Something new and the countering culture

For some time now, I’ve criticised companies for rehashing the same old IP and the same old stories for a new product. Ever since we got The Force Awakens‘ first trailer really, when I had a post how they’re effectively recycling concepts from the cutting floor. 2016’s Ghostbusters is an extreme example of this in many ways, where it was beat for beat remake of the original. Well, so was Force Awakens and that’s the problem really. At some point all these big franchises that we’re now getting remakes and sequels of and to were something new, something ground breaking even.

Star Wars was born from New Hollywood. It was counter culture, much like how American Graffiti was before it. It something new, something that wasn’t done at the time. The 1970’s America was rather drab places, marred with controversies about war and politics. New Hollywood wanted to move away from what the establishment was doing, and as it tends to be with counter culture, it won and became the new establishment down the line. Goerge Lucas might’ve hated Hollywood and wanted to do this own thing, but during the production of Empire Strikes Back, he became a Hollywood producer himself in practice, and ultimately Return of the Jedi was more of the same, just like The Force Awakens. You have the Vietnam War parallels even stronger, you have the Wookies in form of Ewoks in the movie Lucas wanted in the first movie, but couldn’t have, you have another Death Star and a daring run into it to blow it up. The Force Awakens might “rhyme” with A New Hope, but it’s the second movie to do so in the franchise. It might be what people expected more, at first, but it’s also the deathknell of a franchise. You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again. Franchises that keep revisiting and recycling are stale, and the revenues will diminish as more of their audience will turn away.

Star Wars as a franchise is the primary example of this, because it has revisited its stories so many times already. Rogue One was about getting the plans for the Death Star, something people who read the comics, books and played the games already had seen three times already, and it is something that had bled into the popular culture through osmosis. There is a trilogy of books of Han Solo’s childhood and backstory, a series of books that’s superior in every respect what the Solo movie was, despite it lifting elements from said books. In principle Disney made the right decision to purge the old Expanded Universe, as much as that made people disappointed, but what they proceeded to do was nothing new. They began to re-introduce old characters into the new canon, like Thrawn, rather than taking this chance and completely recreate something new. Disney, in effect, took the most popular pieces and simply made marketable works out of them. The short term revenues will be there, but will damage the brand and the franchise on the long run, just like The Force Awakens and the movies following it have done to Star Wars overall. You either have to be new to popular culture to consider The Force Awakens something new, or be a child who has no experience with culture at large yet.

That is an argument with some, that recycling stories for children is nothing new and older people should already grow up or move along. That’s a weak argument. Children more often than not will be entertained by something their parents are heavily invested in, that’s normal generational behaviour. New children’s franchises are successful and popular because they’re new a tailor made for that generation, be it either through tools or paradigms governing a given era. Repeated creation of the same ol’ thing without adding anything new to it will not create new content. It might be good business, especially if you have lots of IPs under your belt that you can reuse and recycle years on end, yet you will come to a point where that’s all the business will be. A competitor that innovates and puts out something new, creating paradigm shifts and shaking the industry standards, that’s where the money is in the long run.

The game business is not exactly analogous with Hollwyood. In Hollywood, things like Ghostbusters 2016 might fly in theory, and in practice fail simply because Hollywood can’t think anything new by itself. Hollwyood has a problem of thinking one-way and nothing else can enter its sphere. Hollwyood as a problem in diversity of thought, if we’re completely honest. You often see big movies like The Last Jedi including something about how capitalism is bad and evil, despite being the most capitalist engines on the planet with lots of gravy of nepotism. Woes is the world and its poor nations when big titles have larger budgets than some nation’s GDP. Hollywood has no touch with the general public or the world at large, it’s an insulated bubble that’s sold on one thing at a time and it shows in the movies. It’s no wonder China has become the main stage, when they’re making movies the general audiences don’t really care for. Certainly one-time event movies will make big bucks, like Avengers: End Game and The Force Awakens, but that works only once or twice. After that you have to introduce something new, something of high quality, something that shows We can do better, we can deliver superior produce. All big movie franchises have failed in this. More often than not, when things fail, the fans are called to be at fault, that their expectations and voices ruin movies and TV-shows, despite these people only hearing everything after the fact.

