Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cave's Financial Issues - We Try to Help

According to Andriasang

Cave Lowers Earnings Forecasts
Publisher puts development of some content on hold and pours resources into social games.

Oh no! This is terrible! Sometimes we rag on Cave's design philosophies (which incidentally they've fixed a lot of with their 360 ports since I wrote that) or mock some of the more elitist members of their fanbase, but damned if we don't really enjoy their games. It would be completely terrible to see the company waste away into social nonsense, and then (probably) into oblivion. Therefore, we will be giving our armchair advice to help these guys out!

(1) Realize that you have an audience outside of Japan.

Actually most of the bits of advice revolve around this. If you are living in America, you can purchase Deathsmiles cheaply in the store, Guwange for $10 on the XBLA, or a handful of (extremely well made) iOS ports for about $10 each. There's also Deathsmiles IIX on Games On Demand, though it's $30 and still in Japanese, which is frankly a bit lazy. If you live in Europe, you can do all of this (except for Deathsmiles IIX I think), and also grab Dodonpachi Resurrection (and soon Akai Katana) for fairly cheap. So Cave games are certainly more accessible than they were a couple of years ago. They've even started an English blog and various fan pages.

But that's only a fraction of their catalogue. To get anything else, you need to resort to (A) expensive imports (the Muchi Muchi Pork and Pink Sweets double pack already looks difficult to get ahold of) or (B) emulation, and therefore piracy. This is a terrible situation! MAME supported many of these games briefly before being forced to take them down. Many people downloading these ROMs would probably buy a copy if one were made available - it's the awesome Valve "pirates are really underserved customers" logic. Which leads us to:

(2) Understand how digital distribution works, and embrace it.

Steam is ridiculously awesome. For as much as I prefer physical media, the outlet which it and other DD outlets can distribute independent software has drastically improved the breadth of games that can be published. So why haven't Japanese companies embraced it?

Exactly why is anyone's guess. The country has never been big on PC games, and perhaps they just don't see it as a viable gaming platform. In Japan that may be true, but it's definitely not the case in America and Europe. They also seem reticent to understand the economics behind it. Carpe Fulgur's upcoming Fortune Summoners is set at the relatively expensive price point of $25, primarily because the original Japanese developer requested it. (UPDATE: Though they've just lowered the price to under $20 to fall in line a bit more.) Never mind that the driving point behind DD sales is that their low prices (and low overhead) allow for substantially more purchases, usually enough to make up for the smaller profit margin per unit.

Here's my theory - the Japanese game industry is excellent at focusing on niches. They know that while some products have a very specific audience, that audience is very faithful, and don't mind paying premium prices for their product. That's why Cave games (and other niche products) are sold (or rather, used to sell) at full price, whereas anything over $30 outside of Japan would be unsustainable. Lowering the prices of their games would require them to break out of that mentality, which used to be a proven business model. You can already see shooter fans get defensive when you suggest that maybe $80 is too expensive for a 2D game - I'm sure that the same applies for the developers as well, as a matter of pride for not wanting to devalue their software. But the market ultimately determines the price, not the seller, and not understanding that could be fatal.

What all of this is saying is that Cave should work to port all of their back catalogue to something like Steam, and sell them for like $10-$20 each. Why not work with the MAME team to release them legally so people don't have to pirate your ROMs to play Ibara Black Label? And while getting on Steam isn't as easy as other PC digital distribution services, it's still much less of a hassle than the XBLA or PSN, which tend to get buried and are mired in bureaucracy.

(3) Exploit the market for tie-in goods. Even more.

Specifically, CDs. Cave games have outstanding music. They are taking full advantage of this in Japan! Typically their soundtracks sell out almost immediately and fetch high prices on the secondary market. Lately they've been reprinting them for retail price. Fantastic! Now, keeping with the digital distribution model, stick them on iTunes and make them available outside of Japan.

But much like with games, Japan's approach to iTunes is similarly baffling. Music CDs over there have always been ridiculously expensive - we complained about $18 CDs here, but they're typically about $25-$30 over there - and digitally released albums haven't gone down in price as much as they should have. The Radiant Historia soundtrack costs 3000 yen or so on CD, and 2400 yen on iTunes. That's not really much of a difference. That may work in Japan (somehow) but they'd also need to get in line with the rest of the market and price them at $10 for the Western market to make it viable.

As a tangent, Cave used to offer these reprinted soundtrack CDs to overseas customers on their international store. They're retail price and thus expensive, but I decided to bite the bullet and drop a few hundred bucks on my favorites. Except right when I was about to do this around Christmas time, they removed them from the store for some reason. (They've been sold out on the Japanese store for awhile, but they've since set up shop on Amazon Japan. Which won't ship them overseas.)

Anyway, I e-mailed them asking if they'd be back. Now, Japanese customer service is hilarious. In general, when given a yes/no question, a Japanese person won't directly answer "no", instead they prefer to subtly imply it and leave it for the other person to read between the lines. This is meant to be polite, but to an American, it seems insincere and dodgy. So when they say something like "We'll do our best to meet your product request", that actually means "No, we are not going to do this". If can't sell them to me (lots of other online Japanese stores famously hate non-Japanese money and refuse to ship overseas), just say so. At any rate, in the past few days the store has gone down for some reason, so it's just as well.

Maybe keep away from Windia's dark urine and the dakimakura though. Lots of people rag on Cave's recent obsession with female characters, lolita or others, which is one of those things that will just never cross cultural boundaries. Suggesting that they make their games less Japanese would be terrible though, because that's ultimately what makes them so unique. That hurdle will always be there for a lot of people, unfortunately.

