Pokkén Tournament: Why Nintendo chose an arcade release first

Pokken Tournament Logo | en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pokken_Tournament_logo.png

Nintendo’s new game Pokkén Tournament will be released for the Wii U in early 2016 but it has already been out in arcades since August 2014.

The game was developed by Bandai Namco, the same studio behind the popular fighting series Tekken which has heavily influenced the new game in more than just its title. Pokkén Tournament follows the style of traditional arcade fighting games with different ‘Pokémon’ characters battling it out on dynamic 2D maps. It follows in a similar vein to other properties which have transitioned into the world of fighting games, such as DC and Marvel Comics, and is something Nintendo have done before with the Smash Bros series.

However, rather than release straight to Wii U, Nintendo and Bandai Namco chose to release the game first on Arcade to try and gauge public opinion. In an interview with 4Gamer, Tekken creator Katsuhiro Harada explained this decision:

“Pokémon definitely has a family-oriented image, but in addition to how we decided on developing [Pokkén] as a competitive game with depth, we must also be prepared to face such severe conditions.”

“Once you have a title that can make it out of the lion’s den called arcades, it’s something you know you can be proud of for being the real deal. Additionally, there aren’t too many developers that take on these kinds of challenges nowadays.”

This seems like an unusual decision on the face of it but when you really look into the gaming industry it is a tactic that many developers have been employing. The idea is to understand and establish an audience for a game before it is fully released. This is something that has become increasingly important as the cost of making a game, and therefore the risk to a developer, has increased.

“Additionally, there aren’t too many developers that take on these kinds of challenges nowadays.”

A good example of this kind of attitude is Sony’s tactic of putting Shenmue 3 on Kick-starter. Although it is beneficial to them to raise the money (currently standing at $6m) the real use is that it has confirmed to Sony that there is a huge market for the game and has thereby thoroughly decreased the financial risk of putting the project into development.

Now it’s certainly tempting to think that $6m would be more than enough money to create a game, especially with games popping up on Kick-starter all the time with goals of only a few $100,000 (i.e. The Stomping Land or Shards Online). However, the original Shenmue cost $47m and that was in 1999. More recently, GTA V, GTA IV and Destiny all cost over $100 million each to make.

The idea is to understand and establish an audience for a game before it is fully released.

It makes sense then that Nintendo would be so careful before releasing a new game even with a property as wildly successful as Pokémon has been. The costs to developers in modern gaming are incredible and the trend of the media industry in general has been to aim for sure-fire hits rather than to risk new properties in what has become a somewhat fickle market. This has been illustrated in cinema recently with the focus firmly on sequels and reboots rather than new ideas.

So, now it makes sense that Nintendo would release a game first on arcade and then on console. The question remains whether these are the kind of tactics we will see repeated or whether games media will go a similar way to the films industry with a lack of new stories and content. Only time will tell.

Seamus McDonnell

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