Look at Star Trek for another example. The nuTrek, the branch-off J.J. Abrams put out, are not Star Trek in its core element. However, because they effectively failed to captivate the audience and the fourth movie is on the chopping block, seeing nobody wants to fund the fourth movie, you got Discovery. If Star Trek Discovery had been affected by the fan reactions and backlash from the Abrams’ movies, it would have been very different show, more akin to The Next Generation if nothing else. Rather, the powers that be decided to make whatever the hell they wanted, and only after the reactions from the audience you began getting all those news pieces how toxic a fandom is and the like. Hollywood doesn’t care whether or not they make films and shows that are faithful to the franchise, or even well written. There are only few people who want to make movies for the sake of making movies, and people who want to produce something of actual worth. These people are going against the Hollywood grain.

Video games are a bit different as they are not just something you consume passively. You can drop an hour or two into a movie or a TV-show, watch something part of your streaming service or once in a whole buy a ticket or a disc from the store. There’s not much investment into a movie, it doesn’t take much of your attention or time. A game does, and a game requires something from the player in regards of skill and participation. Sequels and remakes to games are expected to expand on the play of the game more than on the story. Games that don’t do this languish and die out. Look at the New Super Mario Bros. series of games as an example. Massive first success with the DS title, the first 2D Mario game in years, and after that the series does nothing with it. Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario Bros. 3 are great examples of game sequels that expanded everything about the predecessors. The Japanese SMB2 didn’t and it’s best left as Lost Levels, as it really is a great example of a lacking sequel.

Games like Resident Evil 2 Remake and Final Fantasy VII Remake are hitting the nostalgia boner people have. Nostalgia is extremely easy way to make money, especially with IP and franchises that are still running and popular. They’re safe for busainess due existing fanbase, there’s not much PR that company has to do to be a hit. At least that first few times. REmake2 and 3 only work this one time, and Capcom can’t go on remaking titles like this down the line. At a point customers, even new ones, will ask if this is all.

Popular culture, and culture overall, thrives when something of new worth is added to it. Star Wars originally was an amalgamation of ideas that Lucas had met before that point. Star Wars wasn’t a ripoff or copy of something, but an amalgamation of multiple aspects into one new whole. We haven’t seen this happening for some time now. Rather than having something new on the table, existing concepts are reused and recycled. Marvel movies, Disney Star Wars, 2016 Ghostbusters, that new Charlie’s Angels, New Super Mario Bros., Resident Evil remakes, Final Fantasy VIII Remake, four last Terminator films and so on are all creatively and conceptually bankrupt. None of them have added to the cultural scape what their predecessors did. They are hollow cases, filled with content that will taste sweet for a moment and rot away fast.

Something like original Resident Evil or Star Wars doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It needs someone to say I want to create something of my own and do it. Creativity doesn’t just happen, you have to work for it. You make your own environ and the sources of inspirations. You can’t make a great Star Wars movie if you only grew up with the media and culture surrounding it. You have to read into the world mythos and philosophy, watch old movie serials and films from different cultures, understand core concepts of human psychology if you are to make something that would be like the first Star Wars. If you only understand a story, be it a film, a game, a visual novel, comic or anything else, on its own, you don’t truly understand it all.

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.

A Stadiaster

That title isn’t even punny. Yeah I know I’m bad at making jokes and people tend to take me all seriously whenever I make one on the blog, which is why I stopped doing them long time ago (or did I?) I didn’t follow Stadia’s launch per se, but news and people going on about the whole shebang just crept through the grapevines. I couldn’t help but feel slightly sorry for people who got Stadia, but this should also teach people that corporate speech is never to be trusted. While Stadia hasn’t been a complete disaster, it’s damn close to it.

From what I’ve been told, the lag is present in almost every game to a stupidly extreme degree. Button presses are recognised whole seconds after the fact, and some games simply stutter and play slow like you’re in Nino Island Ruins in Mega Man Legends 2, just without the watery ripple effect. The instructions for Stadia recommends cutting everything off in your Internet usage while playing Stadia, including streaming music. It’s also recommended to connect it directly to the router rather than through computer or any other device’s WiFi. There are some additional helps people have found out, but it’s all really to make sure the Stadia has all the bandwidth. Not just some, but all it can have. When I called out Google’s bullshit that it’d do 60FPS 4K in a perfect manner and said nobody really has the speeds or connections to get games running in that quality, I knew people would be bewildered when their games would run terribly. Never trust corporate word, it’s meant to promote and sell, not to be truthful.