(4) Look at Jamestown.

I'm not a huge fan of Jamestown, and on a quality level I think it rather pales in comparison to Cave's library. But at the same time, it's also much, much, MUCH more approachable to the average person than any of Cave's titles. It's easy to understand, get into, and enjoy without needing to study superplay videos, peruse FAQS to figure out scoring systems, and spend the hours upon hours practicing in hopes to get anywhere near competent. All of the work to get into Cave games is usually worth the effort, but that's not immediately apparent to a lot of people, who only see huge insurmountable mazes of bullets and a fanbase whose slimier elements are quick to turn up their noses as so-called casual gamers.

I wouldn't want Cave to make a games just like Jamestown. But they should at least pay attention to how this game was developed, what it's doing, and attempt to implement them in maybe some kind of alternate game mode. The iOS version of Deathsmiles included an RPG-style mode where you could use gold, obtained from points, to buy new weapons and stuff. Compared to the Otomedius games, it was handled pretty well, and it was also totally separate from the main game, so it could be ignored if that wasn't your thing. Who knows if this actually affected sales, but keeping in mind less hardcore gamers, without watering down what longtime fans enjoy about your games, definitely could not hurt.

At any rate, I do wish Cave well. I have a feeling this all came about because DDP Black Label, Akai Katana and Instant Brain must've flopped. (The separate release of DDP Black Label especially - I think there was less than 1,000 entries on the leaderboards for Arrange mode, last time I checked.) I'd hate to see a favorite developer lumber and fall like so many smaller studios this generation.


  1. Well,i guess there are too many ass..s playing Minecraft and what not,these days,all the hardcore gamers and long time fans having a tough time fighting these imbeciles i suppose.In any case TIME mixes all the cards anyway,people changing,"new generation" stepping up etc.,what was so enjoyable and intersting during one's childhood,now it's just a nostalgic feeling if anything..maybe it's time for CAVE to change as well,at least to try.....

  2. If you ask me: stop supporting the 360. The machine is a death trap in Japan, niche support or not. Branch out to the PS3.

    At least it's 100% region free.

  3. I don't think being on the PS3 will help much. The Japanese fanbase all bought 360s anyway. Whoever made Mamoru-kun also tried going the PS3 route and I don't think it did very well.

    There's also the understanding that any retail product for the PS3 needs to include widescreen support, which was added to the PS3 version of Mamoru-kun. That's basically impossible for 2D games like this, so that's an issue, if it's true.

  4. I think Mamoru-kun being a really awful twin-stick shooter also had something to do with its failure. Was going to import, but after trying the demo decided to stay well away.

    I recall in a much older blog post we also touched upon the fact that the Japanese don't like credit cards, which negatively impacts on digitally downloadable game sales. This was stated as much by the guy in charge of the PixelJunk studio in Japan.

    It's a depressing situation. Japan still has talent when it comes to games creation, but they really don't know what they're doing in other areas. I hope Cave doesn't go down the Capcom route and start outsourcing games to western developers in order to somehow achieve that illusionary dream of "western appeal".

  5. Regarding shooters on the PC: I can kind of see a philosophical argument for this. If you're a company making what are, at their hearts, super-competitive shooters for a super-competitive fanbase, producing them for a known, fixed hardware configuration resolves a lot of potential issues with certain hardware configurations running faster (or slower) and the like.

    I don't agree with this myself (and it never seems to have bothered the Touhou set in Japan or America's FPS players), but if the company were to give that as their reason for not porting to the PC, I'd kind of see where they were coming from.

    - HC

  6. Isn't this happeneing to like 99% of Japanese dvelopers? Now just Cave. Look at Tri-Ace, the creator of Front Mission & Arc The Lad, Yoko Taro (creator of Drakengard series and Nier), Yu Suzuki, the SaGa series, Suda51 says the next No More Heroes will be made for this, hell even Falcom are hinting at this too now.

    Why just highlight Cave here, when it's obviously a problem with the entirety of Japanese developers?

  7. Because (A) there was a very recent report that their financials weren't doing as planned, and (B) the whole issue surrounds the fact that their games have a very hard time penetrating the Western market, where at least all of those games you posted had major publishers backing them.

  8. Neither Steam nor the PS3 are viable options for Cave. Insider knowledge has revealed that the people working at Valve strongly dislike classic-style shmups and are very hesitant to allow them on the service. Jamestown and Satazius only made it on with great difficulty. As for the PS3, retail games require 16:9 video options without screen borders, which is undoable for Cave's vertical shooters.

  9. Valve has been caving (hohoho) lately on allowing some of these more classic on their service lately. For awhile Wadjet Eye games had issues getting their VGA-style adventure games on the service but they've popped up lately. I think if there's a precedent (and there is with Jamestown now) that they are sellable, then Valve would be more likely to be cooperative. Plus they are an established name, over even most indie labels, with a built-in fanbase.

    I have heard people bring up technical issues before - considering they had M2 port their earlier 360 releases, some believe that they simply lacked the technical prowess to port it themselves.

  10. "we complained about $18 CDs here, but they're typically about $25-$30 over there - and digitally released albums haven't gone down in price as much as they should have. "

    Yeah, always wondered about this. Flashback to a decade ago and all the times I blew my paycheck on Number Girl CD's! It also doesn't help that bands over there release about 50 maxisingles/remix albums/tour-only singles/EP's/live albums a YEAR.