"The Future Is Now"
Shin Nihon Kikaku
SNK Playmore Corporation
|Industry||Video game industry|
|Founded||July 22, 1978
(as Shin Nihon Kikaku Corporation)|
(defunct on October 22, 2001)
August 1, 2001 (as Playmore Corporation)
|Headquarters||Suita, Osaka, Japan|
|Eikichi Kawasaki (founder)
Koichi Toyama (president & CEO)
|Products||Video game consoles
|Owner||Orient Securities Co., Ltd.
Number of employees
|123 (as of February 2016)|
SNK Corporation (株式会社SNK Kabushiki Gaisha SNK) is a Japanese video game hardware and software company, successor to the Shin Nihon Kikaku and current owner of the SNK video game brand and Neo Geo video game platform. The Shin Nihon Kikaku Corporation was founded on July 22, 1978 by Eikichi Kawasaki. Initially called Shin Nihon Kikaku (新日本企画, lit. "New Japan Project"), the name was informally shortened to SNK Corporation in 1981 before becoming the company's official name in 1986.
SNK is most notable as creator of the Neo Geo family of arcade, home, and handheld game consoles, beginning in 1990. The Neo Geo line was halted in 2001, when financial troubles forced SNK Corporation to close on October 22, 2001. Anticipating the end of the company, Kawasaki founded Playmore Corporation on August 1, 2001. By October, Playmore had acquired all of the intellectual property of the former SNK Corporation. On July 7, 2003, Playmore Corporation was renamed to SNK Playmore Corporation, to more firmly establish itself as the successor to the SNK brand and legacy.
Traditionally, SNK operated primarily as a video game developer, publisher, and hardware manufacturer, focusing on arcade games but also working on console and PC games. In 2004, the company started manufacturing pachislot machines, which the company leaned heavily into before withdrawing from the market in 2015. In 2009, the company also entered an active wave of mobile game development. Classic SNK franchises like Metal Slug, Samurai Shodown and The King of Fighters feature heavily in its recent offerings.
On April 25, 2016, SNK dropped the "Playmore" name from its logo and reintroduced its original slogan, "The Future Is Now", as a means to signify "a return to SNK's rich gaming history." On December 1, 2016, SNK Playmore officially changed its corporate name back to SNK.
When Eikichi Kawasaki noticed the rapid growth that was occurring in the coin-operated video game market, he expanded Shin Nihon Kikaku to include the development and marketing of stand-alone coin-op games.
The first two known titles released were Ozma Wars (1979), a vertically scrolling space shooter and Safari Rally (1980), a maze game. Game quality improved over time, most notably with Vanguard (1981), a side-scrolling space shooter that many consider the precursor to modern classics such as Gradius and R-Type. SNK licensed the game to Centuri for distribution in North America, who ultimately started manufacturing and distributing the game itself when profits exceeded expectations.
Around 1980, it took the initial letters from Shin Nihon Kikaku' as the company's nickname, "SNK (S·N·K)". The copyright notation of the alphabet was also "SNK CORP.". In 1986, the official company name was changed to "SNK Corporation", it moved to Suita the same year.
It established itself in Sunnyvale, California, with the intent of delivering its own brand of coin-operated games to arcades in North America. The man chosen to run the American operation was John Rowe, the eventual founder of Tradewest and current president and CEO of High Moon Studios.
1986–2001: SNK Corporation
SNK Corporation in Japan had at this point shifted its focus solely toward developing and licensing video games for arcade use and (later) for early consoles. Between 1979 and 1986 it produced 23 stand-alone arcade games. Highlights from this period include Mad Crasher (1984), Alpha Mission (1985), and Athena (1986), a game that gained a large following when it was ported to the NES in 1987. Its most successful game from this time frame was Ikari Warriors, released in 1986. Ikari Warriors was so popular that it was eventually licensed and ported to the Atari 2600, Atari 7800, Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Apple II, ZX Spectrum and NES. It followed up the game with two sequels, Victory Road and Ikari III: The Rescue.
Even at this point, the home market was still suffering from the fallout caused by the North American video game crash of 1983. Nevertheless, one console manufacturer, Nintendo, seemed to weather the crash fairly unscathed. SNK signed up to become a third-party licensee for Nintendo's Famicom system in 1985 and opened a second branch in the United States, based in Torrance, California. Named SNK Home Entertainment, it handled the North American distribution and marketing of the company's products for home consoles. By this time, John Rowe had left the company to form Tradewest, which went on to market SNK's Ikari Warriors series in North America. Subsequently, both halves of SNK America were now being presided over by Paul Jacobs, who is known primarily for having helped launch the company's Neo-Geo system outside of Asia.