That should be few nails in the coffin for Stadia, but that’s just the game side of things. People haven’t got their codes, some have been missing their devices and Google’s own support isn’t even in the know about Stadia. Sure, Google’s a big million dollar company and not everything part of it can be made aware what sort of things the other is doing, but support should really be informed that this kind of product is coming and these are your instructions. This should show that Stadia’s launch very much a rushed thing, that Google barely had any time to put together proper documentations internally and did not prepare what was to come. I bet your ass they know well enough how badly everything would go, but hype will carry anything through. Now that they’re getting real-world test data from existing users, they can start tweaking stuff properly. While not standard, it isn’t unusual for a company to use early adopters as testbeds and beta testers. The “real” launch of Stadia will probably be sometime next year after they’ve further tweaked and fixed stuff, and when that supposed Freemium model of some sort gets launched.

Of course, when you fail at what you intended to do, you can always throw in identity politics and claim some brownie points through that. In an interview with CNN Business, Google VP and head of Stadia Phil Harrison claimed that Stadia is targeting women with Stadia controller. Here’s the archive link for it. If I’m being honest, this is load of bullshit. Stadia controller looks like a generic Chinese knock-off controller you can sometimes see being sold on eBay or other places, it looks like a blander version of the Xbox 360 controller. Controllers in multiple colours has been a thing since at least Commode 64 days, where you could find joysticks and other devices in different colours. Most often something neutral or targeting the pre-existing user group was offered, because those sell. The design director Isabelle Olsson claims that the wasabi colour they went with has universal appeal. There are vast amounts of colours that have universal appeal. Anything pale that’s close to white of course would have universal appeal, as it doesn’t make a strong statement for a direction or another. It’s like vanilla; it goes well with everything and nobody really fights against the taste. CNN Business claiming that it’s slightly easier for small hands to grip than similar products put out by rivals is nothing short of bullshit. All modern controllers that use the handle-grip design have to be designed to fit standard hand dimensions. The overall shape has to be different due to the patents and copyrights, but in recent memory there is only one controller that was intentionally designed to fit larger dimensions than the global standard, Xbox’s The Duke. Claiming that they’re targeting women with these design choices is laughable. It’s nice to say this, when in reality your product is aiming to become a success with general audiences and not just part of it.

Of course, Harrison also mentioned how they don’t have the baggage of pre-existing gamer culture, a thing that’s absolutely false. Whatever they actually mean by gamer culture is well up to debate (long-time readers know that “gamer culture” and its history stems well back to 1800’s and back at least), but you can’t escape the market pressure and demands if you intend to enter a market and succeed there. Stadia may not have history attached to it, but that’s just normal. No new product has a history attached to it, but at the same time, all the pre-existing games that were attached to Stadia bring their history and culture to the platform. Of course, this means Stadia can be the best of the best for a time being, before its core consumer base sets in, but at right now Stadia has more infamy to it than any other platform. Harrison and the rest of the staff that decided on the whole women-centric and sex-neutral marketing have undermined their supposed attempt by bringing in old games that are very well marred in this culture they don’t want to carry. It is extremely haughty to claim you’re targeting an audience that isn’t being catered to, when the world is full of options and readily-catering products. That’s PR for you, throwing out ideas of what you’re doing for the sake of making that sliver more sales. I guess that’s the angle Google has to take with Stadia on the outside to make them stand out from the competition, when their model of service isn’t meeting up with the wants and demands of the audience, targeted or not.

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.

