Saturday, January 11, 2014

How could Capcom turn themselves around?

If you have been following any form of video game news lately, then chances are you have heard about the mess Capcom is in. For the past few years now, the company has been struggling to stay afloat, and things just keep getting worse and worse. The last we officially heard, the company itself only has around $150,000,000 left in the bank, and for a 3rd party developer, that isn't much. If you take into account that employees need to be paid, and if you take into account the development costs of their games, then you can easily see how this is a problem. So, just how did Capcom get into this state, and how could they get themselves out of this mess? Well, here's my personal opinion on the matter. Keep in mind that I have been a Capcom fan since I was four years old, and I was also a very active member over at Capcom's community Capcom-Unity; in fact, that's how Netto's Game Room got its start. I've followed the company itself closely for many years, and I am still a huge fan of their game series. While I cannot go into every detail about Capcom's situation (as Capcom will not publicly announce their private affairs), I can go into the company's recent history, and state the facts I know. Now, with that being said, let us move on.

Capcom itself was in pretty good standing until a few years ago; however, not everything they did went according to plans. One of their first big named games of the 7th generations was Resident Evil 5. The game had a lot of hype, and Capcom really pushed it to its fans; expecting it to repeat the successesof Resident Evil 4. While on paper this looks like a smart move on Capcom's part, but the game itself didn't live up to the standards fans were expecting. The game had issues, the co-op partner would get in your way, and the game felt more like a 3rd person shooter with clunky controls, than a Resident Evil game. Although the game did do okay, it wasn't that "must have" title like Capcom hoped for.

Another big Capcom title for the 7th generation was the original Lost Planet. The game was a brand new IP, which is always a risk, and a breath of fresh air. While the game itself was a solid title, it still only sold around two million copies across all platforms. It was enough to get a sequel, but that's where things also started to fall apart. When Lost Planet 2 was coming out, Capcom spent a lot in marketing the game, and once again they were hoping for high sales. They released demos to show off the crazy huge boss fights, they advertised it like crazy, they released many different forms of merchandise (such as plushies), and it was a game they put a lot of focus on at E3 and Comic Con. It was going to be their big hitter, but once again it fell short. The game's sales were less than the original Lost Planet (although they were still around two million), and the title still didn't become the next big thing.

By this time, Capcom started heavily relying on rehasing old titles. They started loading their games up with on disc DLC, which made fans mad, and they started re-releasing "improved" versions of older titles. Games like Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil Code Veronica X got HD remasters, Street Fighter 4 got Super Street Fighter 4, Super Street Fighter 4 3D, Super Street Fighter 4 Arcade Edition, and just lately it has an upcoming Ultimate Street Fighter 4 version, games like Marvel vs Capcom 2 got HD re-releases, and so did most of the classic Street Fighter games. Capcom fell into a re-releasing streak, and that is something that continues on even today. While some people do in fact rebuy these games, and stay up to date with the current versions, many fans are put off by this, and in return the newer versions of the games do not sale.

Another good example of this happening is with the newer Resident Evil Revelations. The game was a heavy hitter on the 3DS, even doing better than the "mess of a game" Resident Evil 6 (which had a large development team and a high development budget, only to fall short and flop in the end). It was a good 3DS game, and fans who wanted the game bought it. So, what did Capcom decide to do? Re-release it for HD consoles, what else? Well, while that did open up the game to a wider audience, and it did allow people who didn't have a 3DS to get the game, the thing is, not many people actually rebought it. The 3DS isn't that expensive of a handheld, and most people who actually cared for the game already owned the game. A simple HD remastering of it wasn't enough to resell the game to the fans, so once again the sales fell short. Even if you added up the sales of the HD version, across all consoles, it barely sold more than the original 3DS release. If you take into consideration the development costs to get the game on all of the platforms it was released for, it really doesn't seem worth it.

One thing that really upset fans, was the cancellation of Megaman Legends 3. It was a game fans had waited over 10 years for, it was a game fans spent thousands of hours in Capcom-Unity's Devroom discussing, and it was one of the reasons people wanted a Nintendo 3DS. It was sure to be a heavy hitter on the 3DS, but the game was canceled because the higher ups felt it was a risk. Although it is understandable, after all if you release a sequel to a game that's over 10 years old, it might not sell to the newer audience, it was also a pretty bad move on their part. Capcom had just spent a lot of time and money working on this game, and they didn't even give it a shot. To make matters worse, they didn't even finish their original "test" of sorts. The original plan was to put the game into development, develop a demo which would then be sold on the Nintendo 3DS eShop, and if the demo sold well enough, the game would then go into full development. The thing is, Capcom didn't even bother releasing the demo, which was finished and scheduled to be released just a few days after the project's cancellation, and because of that they took a major loss. They could have released that demo, made money from it, and made fans happy, but they just cut their losses and moved on. Moved on to focus on developing HD ports none the less (some of which were the ports mentioned above).

