SNK Corporation (株式会社SNK, Kabushiki-gaisha Esu Enu Kē) is a Japanese video game hardware and software company. It is the successor to the company Shin Nihon Kikaku and presently owns the SNK video game brand and the Neo Geo video game platform. SNK's predecessor Shin Nihon Kikaku was founded in 1978 by Eikichi Kawasaki. The corporation was initially named Shin Nihon Kikaku (新日本企画, lit. "New Japan Project"). The name was then informally shortened to SNK Corporation in 1981 before becoming the company's official name in 1986.
SNK is known for its creation of the Neo Geo family of arcade, home, and handheld game consoles in 1990. The Neo Geo line was halted in 2001 because financial troubles forced SNK Corporation to close in the same year. Anticipating the end of the company, Kawasaki founded Playmore Corporation in 2001, which acquired all of the intellectual property of the former SNK Corporation. In 2003, Playmore Corporation was renamed to SNK Playmore Corporation. In 2016, SNK dropped the name Playmore from its logo and reintroduced its old slogan, "The Future Is Now", officially changing its corporate name back to SNK.
Traditionally, SNK operated primarily as a video game developer, publisher, and hardware manufacturer with a focus on arcade games; however, it has ventured into developing console and PC games. In 2004, SNK started manufacturing pachislot machines, but the company withdrew from the market in 2015. In 2009, the company entered mobile game development. Classic SNK franchises include Metal Slug, Samurai Shodown, and The King of Fighters.
SNK was founded in 1973 as Shin Nihon Kikaku and reorganized in 1978 as a stock company (kabushiki gaisha) under the name "Shin Nihon Kikaku Corporation". When Eikichi Kawasaki noticed rapid growth in the coin-operated video game market, he expanded Shin Nihon Kikaku to include the development and marketing of stand-alone coin-op games.
Around 1980, the company took the initial letters from Shin Nihon Kikaku as its nickname, SNK. The copyright notation of SNK was "SNK CORP." It established itself in Sunnyvale, California, to deliver its own brand of coin-operated games to arcades in North America. SNK chose John Rowe to head its American operation.
The first two titles that SNK released were Ozma Wars (1979), a vertical space shooter, and Safari Rally (1980), a maze game. Game quality improved over time, most notably with Vanguard (1981), a side-scrolling space shooter. SNK licensed the game to Centuri for distribution in North America. Centuri started manufacturing and distributing the game by itself when profits exceeded projections. In part due to the success of Vanguard, SNK began to gain fame and reputation. An American branch opened on October 20, 1981, named SNK Electronics Corporation.
SNK Corporation (1986–2001)
In April 1986, Shin Nihon Kikaku Corporation officially became SNK Corporation. In November 1986, SNK Electronics Corporation, the US branch, became SNK Corporation of America and moved to Sunnyvale, California. In March 1988, SNK staff moved to a building in Suita, Osaka, Japan.
At this point, the Japanese operations of SNK Corporation had shifted their focus solely toward developing and licensing video games for arcade use and later for early consoles. Between 1979 and 1986, SNK 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 Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1987. SNK's most successful game from this time was Ikari Warriors, released in 1986. It was so popular that it was licensed and ported to the Atari 2600, Atari 7800, Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Apple II, ZX Spectrum, and NES. After Ikari Warriors, SNK released two sequels: Victory Road and Ikari III: The Rescue.