Complexity and difficulty do not deter sales

Continuing from last week’s ex tempore Guilty Gear post, the concept of making something more accessible in video games should be looked at a bit closer. The myth is very clear cut; make a game’s play less demanding in order to attract consumers. For long running franchises, there already exists an installed consumer base, changing a series’ latest entry to be less whole than its predecessor usually isn’t met with the most positive reception. Fighting games are interesting in this regard, because they exhibit series-within-series mentality. All five mainline Street Fighter games series have their own unique approach to the core mechanics introduced in Street Fighter. Street Fighter II expanded on the cast and introduced combos by accident. Later Street Fighter II games would introduce speed modification, new input methods and the industry standard Super moves. Street Fighter III revamped the whole pace of the game and made Parrying an essential part of the game. Third Strike landed Ex Moves into the series, which have become more or less franchise standard. Street Fighter IV modified Super concept a bit more with Revenge Gauge as well as introducing Focus Attacks and Red Focus Attack would be introduced later. Street Fighter V is a platform for each and every update for the game. This sort of tweaking applies to Guilty Gear as well, where most of the sub-titled game outside the first game have iterative versions. X has X+, XX has its fair share of update to the point of some arguing Accent Core should be considered a sub-series on its own rights. Xrd of course had Sign first before Revelator, and then Rev.2 came around. With New Guilty Gear, we should expect them to take a step back toward the original game, as that’s the standard procedure with both Capcom and ArcSys, and build up from there. However, every time a developer announced they want their game to attract new customers, or that they want certain customer crowd, red flags are raised. However, not for the reason you’d think.

Games have always been complex and stupidly hard. Dark Souls is not any exception to the rule, but it the series is perhaps the best example of a game that mainstream has taken under its wing despite it being brutally difficult, requiring relatively high execution due to its relatively complex mechanics. Dark Souls is just modern equivalent of the NES era Castlevania anyhow. Both are based on Western horror and both are deemed brutally hard games. Both are very successful franchises. The NES era is very good example of games becoming more complex and the same time gaining more popularity and seeing increase sales. Castlevania is of course example of this, but so would Super Mario Bros. By modern standards the first game is archaic, extremely basic. When it first rolled out, it was one of the most technologically advanced game on consoles, the game to define cartridge games before Nintendo rolled out Disk System. We know how that went down. Super Mario Bros. 2 made more characters available with different properties, much longer stages with numerous tricks to them, and more demanding game overall. It may not be Lost Levels, but Lost Levels is just an update for the first game with new enemies and no mechanical changes. Super Mario Bros. 3 on the other hand wiped the slate clean with more demanding stages, more complexity with flying, more mechanics to play with new suits and options, stage gimmicks and so on. If complexity and difficulty would deter the customer, none of these aforementioned series would’ve been successful.

Modern video and computer game developers should look at the arcades’ success to learn a thing or two. Arcade games were often butt puckeringly difficult in order to make their earnings, but with that they also were required to deliver excellent burst of gameplay. Cabinets that didn’t were quickly empty, with customers slotting their quarters into something more worthwhile. The games needed to attract the customers first, and that’s why the cabinet design had to be excellent, eye-catching and sometimes extremely wild. The attract mode was integral to this, which either was pretty damn good or rather terrible. There was no real in-between. The standard was to start with some sort of video sequence that sets up the setting for the game, showcasing some of the characters before the title screen hits, often with a bang. After that it would move to gameplay, which would be either AI playing the game either via game’s own instructions or prerecorded inputs, or just have the player character being dumb and taking hits before dying. Show some scores from other players, maybe splash the title screen once more than then loop the whole thing, until a player throws a coin in. Later in the 1990’s, these attract modes would find themselves very sophisticated, like how Choukou Senki Kikaioh presented itself as an opening animation for a Saturday morning cartoon.

I’d also recommend checking out Konami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade gamesattract modes.

Presentation is all-important with games still. That is the first thing the consumer will see, from advertisement to in-game graphics. Graphical fidelity in itself is not as important as how those graphics are represented. ArcSys has always been able to pull this off, devising visual flavour that pulls in the audience. The main reason original Guilty Gear is a footnote in the series, and in fighting game history overall, is that it was just another game among others in a time when 2D fighting games were pushed away in favour of 3D. It didn’t make its mark because of being difficult or too complex, Tekken had more on it than Guilty Gear. Third Strike: Street Fighter III hit the scene years later, and you can guess which one of the two are is more complex and more played nowadays. Of course, SFIII wasn’t exactly a mass hit during that time either, but that was the era when arcades were dying. That, and SFIII a totally new cast that rubbed SFII fans the wrong way. Very few companies would be willing to completely replace their game’s cast nowadays, though SFIII‘s unique cast has been accepted retroactively as worthy successors and the initial reaction is seen rather overly drastic. Visuals is what the player will be looking at all the time, and if they’re up to par in terms of design and sheer quality of ’em, the game has to pull double duty on making the entry worthwhile.

