SNK Interview with Shinya Morishita
SNK's Osaka-based Shinya Morishita updates us on SNK and surprise TGS announcements... including PSP.
SNK has come a long way in the last few years, having recollected all of its own intellectual property and set up shop in North American and now European markets.
And there have never been better times fans of the Japanese mega-hardcore game company, with continued releases of popular franchises on the horizon along with more mainstream-centric 3D renditions of games like King of Fighters and, it is hinted below, Metal Slug, among others.
We caught up with Shinya Morishita, Overseas Marketing Dept. Manager at SNK NeoGeo Corporation, for an update on all things SNK.
Kikizo: Morishita-san, thanks very much for your time today for an update on SNK. Would you be able to start by giving an overview of what fans should be looking forward to most on the SNK scene right now?
Morishita: In terms of our line-up, we'll continue to release arcade games, combined with the consumer games, and new product versions for the Overseas market. And otherwise, now we are developing especially for the consumer side, new 3D graphics titles - the first one is King of Fighters: Maximum Impact.
Kikizo: So it's safe to say the King of Fighters franchise is in good shape right now?
Morishita: Yes, King of Fighters we're continuing to develop new versions every year. Maximum Impact is just for the consumer business and not arcades.
Kikizo: Is 3D something SNK wants to do, or feels it needs to do?
Morishita: Basically SNK is very famous for its 2D games, and our fans are looking for us to continue to release 2D. But 3D is very important too. So we'll continue to release the 2D games, but on the other hand, we want to enter the new business for consumers, and to do that we know that we really need a 3D graphics title.
Kikizo: Catering to the hardcore fans and the mainstream console market too?
Morishita: That's right.
Kikizo: And how are the fans responding to games like Max Impact compared to games like the new SVC Chaos?
Morishita: Well, there are many opinions from the fans! The traditional fans hate our 3D King of Fighters, but they are also saying that it does look graphically really beautiful, as they would expect when we release these games.
Kikizo: What about the new PSP project we were discussing earlier, could you tell us a little about that?
Morishita: At the moment I can't tell you the exact information but yes, we're aiming to release some titles.
Kikizo: And what has your experience with PSP been like so far?
Morishita: As with all the manufacturers in Japan, we're interested in all the new hardware... we really need to support them.
Kikizo: And is Nintendo DS something that SNK is keen on?
Morishita: Yes, we are also interested in Nintendo DS, but at the moment, we first need to see what the response of the market is to it.
Kikizo: But will you have titles for both machines when they launch later this year in Japan?
Morishita: Only for PSP initially at launch.
Kikizo: Cool, and when should fans expect to be able to find out more about these new handheld games?
Morishita: Maybe this year's TGS. Maybe we're going to make some announcements there. [Smiles]
Kikizo: So only a couple of weeks away then!
Morishita: Yeah! It's close.
Kikizo: Piracy has been quite an issue on SNK's agenda lately, where do you think this issue is going, and will it get worse?
Morishita: Really we are affected on the arcade side, it's one of the reasons we have kind of given up on arcade developments by ourselves; now we're continuing to release arcade games, but not for our systems - now we're making games for the Atomiswave from Sammy. We used to make games using our MVS System, but whenever we released a new game, just one week later, pirate copies would be coming onto the market.
Kikizo: Where is that problem worst?
Morishita: For more than ten years we have been fighting the problem mostly from China.
Kikizo: Yes, what it is about the Chinese market that means the piracy rate is so high?
Morishita: It's just because there is a big market for it.
Kikizo: There's been quite a lot of consolidation in Japan such as Sammy and Sega - how is SNK viewing that activity and would it consider a move along similar lines?
Morishita: Well, we've just started the consumer business for ourselves first in the US and now in the European market, so for now, we have enough of a development team and enough products by ourselves - merging is not really for us right now. But we have just found new partners such as Ignition Entertainment for the European market; they have enough knowledge about our games, and a good reputation in the market. Actually after the E3 show we talked with a lot of publishers about the European market, and we've now chosen Ignition as our partners.
Kikizo: What about outsourcing, several companies are looking to outsource more and more of its intellectual property to outside developers - is that something that could be applied to SNK?