Dead Rising 2 was another game Capcom spent a lot of time on, and it was another game they really pushed. While the game actually sold really well, the "newer" version of it was a flop. When Capcom canceled Megaman Legends 3, they went on to put more time and effort into games such as Dead Rising 2: Off the Record, and that hurt then once again. Off the Record was a rehash of the original Dead Rising 2 with a retold story focusing on Frank West, a few new areas, a few new bosses, and a new sandbox mode for people to play around in. Capcom really pushed this one as well, but it too fell short. Its sales never reached anywhere near the high sales of Dead Rising 2, so once again Capcom took a loss.

With the cancellation of Megaman Legends 3, Capcom's Megaman series also basically died. By this time Capcom had ended their Starfoce series, which was what replaced Battle Network, they still refused to release a new Megaman X due to the poor sales of X8, Classic Megaman was reduced to budget NES styled download only games, the ZX series (which replaced Zero) was dead, and the only news Capcom had for Megaman was in the form of cheaply made iOS and mobile games. Sure a few of the older games were re-released on DLC services such as the eShop, but nothing new has entered the mix. Capcom themselves stated that they thought games like Megaman wouldn't sell anymore, but Inafune's latest Mighty No. 9 project, with its already large fanbase, proved this statement to be false. Fans do want Megaman, but Capcom just doesn't understand how to handle the IP. The are scared to take risks like Legends 3, but willing to take risks like Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, which was a generic 3rd person shooter set in the Resident Evil universe, which ultimately flopped. It wasn't what fans wanted.

Other Capcom titles, which may actually do well, never make it outside of Japan. A prime example of this was the game EX-Troopers. The game was poorly coded with the Japanese language being hard coded into the game, and that in return made it impossible to bring the game outside of Japan without completely rebuilding it from scratch. It was a game set in the Lost Planet universe with anime styled graphics, and a Megaman Legends 3 like playstyle, and it was released on the Nintendo 3DS and PS3. Chances are it would have done well elsewhere in the world, but that's something we will never get to find out for sure. The game did have poor sales in Japan, but that's typically the case for all shooters in Japan. The shooter market isn't the best over there, and EX Troopers wasn't a game that could change that. Once again Capcom took a loss, when they could have possibly made a profit elsewhere. It's all because of poor programming, and Capcom's unwillingness to try to set things right.

Now in the recent years Capcom has made some smart decisions, but the bad still outweighs the good. For example, just lately they worked with Wayforward to produce an HD version of the classic NES game Duck Tales. While the game wasn't a "big" title, at least it was a step in the right direction, and it made a lot of fans happy. Then there's also the Monster Hunter series, which alone sold thousands of PSPs in Japan. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate was a great release both in Japan and in the US, and it is a series that continues to go strong. Sure the market for it isn't as high in the west, but at least it is something. Even if it does fall short here, Japan will more than make up for it. Dragon's Dogma was another great RPG title which helped Capcom stay above water, but even that can go so far; especially when not too long after Capcom releases a controversial Devil May Cry reboot, and a game called "Remember Me" which failed to be rememberable as of late. (Not to mention the Kinect game Steel Battalion which couldn't stand up to its original which had a crazy realistic mecha control panel controller you had to buy.)

As of right now, Capcom's main focus is on Dead Rising 3 and the upcoming Strider "reboot" of sorts. Sadly Dead Rising 3 was an Xbox One exclusive, which still doesn't have the largest market in the world, and Strider is just a simple download title which may or may not make it. The game looks promising, but it is too early to tell just how well it will do.

So, what can Capcom do to fix this mess? Well, first of all, Capcom of Japan needs to get on the same page as Capcom of America. CoA actually cares about its fans, they work along side them over at Capcom-Unity, and often they improve titles during translation; Tatsunoko vs Capcom is a prime example of this. Really, it is easy to tell that the US side of Capcom truly does care. Most of these people grew up as Capcom fans, and now they are working for the company they loved as a kid. They want to do their best, and they work hard everyday. It's Capcom of Japan that just doesn't seem to listen. They even deleted their community and replaced it with a Facebook page. They are also the ones who canceled projects like Megaman Legends 3, and they're also the ones who refuse to allow their western branches from bringing games over. It really is quite sad, and they really need to learn from their western neighbors. They need to start caring again, caring about their fans, and what their fans want. Inafune himself left Capcom because of the direction its Japanese branch was heading in, and that's something you can't blame him for.

If Capcom of Japan ever starts listening to its fans again, then maybe they can turn things around. What they need to do is, bring back Megaman (although this day and age a 13 stage game wouldn't be able to be sold for $60), bring back Horror Survival Resident Evil (instead of generic 3rd person shooter evil), stick with the Ace Attorney series, keep going with Monster Hunter (and bring more games to the west), stick with the Street Fighter series, and Dead Rising. All of these series do well for Capcom, and if they can make games within these series that fans would actually want, then Capcom could return to their former glory. Still, that's easier said than done.

Hopefully one day Capcom can get back to the way it was, but it is going to be a long road. The days when games like Megaman Battle Network were all the rage, are long gone. Back then the Battle Network series was huge both in Japan and in the West, with hundreds of toys in all the major toy stores, a long running anime and manga series, and a long line of games. Just about every kid knew what Megaman was, and it was a series that sold. It would be nice if that would happen again...