That is only the start though, an ever-important one. Once you’ve gotten the customer’s attention, the best way is to engage the him to full possible extent with well designed and coded play. The answer to rope in new players is not in making game easier to play, that is the wrong way to make a game more accessible. Easy to learn, hard to master is the mantra of every great game out there, not just electronic. The best card games are easy to understand and learn, but stupidly hard to master due to other elements. Poker, for example, is simple enough to teach to a three-years old, but everything else calculating odds to reading other players takes time and effort. This isn’t an argument for people to get good at a game, but rather that by allowing the player to naturally learn what does what should be the priority rather than automate things. Automation and cutscenes take away control from the player, and though it helps early on and may give a cinematic effect, it should always be an option to remove automation once the player has learned enough. Autocombos as an element try to alleviate the execution barrier in fighting games, and while they do work as a first step helper, it should always be optional and the game should make an effort to encourage the player to abandon it rather than give them a safe tool they can roll with all the time. Its not a rare mindset to use the tool that’s the easiest and safest because it just works. Repeat it again and again until desired result is gained. The incentive of more damage with better combos doesn’t really sound appealing to general player if such tool exists.

Give a controller to a complete newcomer to fighting games and tell them what the buttons do, and then do things. They’ll be in complete awe what’s going on. There has been much discussion on mechanic complexity, but less so about inputs. Sure, methods of inputs is a big topic, pad vs stick and so on, but less so if there are too many single inputs. What I mean by this that, for example, Street Fighter has six buttons. Three for punches, three for kicks. King of Fighters has four, two punches and two kicks. Tekken has four, one for each limb. Melty Blood runs four as well, but with three attacks and a special. Virtua Fighter has three; punch, kick, guard. Which one of these would you say would make a newcomer most confident? Then consider which of these franchises has seen most revenue. Number of inputs is related to complex execution. More ways to input stuff, the more motor skills are required. Add the mechanics to this, and it becomes easy to see why some would argue lessening complexity is the way to go. Nothing keeps you from using all the buttons on the controller, but at the same time nothing says you should. All that said, the core fighting game design with the system starts with how many buttons there are. It might look intimidating to a complete novice who has never played a game, but this is something no game can really deal with. A player must start somewhere to work over the complex controllers, but a well designed game wins the player over with good design.

Not even kidding. Back when I was studying psychology and used games to run experiments, few of them were so completely bewildered by a SNES controller they might as well have used this

However, this design is hard to implement into a fighting game. The reason for this is that fighting games are pure one-screen games. There are no stages that the developer could design around for the player to intuitively learn controls and mechanics, like they can with Super Mario Bros. There are no attract modes anymore to show how the game flows. All you really can do is hit the Training mode and hope for the best. With the Internet, this shouldn’t be the case anymore. People learned how to play Street Fighter II by being there in the arcades, playing games with others and tradings tips and tricks. That wholesome interaction may be gone now, but online play could help. Have people play few matches against the CPU to measure how good they are and then throw them into online matches with equally ranked opponents. This doesn’t seem to be happening though. Often what seems to happen is that you just keep losing to people online and have to learn about things before you can match others.