At the time, Japan was affected by the North American video game crash of 1983. The console manufacturer Nintendo remained in business throughout and after the crash. SNK became a third-party licensee for Nintendo's Famicom (alternative name for the NES) system in 1985. It opened a second branch in the US, called SNK Home Entertainment, based in Torrance, California. The branch handled the North American distribution and marketing of the company's products for home consoles. John Rowe had already left the company to form Tradewest, which went on to market the Ikari Warriors series in North America. Paul Jacobs took over Rowe's position over both halves of SNK America. He is known 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). In 1989, two home video game consoles were released in North America: the Sega Genesis, and NEC and Hudson Soft's TurboGrafx-16. Nintendo followed suit with a new system in 1991, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (Super NES, SNES). SNK as a whole did not become involved in the "system wars" of the early 1990s. Instead, it refocused its efforts on arcades. Other third parties, such as Romstar and Takara, were left 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 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 one 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 the 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. 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. It greatly shortened the setup time needed for each game, minimized floor space for cabinets, and reduced costs for new cartridges to US$500—less than half of what a traditional arcade unit cost at the time.
SNK wanted to bring arcade games to people's homes without making CPU and memory performance compromises that typical home consoles were forced to make. In 1990, the Neo Geo family was created. The company released a home version of the MVS, a single cartridge unit called the Neo Geo Advanced Entertainment System (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 money on home versions. 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 were continued on later consoles. SNK also helped publish third-party Neo Geo games such as 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 Double Dragon and Voltage Fighter Gowcaizer. During this time, SNK also released stand-alone arcade games, some of which were ported to home consoles, 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 debuted at $599, sold with 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. Alternatively, the console could be bought for $399 with one control stick and without an accompanying game. Other games cost at least $200 each. Joystick controllers contained the same four-button layout as the arcade MVS cabinet. The quality of AES 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. Games such as Top Hunter: Roddy & Cathy and the famous Metal Slug series were distinctive and instantly recognizable, contributing to the system's success in arcades.
SNK also produced the Neo Geo CD, the Hyper Neo-Geo 64, and two handheld game consoles, the Neo Geo Pocket and Pocket Color. Several 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; SNES; PlayStation and PlayStation 2; Xbox; and Wii.
The Neo Geo Pocket was SNK's original handheld system. It was released in Japan in late 1998 and featured a monochrome (one-color) display. Because its sales were fewer than the expected number, it was discontinued in 1999 in favor of the Neo Geo Pocket Color, which was later released in North America and Europe. In 2001, the Neo Geo family ended. It was briefly revived 11 years later with the Neo Geo X. In 1999, "Neo Geo World Tokyo Bayside" (later Tokyo Leisure Land Palette Town Store) was opened in Palette Town , Odaiba, Tokyo, and equipped with the latest attractions that gathered the best of technology at the time, such as ferris wheels and roller coasters. At the time of the opening, a large-scale tie-in was established with the Fujisankei Communications Group, which also has a Fuji TV headquarters in Daiba, and was featured frequently in various media.
On the other hand, in the late 1990s, the boom of 2D fighting games, which S.N.K. was good at, had come to an end, and neither Neo Geo CD nor Hyper Neo Geo 64 hit. At the same time, Neo Geo Pocket, which was initially strong, began to be inferior to the later Game Boy Color , and the newly opened Neo Geo World Tokyo Bayside attracted attention to the reopened `` Yokohama Cosmo World ' ' at the same time as a result by the management of SNK.
In the end, the amusement park business was a huge failure and wasted SNK's management and energy. In addition, the arcade game magazine " Gamest ", which introduced many SNK works and published articles in 1999, was also abolished by the bankruptcy of its publisher, Shinseisha.
Bankruptcy and Playmore Corporation (2001–2003)
In the year 2000, the over-complicated fighting games were in a period of invisible slump. However, SNK itself relied on the know-how of its heyday to focus too much on fighting games, and because it specialized in most of the development resources, a sudden change in policies could not be achieved, and in addition to the diversified management mentioned earlier. However, the business condition worsened. In particular, the effects of the failure of the Neo Geo home video game console and the failure of Neo Geo World were irreversible.
They also released RPGs, adventures, and rhythm games for the Sega Saturn, PlayStation and Dreamcast, including Shinsetsu Samurai Spirits Bushidō Retsuden, ATHENA -Awakening from the ordinary life-, Koudelka, and Cool Cool Toon. However, the situation did not improve because they were not hits.
