Capcom and the Decline of the Japanese Presence in the North American Game Market: What’s Gender Got to Do With It?
There is no denying the change in perception of gamer demographics in the past few years. Video/computer games in the early to mid-90’s were made for an adolescent male audience by male programmers, though this isn’t all that surprising, considering that most of the people who would consider themselves “gamers” were male. The hardcore/casual divide reigned supreme, as games women played didn’t count as games. But with the proliferation of Internet games, primarily so-called social games and micro-transaction games, we began to expand what we considered a “gamer.” Why did people start taking casual games seriously? As my pops always says, follow the money.
Of course this is an oversimplification of a complex, messy progression that is easily contestable. But essentially, this is the bullet-point version that I see. What is interesting, and what this post is about, is the companies that didn’t get the message. They didn’t realize that American gamer culture was changing—and changing drastically—until it was too late. In 2002, Japanese game companies held around 50% of the north American market. Today, they hold less than 10% (Tim Turi “What’s Happening At Capcom?”). If we are following the money, we certainly aren’t following it to Japan.
Capcom holds about 1.6% of the North American market—nothing to scoff at. So perhaps they can provide us some clues as to the lagging Japanese game companies.
My Favorite Capcom Classics:
The Resident Evil Series
One thing Capcom seems committed to is sticking with what worked in the 80’s and 90’s. They produced so many versions of Resident Evil that I don’t want to list them all. And I love the Resident Evil Series. Resident Evil 2 was the first game I played for an entire weekend without sleeping (picture a 13 year old girl covered in Cheetos, hopped up on Mountain Dew, and screaming expletives at the television… I can’t believe my parents never took the Playstation away). But Capcom has not innovated their series; in fact, it has seemed to devolve.
Resident Evil Revelations was a major source of controversy because of the main character’s unrealistic looks, primarily a chest that is so ridiculous I imagine that even the staunch supporter of sexy avatars scrunched a brow. This led one author to write an article titled, “Resident Evil Revelations Introduces a Walking Pair of Boobs.” My assessment: rather than playing on while evolving storylines, characters, and gameplay, Capcom tried to play off of the popularity of the previous games in this series as cheaply as possible.
The Street Fighter Series
Similarly, Street Fighter is a foundational game for many of us. As a youngster spending quarters in the arcade while the adults tied one on at the mall bar, Street Fighter was a major part of how I wasted my youth. I always liked Mortal Kombat, but there was just something magical about Street Fighter.
Time will tell how popular the Street Fighter Series will be for the future. Street Fighter X Tekken will be coming out in March, and the reviews are pretty promising. They are introducing some new characters, but honestly, it sounds like it’s going to be a game for those who already love Street Fighter. They will probably still with the same female archetype they use for each of their female characters. I don’t think Street Fighter X Tekken will attract new gamers or the gamers spending big dollars. But maybe I will be wrong.
The Mega Man Series and The Dead Rising Series
The aptly named Mega Man Series is one series that has brought in some money for the struggling Capcom. Since 1987, Mega Man Series has sold over 29 million copies worldwide. The most recent Mega Man games, the Star Force Series on the DS. However, the creator of Mega Man, Keiji Inafune, is no longer with Capcom—perhaps taking the most promising game they had to offer (as far as future possibilities are concerned).
I also picked Dead Rising because I think it is a nice complement to Street Fighter and Resident Evil. It also shows some of the promise Capcom has for the future. The first Dead Rising game came out in 2006, and they released Dead Rising 2 in 2010. For me, it represents the last attempt by Capcom to step away from what has worked for them in the past.
All in all, I think we need to pay close attention to Japanese game makers as the market continues to settle after the tumult (and about time we had some) in gamer demographics. I hope we see some trends for the better.