After Capcom’s Clover Studios re-spawned as the completely independent; Platinum Games in 2006, the label has grown to an incredible extent creating largely original content for all systems and audience demographics through a number of high profile publishers. During this same time Capcom has consistently relied upon sequels to bolster sales, although it has enjoyed success with a limited number of new IP’s including Monster Hunter, Lost Planet and Dead Rising (which have all been heavily serialized since).
It is not a secret that what makes Platinum so edgy and creative is that its founding members are made up of some of the most innovative and experienced designers of the later 90s renaissance at Capcom. Shinji Mikami (creator of Resident Evil, contributor to Viewtiful Joe, Devil May Cry, Ace Attorney Series and director of Resident Evil 4), Atsushi Inaba (former CEO of Clover and producer of Viewtiful Joe, Okami, Ace Attorney Series and God Hand) and Hideki Kamiya (who served as director on Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry , Viewtiful Joe and Okami).
Rather than writhe in the frustration of wasting their talent on the production line under contract at Clover, they chose to suicide the company and create an all new independent studio of their own. A departure other luminaries at Capcom would make time and again.
As early as 1995 fundamental staff were leaving, Street Fighter II creator Akira Nishitani founded Arika. Like Clover, the studio originally worked closely with Capcom developing Street Fighter EX games among others up until 2000 before moving away to contribute to other publishers. Arika more recently developed the 3D classics games (Nintendo), Bust-A-Move Universe (Square-Enix) and Tekken 3D Prime (NamcoBandai) all reaching publication within the last 2 years. They also put out an incarnation of Dr. Mario for the Wii in 2008.
In 2000, Street Fighter/Fighting Street co-creators Takashi Nishiyama and Hiroshi Matsumoto would leave Capcom to form Dimps with ex-members of SNK. Although they have much creative freedom (working with Sega and NamcoBandai) they still contribute to Capcom titles and co-developed Street Fighter IV and Street Fighter X Tekken (which sucked).
In 2004 Noritaka Funamizu (Ex-General Manager of Capcom’s Production Studio 1) and producer Yoshihiro Sudo would form Crafts & Meister, a game studio that works closely with NamcoBandai. In 2005 they worked with Arika to deliver Super Dragon Ball Z to PS2 and Arcades. A Capcom ‘Street Fighter’ team reunion of sorts.
Even Capcom poster boy Keiji Inafune who helped create the brand mascot; MegaMan and became the creative force behind the Onimusha and Dead Rising franchises left the company in 2010. He was Capcom’s Global Head of Production at the time and was at the company for a staggering 23 years. Like all the rest, he formed his own studio; Compect with the aim of creating NEW games.
So Platinum is not the first creative team to have pulled themselves out from under Capcom’s shadow, but likely the most significant. Put this all together and you can see all the key players of Capcom’s late nineties dominance drifted away along the line. If all your best staff leave what message does that send to the management? Clearly they are not bothered. Since 2000, they have since been mostly ‘dining-out’ on the achievements of former progenies. It’s important that the Capcom of today reflects on how those meal tickets were made.
Let’s rewind to 1995. Sony’s PlayStation was released, Capcom had in their hands the platform to build the new styles of gameplay that would set themselves apart from the competition. This was a progression reinforced through the caliber of titles also making the transition to the Dreamcast a few years later in 1998. With that in mind, the creative wave had reached its zenith at around this point. This was an era where trailblazing creative talent was putting out games that were nothing short of brilliant. Games like Darkstalkers, Dino Crisis, Marvel Super Heroes and Vs Capcom 1&2, MegaMan Legends, Resident Evil 1 to 3, Rival Schools among others. Games like these were lifting the brand to a new height for a new era.
Remember, this was a time when the internet was in black and white and powered by cogs, rubber bands and consisted of around 3 good gaming sites. Gaming magazines were the more obvious place for solid reviews but there wasn’t much of a gamer voice on what was worth your money. Thankfully, from 95 to 2000 gamers didn’t have to know much about a game, just knowing it was a Capcom game was enough to know there was a REALLY good chance it was going to be amazing.
And then somewhere at the turn of the Willenium a call from the boardroom said, “Hey creative teams that’ll do, let’s just ride out the rest of infinite time and space on sequels.” I’ve read a lot on the halt in new creative output being pinned on outsourced developers like Grin (Dark Void and Bionic Commando remake and rearmed) failing to deliver hits and collapsing. Highly dubious, seeing as that didn’t happen until 2008 and Capcom had switched to hitting ‘repeat’ on core franchises full time around 2000.