In response to strong sales of the company's NES ports, SNK began to dabble in the development of original software designed specifically for the NES console. Two games came out of this effort: Baseball Stars (1989) and Crystalis (1990) (known as God Slayer in Japan). 1989 also marked the release of two new home video game consoles in North America: the Sega Genesis and NEC's joint project with Hudson Soft, the TurboGrafx-16. Nintendo followed suit with a new system in 1991, the Super NES. Rather than become involved in the early 90s system wars, SNK Corporation in Japan, along with SNK Corporation of America, chose to refocus its efforts on the arcade market, leaving other third parties, such as Romstar and Takara, to license and port SNK's properties to the various home consoles of the time with help from SNK's American home entertainment division. With console ports mainly being handled outside the company, it moved on to developing SNK branded arcade equipment. SNK also licensed Tiger Electronics to market handheld electronic games from some of its brands.
In 1988 SNK created the idea of a modular cabinet for arcades; up to that point, arcade cabinets typically contained only a single game. When an arcade operator wanted to switch or replace that game, it would have to completely remove the internals of the existing cabinet or exchange the entire setup for another game. SNK's new system, called Neo-Geo MVS (short for Multi-Video System), featured multiple games in a single cabinet and used a cartridge-based storage mechanism. The system debuted in 1990 and could contain one, two, four, or six separate games in a single cabinet. In order to swap in a new game, all the operator had to do was remove one cartridge and exchange it for another.
The MVS was an immediate success. Arcade operators loved it because the setup time required for each game was nearly nonexistent, the floor space required was minimal, and the cost outlay for new cartridges was barely $500—less than half of what a traditional arcade unit cost at the time. SNK also wanted to take advantage of people's desire to play arcade games at home, but without making the same compromises on CPU and memory performance that typical home consoles were forced to make.
In 1990, the Neo Geo family was created, when the company released a home version of the MVS, a single cartridge unit called the Neo Geo Advanced Entertainment System, or more simply, the Neo Geo AES. Initially, the AES was only available for rent or for use in hotel settings, but SNK quickly began selling the system through stores when customer response indicated that people were willing to spend the money. Several franchises of games derived from it, including Sengoku, The King of Fighters, The Last Blade, Super Sidekicks, Art of Fighting, Metal Slug, Burning Fight, Samurai Shodown and Fatal Fury (the King of Fighters and Metal Slug series are still continued on newer consoles). SNK also helped publish third-party Neo-Geo games including ADK's World Heroes, Noise Factory's Rage of the Dragons and Sengoku 3, Sunsoft's Galaxy Fight: Universal Warriors and Waku Waku 7, and Technōs Japan's 1995 Double Dragon arcade game and Voltage Fighter Gowcaizer. Besides the Neo Geo series of games, it is notable for some stand-alone arcade games and home console ports of them, including Vanguard, Athena, Ikari Warriors, Psycho Soldier, Touch Down Fever, P.O.W.: Prisoners of War and Street Smart.
Compared to other consoles at the time, the Neo Geo AES had much better graphics and sound. It featured two CPUs: a 16/32-bit Motorola 68000 main processor running at 12 MHz and a Zilog Z80 backup processor running at 4 MHz. The system's main CPU was just under 50% faster than the 68000 processor found in Sega's Genesis console. The Neo Geo AES also had the benefit of specialized audio and video chipsets. A custom video chipset allowed the system to display 4,096 colors and 380 individual sprites onscreen simultaneously—compared to 64 simultaneous colors, 2 background tile planes, and 80 individual sprites for the Genesis—while the onboard Yamaha YM2610 sound chip gave the system 15 channels of sound with seven channels reserved specifically for prerecorded ADPCM. However, since the Neo Geo's graphics processor did not support any background planes, they had to be simulated using sprites.
This type of power carried a large price tag; the console debuted at $599, which included two joystick controllers and a game (either Baseball Stars or NAM-1975). Within a few months of the system's introduction in North America, SNK increased the cost to $649 and changed the pack-in game to Magician Lord. The console sold for $399 with one control stick and without a game. Other games cost $200 and up each. Each joystick controller was a full 2 1⁄2 inches tall, measured 11 inches long by 8 inches across, and contained the same four-button layout as the arcade MVS cabinet.
The quality of the games varied. Some, such as the Super Sidekicks series, were all-new creations, while others were updated versions of earlier successes, such as Baseball Stars Professional. SNK games were graphically bold and bright, with games such as Top Hunter: Roddy & Cathy and the famous Metal Slug series being distinctive and instantly recognizable, contributing to the system's success in the arcades.
It also produced the Neo Geo CD, the Hyper Neo-Geo 64 and two handheld systems, the Neo Geo Pocket and Pocket Color. Several of its more famous franchise titles, originally created for the MVS and AES systems, have been ported to other consoles such as the Sega Genesis, Saturn and Dreamcast, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, PlayStation and PlayStation 2, Xbox, and more recently, the Wii.