The thing is that this happens with everything. You don’t get good at reading before you learn the alphabets and how language works. You don’t learn to drive right away. You don’t learn to draw a straight line until you’ve done it thousands of times. Playing soccer takes ages to get good. Building and painting model kits takes years to learn. Even something like Pokémon Go demands you to drag your ass out there to spin those stops and join the raids for the best Legendaries out there. This is not an issue of getting good at a game, though it does bloody sound like it. The issue is of genre. Fighting games, despite being one of the most readily accessible genre out there, is all about having that crazy shit happen on screen, but as always it should be the crazy shit the player is doing, not the game. Games are about user action, and the less user action there is, the less play a game has. While this post largely equates play with mechanics, the two are inseparable aspects. Fighting games are interesting in that everything is laid out right away in terms of mechanics and they’re easy to do. Making use of them, that’s something that can only come from repeated play. Call it a detriment of the genre or whatever else, but you can only really prepare for a match in a fighting game is to play the game. With RPGs you can get your noggin jogging and consider things in terms of elemental weaknesses and the like. While you can use this in fighting games with rock-paper-scissors elements, timing them right still takes some experience. With a game like Final Fantasy, the issue of getting good at the game is in understanding the mechanics, not really being able to execute them with some motor skill fidelity. Lowering the mechanics skill ceiling might sound attractive, yet it will lead with into more experienced players dominating over newcomers that much more. While Darkstalkers 3 is technically and mechanically very demanding game, it is an example of a game where you medium skill players are very rare. You’ll either be in less skilled floor, or someone who has spend years with the game and have broken through the ceiling. There really is no middle ground, and that probably will be the end result if a fighting game series decides to downgrade its play mechanics.

Holding on to your current consumer base is easier than making a new one. While as a creator it may seem dreadful to tweak an existing formula again and again, that is partially expected from a sequel. Street Fighter does break this mentality, but only if you go by number-by-number rather than iteration-by-iteration. Consumers expect a new numbered Street Fighter to mix things to some extend outside its core basics, but this is not the case with Guilty Gear. XX and Xrd set the expectation that while system tweaks and additions are to be expected, no major or drastic approach would be done in of themselves. The brand expectation for Guilty Gear is what it is, a high-speed fighting game with expansive and complex mechanics that support offensive play the most. Things like Burst, Instant Kills, Gatling Combos, Dust Attacks and the sheer way the games have played have become more or less as part of the core expectations because ArcSys has never given the series a significant system change after GGX. New Guilty Gear will most likely aim to cater with these ideas, but it as a game will have brand confusion. There have been different Guilty Gear experiences before, as Ishiwatari put it, with all the spin-off titles. It would serve the franchise better if the core fighting game line would continue as per standard, catering to both Red Ocean and shallow Blue Ocean customers, all the while the franchise would see a new spin-off that would give it a completely new spin. There is more room for Guilty Gear titles that do something different with the same core basics. From business perspective, you’d keep the interest of your current consumers with a new sub-title to the series all the while still catering to them with the core series, but also attracting newcomers with something they could get into.

Guilty Gear 2 is still a thing, and it changed the genre. ArcSys could do more things like this

It still bogs down to the content, not mechanics’ complexity. You have to have something to nab to consumer in with presentation, you have to have good play to keep the player interested and entertained so he is willing to spend more time, and what he spends his time on is content. When the player consumes a game’s content, he naturally learns the ropes. However, if the content is lacking doesn’t keep interest high. This is why Street Fighter V is a weird case study, as it discarded the idea of iteration in favour of constant content updates. Content for a fighting game would be characters and the various modes, though the main mean would always be the fighting itself. Xrd‘s movie story mode is an excellent example of utterly trash content for a game, whereas previous entries’ multiple paths storymode based on matches and player decisions in those matches is a great example. It keeps the player more engaged, and it gives him motivation to keep playing in order to see all the characters’ story paths. For 25 characters that would mean 50 different endings to unlock. Good online keeps all players along the ride too for some time, but there needs to be content. Marvel VS Capcom: Infinite failed at presentation the very moment trailers hit the scene. The mechanics were great and gameplay had autocombos too, but there was no content people were looking for. On the opposite, Marvel VS Capcom 3 had more complex controls than its predecessor, Tatsunoko Vs Capcom, but obviously had more content that interested general audiences more outside Japan. It should not surprise that it saw more play by all and higher sales.

Video games are stupidly large entertainment industry now, but the true and tested way to expand to the Blue Ocean market still applies; disrupt the market with a new quality product that hits the current paradigm. A revamped Guilty Gear might be this product for sure, but only if it truly is able to pull off everything right. In other words, it would need to be the same kind of title as Street Fighter II was to previous fighting games. Its branding alone drags it down. It would serve ArcSys better if they’d launch a new, high-caliber series with the same energy, with the same effort and the same enthusiasm. They are playing with a marketing grenade in their hands at the moment. ArcSys could pull it off, but chances are consumer expectations are against them harder than Ishiwatari thinks.

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.