In January 2000, SNK's poor financial status led to its acquisition by Aruze, a company known for its pachinko machines. Instead of developing video games using SNK's intellectual properties, Aruze manufactured pachinko machines that featured popular series such as King of Fighters. SNK saw little success in the video game market.
The same year, Capcom agreed to create a series of fighting games featuring both companies' fighting game characters. The Capcom vs. SNK games were a success, and most of the profits went to Capcom because 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, the two games sold around 50,000 copies.
SNK closed all American operations on June 13, 2000. The company sold rights to distribution in North America for MVS arcade systems and Neo Print photo systems. It licensed North American localizations of some console releases to outside companies.
With low morale and an unclear future, many of the company's employees left their jobs. Some joined rival Capcom, and others moved on to found the developer Dimps. Other employees banded together to form BrezzaSoft, which continued to develop Neo Geo games such as The King of Fighters 2001. Eyeing the end of the company, founder Eikichi Kawasaki left SNK along with other executives to found a company named Playmore on August 1, 2001.
On October 22, 2001, SNK filed for bankruptcy and placed the intellectual property rights for its franchises up for auction. Licenses for SNK's game production and development rights to its franchises were sold to several other companies. These included Eolith, which produced The King of Fighters franchise between 2001 and 2002, and Mega Enterprise, which produced Metal Slug 4.
To regain control of SNK, Kawasaki's new company, Playmore, successfully bid for and was awarded SNK's intellectual property rights on October 30, 2001. The company then began to bolster its assets and re-hire former SNK employees.
To re-establish its presence in the gaming market, Playmore acquired BrezzaSoft and its former SNK developers, as well as Japan-based Neo Geo developer Noise Factory. Sun Amusement, a Japanese commercial games distributor, was acquired by SNK 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 name SNK NeoGeo for commercial and, later, consumer gaming distribution. All of the acquired entities were consolidated into SNK Playmore on July 7, 2003 when Playmore regained rights to use the name SNK from Aruze. In the same year, SNK purchased ADK shortly after it filed for bankruptcy. Previously, ADK was a third-party company that had been heavily associated with SNK since the late 1980s. SNK Playmore's operations in Japan already largely resembled the original company: SNK employed many employees who left after its bankruptcy filing and occupied its former building.
In October 2002, Kawasaki sued Aruze for copyright infringement, claiming 6.2 billion Japanese yen ($56147214) in damages. He cited that Aruze had continued to use SNK's intellectual properties after Playmore re-acquired them. A preliminary decision in January 2004 by the Osaka District Court favored SNK Playmore, awarding it 5.64 billion yen ($51075853).
SNK Playmore (2003–2016)
In the fall and winter of 2003, SNK Playmore obtained an injunction against a group of four different companies, causing hundreds of AES cartridges to be seized. In the following year, SNK Playmore struck a compromise with two of the companies. The two were allowed to sell AES cartridges, under the conditions that the cartridges would not be modified again and that any legitimate materials would be returned to SNK Playmore.
Within the same year, SNK Playmore would discontinue the AES system, preferring to publish video games in cooperation with Sammy. Using its arcade board Atomiswave, SNK Playmore gained a more secure and modern platform for new arcade releases. In 2004, SNK Playmore officially became licensed to manufacture pachislot machines (Japanese slot machines played in pachinko parlors). The company released its first two machines that year: Metal Slug and Dragon Gal. Pachislots would be more heavily featured in SNK Playmore's product lineup for the next decade.
In September 2006 at the Tokyo Game Show (TGS), SNK Playmore announced that it had ceased producing games on the Atomiswave, favoring Taito's Type X2 arcade platform. To counter the decline in the commercial gaming industry, the company shifted some of its development focus to consumer games, including original games for the PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS, mobile phones, and other platforms. Games continue to be ported to the PlayStation 2, mostly in Europe because Sony Computer Entertainment of America (SCEA) did not approve most SNK Playmore games, and more rarely to the Xbox. In Japan, SNK Playmore released the NeoGeo Online Collection for the PlayStation 2, which contained some of its older games. It featured emulations, and online play was available through the KDDI matching service. The company also released original titles based on existing franchises such as Metal Slug 3D and the KOF: Maximum Impact series.