Capcom still rely heavily on outsourced dev teams NOW. Even rare original releases like Asura’s Wrath and Remember Me (read the Remember Me First Look) only reach us courtesy of CyberConnect2 and Dontnod Entertainment, respectively. Dragon’s Dogma almost feels like a lonely exception, it is a great relief that it performed well. I can only conclude that the lack of creative imagination and ambition is a purely financial strategy (and not a very good long term one), it certainly isn’t an ‘artistic’ move.
As for Platinum, they released original Sci-fi shooter Vanquish in 2010, after which Mikami left to form his own studio; Tango GameWorks. Despite this, Kamiya and Inaba currently have plenty of exciting new games in store for 2013. The Wonderful 101 sees a Pikmin action strategy style game with echoes of Viewtiful Joe crash land onto the Wii U. That will be joined on the fledgling console by Bayonetta 2, a game co-developed with Sega and Nintendo, an alliance that would have been impossible in 1998.
But wait, there’s more! Anarchy Reigns looks to showcase an exciting progression of the brawler style developed through MadWorld and God Hand. Finally, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (read the Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance Preview) looks set to be one of the most anticipated releases of the year. Platinum have been described as the only developer capable of handling an action based Metal Gear Solid by series producer, Hideo Kojima. I can’t wait to see what they bring to the series. This is because Platinum do a good job of creating exciting new game play experiences. Like Capcom used to.
Wane of Capcom
I love Capcom. I don’t want to pour scorn and vitriol onto a publisher that is already drenched in so much already, although not without good reason. I know that great things are yet to come from them, but there is a bitter air around the brand. When a company fails its customers repeatedly there is always a nagging impression that it has done so intentionally, regardless of how ridiculous the suggestion is. However, you only need to skim headlines of recent years to see why Capcom is now viewed the way it is. Where do you start?
Start with MegaMan. Capcom’s mascot, the brand personified. Cancelling a hotly anticipated game (that was developed using fan input) like MegaMan Legends 3 created an incredible debacle for themselves. Many fans bought a 3DS primarily for the title so the burn that ignited the fan petition fallout was also financial – and not fanboy heartbreak alone.
Resident Evil: The Mercenaries Save file lock outs that stop players deleting save files was a crude move also. Intended to enforce a definite halt to trade-ins and pre-owned sales because Capcom don’t make any money from that. I had more of a problem with them charging £29.99 for a mini game with no added features that starred too few of the franchise cast. It made the company appear desperately greedy.
On the subject of greed. The strategic deployment coupled by the sheer amount of DLC generated by Capcom has also been a bone of contention for gamers. Not the least because they released Street Fighter X Tekken, which required customers pay for DLC locked characters that were already on the disc, and in the minds of many (myself included) already owned. To rub salt into the sunburn, the characters appeared on the select menu. Un-selectable. Right there. And that’s not all. Marvel Vs Capcom 3 had 2 DLC characters. Yet 6 months after the game released, an “Ultimate” Edition with far more characters and play options was released. A middle finger to the people who bought the first game. They would have to now buy the new game. A complete farce.
Making Capcom Captivating Again
Capcom can learn from Platinum. They can learn from the Capcom of 1998. Learn that by delivering creative, edgy and ground braking games (like they used to) you become a better company because you have BETTER PRODUCTS. Remember Hudson? They churned out Bomberman game after Bomberman game and I guess if that’s your business model eventually you’re going to blow up. If Capcom want to George Lucas themselves (euphemism intended) then that’s fine, but eventually you get a Phantom Menace…or a Resident Evil 6.
Let me paint a picture in your mind. Imagine you write “Resident Evil” on a piece of paper with a fat marker. Put it in a photocopier and hold your thumb on the copy button. The paper never runs out as your thumb jams down stuck to the button forever.
I’d like to see a Capcom that was even just a little bit more focused on creating a better more imaginative era of games and a lot less prone to cash-ins, DLC, dumb marketing stunts like including a £899 ‘special jacket‘ edition and stubbornly ignoring whether researching if cancellations, lock outs and limited localisations might not be ‘ok’ with fans. Just think, If Capcom hadn’t rested on its laurels and encouraged new game design, all those blockbuster Platinum hits could have had a Capcom logo on them. More power to Platinum, they deserve every success because they put faith in themselves and into what people might like to see. More power to Platinum for not having their hand in your wallet 2 or 3 or 6 months after you buy their game. I believe it’s easy to define a ‘Games Company’ by that title. You’re either more ‘Games’ or more ‘Company‘. That’s the essential difference between Platinum and Capcom.