Sports was in pretty much every home possible at the time.

At least the Switch Lite doesn’t have brand confusion as the Wii U had. They’ve learned something from that shitshow.

Heads in the clouds

Cloud gaming making some waves again, with Sony and Microsoft announcing collaboration with each other to explore solutions with their own streaming solutions. At least according to official statement from Microsoft. Despite being rivals within gaming market. We should always remind ourselves that out of the Big Three, only Nintendo deals exclusively with games. Both Microsoft and Sony have their fingers spread elsewhere, with Sony having movie and music studios, Microsoft with Windows and whatnot and so on. While Sony does rely heavily on the profits their gaming department is making (to the point of relying most of their profits coming from there seeing everything else has been going downhill for them), Microsoft doesn’t as much. I’m not even sure if Microsoft is still making any profit on their Xbox brand and products, considering neither the original box or the 360 saw any real profit throughout their lifespans. It’s like a prestige project for them, they gotta have their fingers in the biggest industry out there. The more competition, the better though. This does mean that neither Amazon or Google can partner with Sony for similar venture, but perhaps this was more or less a calculated move on both of their parts.

It does make sense that the two would collaborate to support each other in cloud and streaming venture though. Sony already has an infrastructure for streaming gaming content with their PlayStation Now while Microsoft has the whole Azure cloud centre set up. The MS Azure contains lots of features, from computing  virtual machines and high density hosting of websites, to general and scalable data management all the way to media streaming and global content delivery. Safest bet would be that both MS and Sony are intending to share their know-how of content streaming, but it is doubtful if the two will actually share any content. Perhaps Sony’s music and films will be seen on Microsoft’s services, but don’t count on the games. However, I can’t help but guess if multiplatform games between the two could be specifically designed and developed for their combined streaming efforts. That’s a bit out there, as the collaboration is to find new solutions rather than build a common service the two would use. This is, like Satya Nadella said, about bringing MS Azure to further power Sony’s streaming services, and that’s completely different part of market from games at its core.

This does seem like Enemy-of-enemy like situation. Google’s Stadia is touted to be the next big hitter on the game market. It’s not unexpected for the two giants pull something that would weaken Stadia’s standing. This, despite Stadia already having boatloads of obstacles already, ranging from control latency to the quality of the streaming itself (end-user Internet connection still matters, especially if you live in the middle of nowhere surrounded by dense forests) to the very content itself probably being less than unique. Let’s not kid ourselves, cloud gaming is not for everyone despite what Google’s PR department wants you to think. Not everyone has the money or infrastructure to have a proper connection for cloud gaming. Anecdotes be damned, but there are lots of people living around here who have to rely on wireless Internet for everything, especially up North, because the population is so spread apart that putting data cables into the ground would not be worth it. Early 2000’s modem speeds are not unexpected, they’re a standard. If early reports on Stadia are to be believed, there’s some serious lag and latency on standard Internet connections. It’s not going to play well with someone who doesn’t put a whole lot money into their Internet connection, or just can’t. If we’re going to be completely open about this, only a fraction of the world can handle cloud gaming. 10.7 teraflop computing power and 4K resolutions for Stadia? A pipe dream at best.

Steaming interactive content like video and computer games is not easy. Music and video, that’s comparatively easy, just send that data to the consumer and you’re pretty much done. Gaming requires two-way communication at all times, and on top of that the service has to keep tabs on what’s going on at both ends within the game. No matter how robust the data centres are, no matter what sort of AI solutions are implemented, it all comes down to the whole thing about latency between the data centre and the end-user. Perhaps the best solution would be split the difference in a similar manner how mobile games have partial data on the phone whole syncing with the server side all the time. That, of course, would be pretty much against the whole core idea of cloud gaming, where the end-user would just hold an input device and a screen.

Cloud gaming has been tried for about a decade now. It’s still ways off, but it’s very understandable from the corporations’ perspective why they’d like it to become mainstream and successful. For one, it would remove one of the biggest hurdles from the consumer side; getting the hardware. You could just use your existing computer or smartypants phone to run things and you’re set. Maybe have a controller, but you can get those for twenty bucks. No need to pay several hundreds for a separate device just to run separate media software. Cloud gaming would be the next step in digital-only distribution, which would also offer better protection from piracy. Control is the major aspect of cloud gaming, where the end-user would have effectively none. You would have no saying in what games you have access to. One of the well marketed modern myths about streaming services is that everything is available 24/7, when in reality everything is determined by licenses. Star Trek vanished from Netflix for a time being, because the license ended, for example. This happens all the time. I’m sure there’s some list of lost media listing somewhere about digital-only films and shows that were lost due to publishing rights and licenses expiring. Lots of games having vanished from both Steam and GOG because of this, and if there are no physical copies floating around, pirating is your only option. For something like the Deadpool game, you can only get second-hand or newold stock, as the developer’s and publisher’s license expired few years back.

Will cloud gaming be the future? Probably at some point, but the infrastructure is way off still for it to become any sort of standard. It is, in the end, another take on the decentralised gaming Nintendo has going on with the Switch, moving away from the home media centre that the smartphones brought to us. Cloud gaming will take take firmer hold once they beat systems with local storage in value and performance. For now, enjoy the screen in your pocket.