The Neo Geo Pocket was SNK's original handheld system. It was released in Japan in late 1998, but quickly discontinued in 1999 in favor of the Neo Geo Pocket Color, due to lower than expected sales with the monochrome Neo Geo Pocket. The Pocket Color was later released in North America and Europe.
2001–2003: Bankruptcy and Playmore Corporation
The year 2000 saw the beginning of the end for SNK. In January, its poor financial status led to an acquisition by Aruze, a company well known for its pachinko machines. Instead of using SNK's franchises for video games, Aruze manufactured pachinko machines featuring popular series such as King of Fighters. SNK saw little success on the video game market due to (reportedly deliberate) under-financing on Aruze's part.
The highlight of 2000 came when Capcom agreed to create a series of fighting games featuring both companies' fighting game characters. The Capcom vs. SNK games were a success, but most of the profits went to Capcom as it developed and published the games. SNK released SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium and SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters Clash on the Neo Geo Pocket Color. Combined, they sold an unremarkable 50,000 copies.
SNK closed all American operations on June 13, 2000. After this time, the North American distribution rights to MVS Coin-op systems, the Neo Print photo system were sold and North American localizations of certain console releases were licensed out to outside companies.
With low morale and an unclear future, much of the company's employees disbanded, with some joining rival Capcom, and others moving on to found the developer Dimps. A number of employees also banded together to form the developer BrezzaSoft, which continued to develop Neo Geo games (such as The King of Fighters 2001) and would factor into SNK's future going forward. Eyeing the end of the company, founder Eikuchi Kawasaki left SNK along with other executives to found a company named Playmore on August 1, 2001.
October 22, 2001 meant the ultimate end of the original SNK; it filed for bankruptcy and placed the intellectual property rights for its franchises up for auction. During this time, SNK licensed game production and development rights for its franchises to several other companies, such as South Korean-based Eolith (who produced The King of Fighters franchise between 2001 and 2002) and Mega Enterprise (who produced Metal Slug 4).
In an attempt to regain control of SNK, Kawasaki's new company, Playmore, successfully bid for and was awarded SNK's intellectual rights on October 30, 2001. The company then began to bolster its assets and rehire many former SNK employees.
As a part of its efforts to re-establish its presence in the gaming market, Playmore acquired BrezzaSoft and its collection of former SNK developers, as well as the Japan-based Neo Geo developer Noise Factory. A Japanese commercial games distributor, Sun Amusement, was also brought under the umbrella in order to provide the company with an arcade distribution outlet in Japan. International offices were established in South Korea, Hong Kong, and the United States under the "SNK NeoGeo" name for commercial, and later, consumer gaming distribution. All of these entities were later consolidated into SNK Playmore on July 7, 2003 when Playmore regained the rights to use the SNK name from Aruze. During the same year, it also purchased ADK shortly after it filed for bankruptcy; ADK was a third-party company that had been heavily associated with SNK since the late 1980s. By that point in time, SNK Playmore in Japan highly resembled the original company. It employed a good proportion of employees from the old SNK and occupied its former building.
In October 2002, Kawasaki sued Aruze for copyright infringement regarding SNK's intellectual properties which were used without authorization from Playmore, to the sum of 6.2 billion yen worth of damages. In January 2004, a preliminary decision was handed down by the Osaka District Court favoring SNK Playmore and was awarded 5.64 billion yen.
2003–2016: SNK Playmore
Within the period of fall and winter of 2003, SNK Playmore obtained an injunction against a group of four different companies, which resulted in hundreds of AES cartridges being seized. The following year, however, SNK Playmore struck a compromise with two of the companies as they were allowed to sell the AES cartridges, with the conditions that they could not be modified again and any legitimate materials were to be returned to them.
SNK Playmore would within the same year discontinue the AES system, preferring to publish video games in cooperation with Sammy, using its Atomiswave arcade board, which would provide it a more secure and modern platform for new arcade releases. Also in 2004, SNK Playmore officially became licensed to manufacture pachislot machines (Japanese slot machines that are played in pachinko parlors). The company released its first two machines that year in Metal Slug and Dragon Gal, and pachislots would feature heavily in the company's product lineup for the next decade.