In 2007, SNK Playmore USA released its first game on the Xbox Live Arcade, titled Fatal Fury Special. SNK Playmore also began supporting Nintendo's Virtual Console service on the Wii in the US with Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, and World Heroes. In 2007, The King of Fighters XI and Neo Geo Battle Coliseum were released. SNK Playmore also released its first adult-themed game franchise, Doki Doki Majo Shinpan!, the first for any handheld console. In 2009, the company released The King of Fighters XII, which was not well-received by the public and critics alike due to polemic changes in the game's graphics and structure. In 2010, SNK Playmore released a sequel, The King of Fighters XIII, which was considered a much better game than its immediate predecessor. It either won or was nominated to multiple Game of the Year awards.
In December 2012, SNK Playmore released the Neo Geo X, a relaunched mobile Neo Geo console. 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 disputed the termination, stating that its contract was extended until 2016 and that it performed every obligation of the licensing agreement.
In June 2013, the VIGAMUS, a museum of video games in 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.
Foreign acquisition and brand restoration (2016–present)
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 game giant 37Games, and asset management firm Orient Securities had formed a joint venture to invest in Ledo Millennium, a subsidiary of Leyou. 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 intellectual property, and further develop them by following Marvel Entertainment's approach to mass media. The joint venture planned to integrate games, comics, film, and television in a media franchise.
With the purchase completed, SNK Playmore signaled a shift in the company's strategy, which had previously been focused more on the production of pachislot and mobile games than its traditional area, console and arcade games. In 2015, SNK Playmore announced that it was withdrawing from the pachislot market, choosing instead to focus on console and mobile gaming, as well as character licensing using its popular characters such as Mai Shiranui, Ukyou Tachibana, Nakoruru, and Haohmaru. Additionally, all of the aforementioned characters made their appearance as guest characters in a mobile multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA), Wangzhe Rongyao, roughly translated to English as Honor of Kings, which is the world highest-grossing game of all time as well as the most downloaded mobile app globally.
On April 25, 2016, SNK officially dropped the "Playmore" name from its corporate logo and reintroduced its old slogan, "The Future Is Now", 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, to more firmly establish SNK Playmore as the successor to the old SNK brand and legacy. The King of Fighters XIV, the first entry in its series in more than half a decade, was released in 2016. In July 2018, SNK released the NEOGEO Mini, a miniature console based on the design of the company's Japanese arcade machines. It was pre-loaded with forty classic Neo Geo games.
In June 2019, the 12th entry in the Samurai Shodown series was released for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, followed by an arcade version in October and a Nintendo Switch version later in the year.
On September 4, 2019, Nintendo announced that Fatal Fury protagonist and The King of Fighters character Terry Bogard would be added as a downloadable, playable character to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, with a planned release in November 2019. Terry was made available on November 6, alongside a The King of Fighters-based stage and 50 songs from various SNK series.
- SNK Entertainment – founded in February 2016 to contract and develop new digital entertainment including video games. It ramps up activity that surrounds 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 USA Corporation – publisher of software and animation in America
- ADK – former game developer for the Neo Geo. SNK purchased its intellectual property assets when the company became bankrupt in 2003.
- Noise Factory – game developer, formerly owned by SNK
- Nazca Corporation – former game developer for the Neo Geo, later acquired by SNK
- Neo Geo do Brasil – handled hardware and software sales in Brazil from 1993 to 1998
- SNK Corporation of America - handled published of software sales in America from 1981 to 2001
- SNK Playmore Europe Corporation – handled software sales in Europe
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