Japanese video game developers seem to understand that their portion of the industry is suffering from several problems, including player drop-off, fading relevance, and stagnation. Some developers have since stepped up to the next level: They’re preparing to do something about it.
Capcom is one such developer. According to a note released to investors by the company, it’s taking a good long look at potential mergers and acquisitions of Western studios.
“We aggressively seek the opportunities of acquisitions and partnerships for the purposes of creating game content with universal market appeal and acquiring technologies and know-how required for our ‘Single Content Multiple Usage’ strategy,” the note read. The note also discouraged takeover bids for fear of employee departures, and dismissed similar mergers with a Japanese game company or toy manufacturer.
Capcom’s desire to obtain worldwide appeal with its games is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, before leaving Capcom to found Intercept and Comcept, former employee Keiji Inafune was extremely vocal about the failings of the Japanese industry, and of Capcom itself. It’s worth wondering if Capcom’s new resolve has been a long time in coming, or if Inafune’s tirades secretly hit it like one of Gutsman’s bricks to the face.
Second, there was a time when Capcom was extremely relevant to a worldwide audience because it built great games around Western licenses. In the 8- and- 16-bit eras, Capcom gave us top-quality platformers based around family friendly Disney properties like Chip N Dale’s Rescue Rangers, Ducktales, Disney’s Magical Quest, and the Super Nintendo’s version of Aladdin.
Occasionally, these licenses had received an anime adaptation in Japan, making them that much more relevant to Japanese audiences as well as Western players. In 1990, Capcom put together Little Nemo: The Dream Master, an NES game based on an anime movie that, in turn, was based on Little Nemo in Slumberland, a classic comic strip by American cartoonist Windsor McCay.
Capcom also added its own magic, so to speak, to the Dungeons & Dragons franchise with games like 1993’s Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom and 1996’s Dungeons & Dragons:Shadows Over Mystara. Both were beat-em-up arcade titles with a very distinct shot of Capcom flavor: The bright anime graphics suited the D&D universe’s fantastic monsters, and the colorful heroes provided a nice change from the beefy warriors that usually inhabit Western fantasy worlds. Finally, consider what Capcom has done with the Marvel universe.
If Capcom believes it needs a direct hand from the Western side of game development, then it might be for the best that it searches for one: More than one Japanese game developer has suggested that the strict corporate hierarchy that is typical in Japan’s portion of the industry is stifling its creative minds, and working more closely with a Western studio might help Capcom learn to nurture its developers once again. However, it would also help Capcom to consider a return to its roots. Even if it’s impossible to secure the rights to high-profile properties like Disney, it’d be nice to see similar creative collaboration between Japan and the West once again, whether that would involve Japanese developers putting a spin on Western properties, or vice-versa. It’s a good way to capitalize on celebrity name recognition while allowing the development company across the pond exercise its creativity and offer a new take on a familiar property.