In September 2006, at the Tokyo Game Show, SNK Playmore announced that it has ceased production of games on the Atomiswave, favoring Taito's Type X2 arcade platform. To counter the decline in the commercial gaming industry, the company also shifted some of its development focus to consumer games, including original games for the PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS, mobile phones, and more. Games continue to be ported to the PlayStation 2 (mostly in Europe, since most of the games did not get an approval from SCEA) and, in some cases, Microsoft's Xbox. In Japan, SNK Playmore released the NeoGeo Online Collection for the PS2 containing some of its older games, featuring emulations with the ability to play online via the KDDI matching service. The Art of Fighting Collection (published by Crave under the title of The Art of Fighting Anthology), Fatal Fury Battle Archives vols. 1 & 2 (published by SVG Distribution), World Heroes Gorgeous (published by SNK Playmore Corp., developed by Alpha Denshi Co., Ltd. (ADK), SNK Corporation, and known as World Heroes Anthology in the U.S.), and the SNK Arcade Collection vol. 1 have seen releases in the United States. There are also original titles based on its existing properties, such as Metal Slug 3D and the KOF: Maximum Impact series.
SNK Playmore USA released its first game on Xbox Live Arcade, titled Fatal Fury Special. SNK is now currently supporting Nintendo's Virtual Console service on the Wii in the U.S. with Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, and World Heroes. On the PS2, The King of Fighters XI, and Neo Geo Battle Coliseum came out for the PS2 in 2007 (with U.S. release dates of November 13 and December 17 respectively). SNK Playmore also released the first adult-themed game franchise for the Nintendo DS, Doki Doki Majo Shinpan!, the first so far for any handheld console.
In 2009, the company released The King of Fighters XII for arcades, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The game was not well received by public and critics alike due to some polemic changes in the game's graphics and structure. In 2010, SNK Playmore decided to release a sequel, The King of Fighters XIII (also on arcades, 360 and PS3), which was considered a much better game than KOF XII and either won or was nominated to multiple Game of the Year awards.
In December 2012, SNK Playmore released a re-launched mobile Neo Geo console that will play games on the go, using pre-loaded games stored into the hardrive of the handheld console and games that come on small cards; the Neo Geo X. The docking station used for re-charging the handheld system resembles a Neo Geo AES home console, with slightly smaller joysticks available that also resemble the versions used for the AES. The joysticks are used when the Neo Geo X is in the docking station, so people can play games through its televisions, with both standard video and HDMI support. On October 2, 2013, SNK Playmore terminated its licensing agreement with the console's manufacturer Tommo, effectively ending production of the Neo Geo X less than a year after its release. Tommo disputes this termination and has stated its contract is extended into 2016 and that they have performed all obligations under the licensing agreement.
On June 29, 2013, the Vigamus, a museum of videogames sponsored by the municipality of Rome, hosted an event dedicated to the history of SNK, tracing back the origins of the company and explaining the evolution of its games. Yamamoto Kei, Kiyoji Tomita and Ogura Eisuke participated at the event and were interviewed; Ogura also drew two original illustrations to exhibit at the museum.
2016–present: Foreign acquisition and brand restoration
In March 2015, Leyou Technologies Holdings submitted a disclosure of interest document to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, highlighting a "possible investment in a renowned Japanese video game developer." Later in August, it was announced that Chinese web and mobile games giant 37Games, along with an asset management firm, Orient Securities, had formed a joint venture to invest in Ledo Millennium, a subsidiary of Leyou Technologies. Through Ledo, the venture acquired Kawasaki's 81.25% stake in SNK Playmore for $63.5 million. The reason given for the acquisition was to gain rights to SNK Playmore's IP, and further develop them by following Marvel's approach to mass media, with games, comics, film and television.
With the purchase completed, SNK soon signaled a shift in the company's strategy, which had been focused more on production of pachislot and mobile games than its traditional console and arcade games. The King of Fighters XIV, the first in the series in more than a half decade, was announced at the Sony Computer Entertainment Press Conference for the 2015 Tokyo Game Show and was present at the PlayStation Experience 2015. More importantly, the company announced that it would be withdrawing from the pachislot market later that year, choosing instead to focus on console and mobile gaming, as well as the character licensing business.
On April 25, 2016, SNK officially dropped the "Playmore" name from its corporate logo and reintroduced its original slogan, "The Future Is Now", as a means to signify "a return to SNK's rich gaming history." A legal name change from SNK Playmore Corporation to SNK Corporation followed on December 1, 2016.
- SNK Entertainment - founded in February 2016 to contract and develop new digital entertainment (including video games), and to ramp up activity surrounding SNK's library of intellectual properties with "new and exciting sublicensing opportunities and collaborations."
- SNK Beijing
- SNK H.K., Ltd. - handles character licensing, as well as hardware and software sales in East Asia (except for Japan).
- SNK Corporation of America - Located in Torrance, California, and handles software sales in the Americas.
- ADK - former game developer for the Neo Geo. SNK purchased its IP assets when the company became bankrupt in 2003
- Noise Factory - game developer formerly owned by SNK.
- Neo Geo do Brasil - handled hardware and software sales in Brazil, 1993 to 1998.
- SNK Playmore Europe Corporation - handled software sales in Europe.
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