It occurs to me that I never explained SNK and it’s been done plenty before so I’ll just keep it brief. Essentially, SNK (Shin Nihon Kikaku, roughly “New Japanese Product”) was a company that formed in 1978 to make Pachinko machines (a game somewhat like pinball). They moved on to video games in the early 1980’s, hitting inital paydirt with Ikari Warriors. They chugged along like any good Japanese video game company, but it wasn’t until 1989 when they made the move which at the very least insured their spot in immortality, if not their future.
They devised a game paradigm known as “Neo Geo” – a system based on a 32-bit processor (advanced at the time, seeing as how 16-bit consoles were just hitting the market). The original idea was to make Neo Geo arcade cabinets housing a “Neo Geo MVS” system. One of the things which tended to plague arcade owners was the need to constantly buy new arcade machines every time they wanted to change games. A consequence of this was the arcade owners would often just buy the most popular game and just leave it there forever (there’s a reason they still have that Ms. Pac-Man machine at the Dairy Queen). A company called Deco looked to cut ROM chip costs and distributed the game Burger Time and others to load off of cassette tapes, a pleasant side effect of which was their ease in changing games. SNK marketed their Neo Geo MVS cabinets with the notion that the same cabinet could be used for multiple games. The cabinet was the generic red “NEO GEO” variety and the marquees and games could be changed by the operators themselves. For extra added fun they made versions of the cabinets which could hold two or four games, selectable by the player. This idea caught on, especially with owners of places which could only hold a few games (like bowling alleys or pizza parlors).
Years later SNK fancied a go at the home market. However they had experienced quite a bit of freedom with their format. Cartridge ROM is expensive (which is what drove Deco to use cassettes) but the prices they could charge arcade owners (who would go on to make more money off of game plays and save money buy buying cartridges instead of cabinets) covered this cost, allowing for huge games with lots of large characters and colors. However, the average consumer didn’t want to pay a lot of money for their home games, so either the games would be expensive or they would have to be scaled down. For that matter, the hardware itself wasn’t too cheap either. SNK unveiled the Neo Geo Home System in 1991. It contained hardware identical to the arcade system and played games roughly identical to the arcade game, though with a different form factor to keep those markets separate. The cartridges even used the same ROM image – SNK just programmed the games to figure out if they were on a console or on an arcade board. The cost for the system? Around $600. The cost for the games? $250+ each. At these huge prices, whoever could buy them? Well, SNK ruled out the “passive consumer” as their target demographic. Their Neo Geo Home System was aimed squarely at the rental market (remember, Blockbuster pays ~$80-$100 for video titles not sold to the public for $20) and the hardcore hobbyist.
In 1993 SNK decided there might in fact be a market for an affordable version of their system, so they unveiled the Neo Geo CD system, which cost $350 (the hardware had gotten cheaper, but CD-ROM drives were still expensive) and games on CD for $50. This was at the dawn of the CD gaming “revolution”, so there were only minute additions to the games and the main usage of space was the redbook audio CDDA tracks. I recently found a site with ISO’s of these games and some of them had DVD-like extras (such as an art gallery) but for the most part the lone reason they were on a CD was due to cost. If the Neo Geo CD was supposed to take off big, it never did.
SNK of course was the main developer for their own systems. They had a habit of suffering from “version of” syndrome, but their “version of” the reigning king Street Fighter 2, King of Fighters developed it’s own cultlike niche, and the game was released yearly (King of Fighters ’94,King of Fighters ’95, etc.) until SNK’s close in 2000. SNK was extremely effective in belting out fighting games and some other franchises went over as well, but in 1998 they unveiled Metal Slug and it was instantly hailed as one of the best Neo Geo games, and certianly the most original title SNK ever came up with (even though it was developed under a 2nd party, Nazca). Three more Slugs (2, X and 3) were released over the years and all did well, sales-wise.
SNK dabbled with handheld gaming, taking on the 800 lb. Game Boy Gorilla with their Neo Geo Pocket and Neo Geo Pocket Color. Owing nothing to the father hardware other than name, it had 16-bit graphics, SNK franchises (including two Metal Slug titles) and Capcom and Sega as developers. However it had a difficult time penetrating retail markets in the U.S. in it and pulled it, a first sign of trouble.
SNK apparently liked to bite off more than it could chew. Apparently a part of its operating startegy was to do whatever it wanted to, regardless of risks, and if they went broke they declared bankruptcy until they could get their affairs in order. They declared that form of bankruptcy which allows you to go on operating until your operation goes totally broke or gets its act in gear. Apparently this last time the magic ran out.
SNK closed at the end of October. There’s still legions of fans and people clamoring for Neo Geo titles and hardware and there’s still some new titles (like Metal Slug 4 and King of Fighters 2001) under the wings of different developers for the original MVS hardware, but the company with more developer talent than business sense is gone.
In the meantime I’m gonna get my Metal Slug 3 on.