Morishita: It's pretty difficult to choose who to outsource to. But almost all our titles are arcade conversions so the developing costs are not so much; we don't really need to outsource to reduce risk because the risk is quite low anyway. The 3D titles will cost more but we're only planning maybe one or two of those every year.
Kikizo: So there are other original console titles in the pipeline? A 3D Metal Slug maybe?
Morishita: A lot of people are asking about a 3D Metal Slug, especially when they see our 3D King of Fighters. But I can't say anything about that right now, but maybe, when you're at TGS you can see a lot of things there...
Kikizo: So we're both going, will we able to play the 3D Metal Slug?
Morishita: Well... yeah - maybe it's possible, yes! [Nods and smiles]
Kikizo: Exciting! What about that problem with SNK releasing some games in the US and the issue with SCEA?
Morishita: We have a good relationship with Sony America, but they have their policies and we have to follow them.
Kikizo: But does that mean certain games can't be released, or do you just how to rethink the way you release them?
Morishita: All I can say is we're still in discussion with SCEA about many titles. Some titles we'll combine, but as to whether or not we can release such a standalone 2D game, that is under discussion. To be honest if there is no choice, we don't mind combining titles for Sony if there is no choice because they have a big market.
Kikizo: What makes SNK fans some of the most passionate in gaming?
Morishita: [Laughs] We've been releasing 2D, like King of Fighters titles since 94, I believe we're really good at 2D, and the fans tell us that is what they like. And also, luckily, they tell us they love the characters, especially those from the King of Fighters series.
Kikizo: From SNK's point of view, what do you think will happen as new console hardware is introduced over the next couple of years?
Morishita: It's difficult to say where we will be in five years time, but I think the games business will continue to grow rapidly as Sony and Xbox release new hardware, but developers will also need to continue to grow as a result... many people said games were too complex five years ago and now that is a common argument again, I think they'll just continue to get more complex.
Kikizo: So we understand you're working on updates to existing franchises, but are you working on any entirely new franchises?
Morishita: That is a good question, we're beginning to understand that as well as focussing on older franchise titles - I guess I mentioned Metal Slug, and also King of Fighters - but now we are trying to create some new franchise titles as well. One new title is Neo Geo Battle Coliseum. This game is released for the arcade at the end of the year, on Atomiswave, and it's kind of a new concept 2D fighting game, and includes characters from King of Fighters, Fatal Fury, Samurai Showdown, World Heroes and Metal Slug. I believe this title will continue to release and become a franchise title for SNK.
Kikizo: It's refreshing to see a developer come up with brand new 2D games.
Morishita: Yes! I think fans will be pleased at TGS.
Kikizo: Although gambling, prize and pachinko seem to make loads of money, traditional game arcade amusements are still finding it tougher than ever to compete. How will the arcade scene survive?
Morishita: It is very difficult to survive in the arcade business, not only for SNK, a lot of arcade manufacturers are giving up on releasing games for the arcade. It's why we're starting to get more involved in the consumer [console] business now as well. But we'll continue to release games for the arcade as long as there is demand in the market - but at the same time, we understand that if there is no more demand or if it is no longer profitable, then we will have to change our concept again.
Kikizo: So will the arcade gaming industry keep going down or get better?
Morishita: In my opinion I think it will continue to get more difficult. There are not enough new manufacturers releasing new games any more. I don't think many customers in Japan want to spend their money on games as much as prize machines for example, and so it is tough for manufacturers to invest in the arcade games. Maybe ten years ago people might have gone to arcades to entertain themselves but people have a lot of entertainment options now even on their mobile phone. Plus online gaming is a big reason.
Kikizo: I find it amazing that this is the situation when you consider that many arcades in Japan are absolutely full of gamers, playing on every single machine! The arcades there seem far more popular than in Europe or in the States...
Morishita: But still a lot of those customers are attracted by the prize machines and so on. Manufacturers recognise this, which is why they are changing concepts and installing not so many arcade cabinets and more prize machines, to continue to operate, and I believe this will be similar in the overseas markets.
Kikizo: It seems SNK is making some good decisions - again, thanks for your time, and we wish you all the best with SNK.
Stay tuned for more on SNK's upcoming games, incuding first hand impressions of the new stuff coming from TGS 2004.
Interview conducted by Adam Doree & Alex Wollenschlaeger
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The King of Fighters: Maximum Impact
The trailer in full! [480x360, 1600kbps]